I very much doubt that I am the only woman ever to declare an endless love affair with SHOES. Shoes, boots, sandals… pointy toed, skyscraper heel, the sort of thing that BBE describes as ‘car to bar’ shoes – only able to get me the short distance from the taxi inside the nearest bar and absolutely no further.
I remember being about 12 years old, choosing my own shoes for school. I was in charity shop mode at that point and found the perfect pair. Heeled, of course, very very pointy, lace up – like something Victorian I suppose, with the little holes in a pattern on the toes – almost witch-like (think Wizard of Oz). Anyway, I fell in love with them, and it really didn’t matter that they were a size too small, the pain was worth the pleasure of seeing my feet transformed into dainty, pointy beautiful appendages, with slim ankles and never-ending legs.
So I definitely fell prey to the NEEDING of high-heeled, pointy shoes to look a certain way, to give me longer legs and a slimmer silhouette. They also looked really good with the type of clothing I wanted to wear, which tended then to be tighter and more fitted. As I got older I moved towards more comfortable clothing, but could still be found in heeled shoes. As a side note we are all (men included) absolutely convinced that we NEED trainers of a certain type for our feet and we’ve certainly been bamboozled by the marketing on that front, but for ladies and their daily shoes, we’ve been fed a stereotypical image of women in a very specific type of shoe. This is not a feminist blog though, it’s a movement blog, and wearing positive heeled shoes is a recipe for movement disaster.
Which is why I finally took the heart stopping, jaw dropping, gut wrenching step of throwing out all of my positively heeled shoes….
Ahem!… all except one pair of New Rock boots, which I keep simply to look at as I physically cannot get my foot in them anymore.
Why, would I do such a thing? I promised myself that if I managed to go a whole year without wearing a positively heeled shoe, then I would (as the minimalist I am) turf the lot out. I did it. A whole year with people looking at me strangely when I was in bare feet wandering about, and even more strangely when I was in my Vibrams. I spent a year working on my feet, improving their strength and flexibility (an ongoing battle), spreading my toes and stretching the muscles in and around the foot. When I tried a pair of previously slightly large boots on at the end of that year, I found that I couldn’t get my foot in – it had spread, widened and would no longer conform to what wasn’t even a particularly narrow toebox. Most people would probably want to cry at such a widening of their forefoot, I however saw it as a victory, a sign that my exercises, diligence and the occasional stubbed toe and stone in my heel were absolutely worth it.
So here’s a tiny fraction of what I threw out (left/top) and here’s my current shoe collection (right/bottom).
My personal journey from heels to minimal shoes has been a bit of a disaster if I’m honest. When I started (approximately five years ago) I hadn’t a clue about transitioning from a ‘normal’ shoe to a minimal/barefoot lifestyle. I just cracked on with it and gave myself shin splints and other issues. It then took me another couple of years to really get properly clued up and start to work on the mobility and strength of my feet as well as reducing the structure of my shoes. So now all my shoes are zero drop (no difference in height from heel to toe), minimally soled (approx 3mm, less if I can find it), with a wide toebox (or toes like my Vibrams) which allow the toes to move, spread and flex like they’re supposed to. I have a pair of Altra zero drop cushioned shoes which I use for all my concrete (non-natural terrain) walking in an effort to reduce the impact.
Why did I bother? I used to have shin splints, knee pain, heel pain, collapsed arches, a right big toe joint that’s damaged and doesn’t move well and was incredibly painful, constantly cold feet, cramp in my feet and calves, immobile toes, toes that were hooked over each other, with my big toes starting to point towards the little toes, and intense pain on walking barefoot on non-smooth surfaces.
The benefits. Now my feet are no longer cold (even when it is fairly cold temperature wise my feet don’t feel like blocks of ice), I no longer get cramp, my big toe joint is still damaged but it doesn’t cause me as much pain and I’m hoping to avoid surgery now. My toes actually move, spread, and I’ve reversed the trend of the big toe pointing across which ultimately would have been a bunion. My feet are still fairly flat, but I’m working on it, and they’re still a bit sensitive when they’re out and about naked on stones and stuff, but they’re a lot tougher than they were. The major benefit however is being able to dance – and when I mean dance I mean DAAAAAAAAANCE, flinging myself around like an idiot and making a complete tit of myself on the dance floor. Not just that I can dance without pain in my feet, but I can do so for hours and hours and hours. It’s like a whole new lease of life. No longer am I mincing about trying to hide my grimace of agony, or trying to dodge vomit, glass and the bouncer who’s trying to chuck me out for refusing to put my ‘foot coffins’ back on.
My feet as I started to transition… notice how my toes are still quite close together and my big toes have a definite lean towards the others.
Here’s my feet now… Notice the better spread of the toes and my big toes are a lot straighter. Still some work to do, but a definite improvement. There’s even the suggestion of an arch in the shadow and hollow between the feet.
I have forgiven myself for the years of abuse. I’ve learned to embrace my feet, to love them for the amazing structures and feats of engineering that they are, and with that love comes respect and a desire to look after them as they’re the base of support that I’m going to need if I want to keep the rest of my body moving well into old age.
Barefoot Walking on Natural Terrain
Whilst doing some work researching shoes and especially women’s attachment to them, I found an interesting blog post on the subject of forgiveness and acceptance in relation to feminism and shoes. I include this slightly more feminist, serious viewpoint here because I have felt this way about shoes, clothing and my place in the world in the past and I’ve had to search for my own internal forgiveness and find the courage to step outside the norm and be brave for the sake of my movement despite the resistance of others (see the sofa post).
“I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to programme myself as a good consumer.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to create a belief within and as me that I need to have certain items of clothing and shoes to fit in and be desired or attractive in this reality.
I forgive myself that I have allowed myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to become excited within and as me when I was given my very first pair of heels, or dressing up at around 6.
I forgive myself that I accepted and allowed myself to cripple my feet, to the point that I am in absolute agony and can’t walk any longer for the sake of fashion and sexy footwear.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to get a kind of ‘kick’ out of high heels in that they accentuate my legs and make me taller. Thus I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to create a belief within and as me that I will be taken more seriously and if I am taller than others and within this I see that I have some authority over them because I am towering above them, or am the same height as most men.
Thus I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to become a ‘power dresser’ because I am wearing heels and I am almost six foot.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to derive pleasure from owning a pair of high heels and then trying to find a nice outfit to wear with them and within this place so much attention on what I was going to look like that I have missed the point of the occasion and spent so much time in my mind planning my outfit, so that I will attract attention and ‘feel’ good about myself.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to pile tissues and plasters into my shoes to stop them rubbing my feet, and to continue to wear the shoes all along knowing that they are going to hurt me. Thus within this I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to literally fear wearing a certain pair of shoes because I have known that after an hour I will be in pain and wish I hadn’t worn them, but yet I allow myself to tell myself that it doesn’t matter because they will look great.
I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to put fashion first – over and above my own welfare and human physical body. I forgive myself that I have accepted and allowed myself to judge myself as stupid for falling hook, line and sinker into the pre-programmed design of womanhood, and within this I have told myself off and felt regretful that I didn’t consider my feet first…”