Monday, February 1, 2010

How Lovely Art Thou, Damned Cruel Shoes

L.G.C. Smith

Like every other aspect of material culture, the shoes we choose, wear and keep for decades after we last wore them say something about what matters to us. Or the state of our feet, which is more of an issue for some of us than others.


Here's the thing: I have problem feet. They hurt. A lot. Often. This is a family trait from my mom's side. When I was a kid, as soon as the morning wake-up call sounded, all of us responded with a chorus of "ow, ow, ow, ow, ow" as o
ur poor little feet hit the floor.

We didn't know it then, but we have a loose ligament disorder. My brother has pectus excavatum, which presents as a big dent in the middle of his chest where the ligaments failed to hold his rib cage in the proper position. All of us are pretty bendy. Including our feet and ankles, which, sadly, bodes ill for being able to take more than two steps in high heels. Heck, my sibs and I can fall off tennis shoes on a flat surface.

Added to this, my foot is wide across the toes and narrow in the heel with a really high arch. Very few shoes fit well, and the ones that do tend toward utilitarian at best. My sisters use the word 'ugly.' I haven't been able to wear heels for two and half decades. I keep a pair of high heeled boots I bought and wore three times in 1979. I adored them. They crippled me. Yet I've kept them all these years. Why? So I can look at them every couple of years, and remind myself of what might have been if I'd had stronger feet.

Blisters. How many thousands of them have I had over the years?
I always had them as a kid. I can get them in thirty seconds from the wrong shoe. When I realized most people didn't have them all the time, I grew resentful. It's so not fair.


I love boots. Can I wear them? Rarely. I have gargantuan calves, and not just because I'm fat. Then beneath my monster calves I have narrow, weak ankles. Bad combo, I have to tell you. But I keep trying boots. I have a pair of ancient cowboy boots that I wore a lot when I lived in South Dakota. When I still worked at universities, I fantasized about having custom boots made. I even found a place that could do it. But I made do with ankle boots, which, while nice enough, aren't the same as ones that go all the way to the knee (no comment on the over-the-knee boots one sees lately; oh, maybe one comment -- trashy). It's hard to justify custom footwear in a middle-class life with a career that allows pajamas as acceptable work attire.

On top of all the physiological failings of my feet, I've had many bouts of plantar fasciitis. Most of my attempts to develop a regular exercise program (cross-country ski machine, treadmill, even regular walking) end up in long months of excruciating pain and recovery. Now I have exercises that help a lot, but the miseries of PF have left a lasting impression on my shoe wardrobe.

The result of all these foot woes is a boring collection of sensible shoes with wide toe boxes and good arch support. Clarks and New Balance are my cobblers of choice. I will never spend hundreds of dollars on a juicy pair of Jimmy Choos. Stacy and Clinton would kick me off "What Not to Wear" in less time than it takes me to trip in a pair of low-heeled pumps.


I love cute shoes. Elegant shoes. Stratospheric heels. Strappy little sandals. Boots of all sorts. All kinds of shoes. Alas, they don't love me. So for this life, I'm resigned to being happy if my shoes don't look too nasty and I can actually walk in them. Sometimes it's all about scaling down expectations.

4 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

I *love* picturing you in cowboy boots, and I hope that when "the big" check comes you will consider having that custom pair made even if it means that the cobbler consults with the doc to make them! :)

Gigi Pandian said...

I empathize -- I have ridiculously long and narrow feet, so any shoe that doesn't cover the whole top of my foot will go flying off as soon as I take a step!

Rachael said...

DO YOU KNOW WHAT I FOUND OUT? I have that blister problem, too. I can look at a pair of the wrong shoes in a store and get blisters. I've literally had blisters on my blisters (awful when traveling). BUT -- if I put -- really -- duct tape on my feet in the problem area (for me, my arch), then I can wear the shoe. I read it on a hiking forum, and it works. It acts like second really thick skin. And it's not even bad to pull off, strangely enough. It's been a miracle, and I can't believe it took me this long to find it. Sometimes, for some shoes (when I was running, especially), my whole foot would be wrapped in the stuff. Looked ridiculous, but it worked. Obviously, I can't testify enough about it. :)

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