Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shoes, Pain, and Practicality

High heels
From Markusram
The other day, I was walking across campus and cut through an alley between two buildings. In front of me was a college student holding her shoes in her hand and walking barefoot across the pavement. I could see the backs of her heels were rubbed raw, red and swollen. She walked quickly on this beautiful spring day, but when she got to the edge of the sidewalk going through the middle of campus, she put the shoes on the ground and stepped into them. I passed her almost immediately because she slowed to a crawling pace. With every step, she winced. 

These weren't particularly high-heeled shoes, and they weren't particularly "dressy." They were casual brown wedges. And they hurt her. 

Sure, maybe she didn't know they were going to hurt her and is now caught walking in them all day until she gets to another pair. But another possibility is that she is willing to "take" the pain because it's just the cost of fashion or beauty or--as this writer believes--power.

But it's a cost I won't pay. I won't wear shoes that hurt. I just . . . won't. I'm 5'3" and wouldn't mind the height boost of heels now and then, but they're not comfortable and they're hard to walk in, so I don't do it. I walk--a lot. So I wear shoes that I can walk in. That shouldn't be radical, but maybe it is.

I read this post from Peggy Orenstein about girls, shoes, and outdoor play. She cites a study that found parents are less likely to take their toddler girls outside to play than their toddler boys. She connects that with a post from Pigtail Pals about an exchange between the writer's daughter and another girl. Both girls are wearing the same pair of shoes, but the writer's daughter's--Amelia's--are beat up from playing. The other girl calls her shoes "ugly" and refuses to run around with her because she  doesn't to "mess up" her shoes.

I recently wrote a blog post that I didn't think of as making any particular statement. It was some sentimental notes to my daughter at 16 months, a way for me to remember and share some of the things she's doing at this stage of toddlerhood where her personality is beginning to peek out from behind her babyhood. In it, I wrote about putting her in a dress and some sandals and watching her immediately  walk stiff-legged to her room to retrieve her sneakers ("boy shoes"). She's an active toddler. She climbs. She runs. She slides. She falls. She gets dirty.

And, at 16 months, she already knows that when you've got work to do, impractical shoes just aren't going to cut it. 


  1. The article by Peggy Orenstein about girls playing outside less made me so sad. Especially the fact that a young girl would refuse to run around and play because her shoes might get dirty. These gendered messages about beauty get inculcated so young.

    1. And they're everywhere! Sometimes it seems like too much to deal with.

  2. I am completely the same way Michelle! Not only do I only own one pair of heels (which have a thick, low heel that is acceptably comfortable to wear on a few special occasions), but I have also refused to buy shoes at Payless, Target, etc anymore because they just aren't good for me. I used to enjoy buying flats or sandals for cheap somewhere, but I feel like it's largely a waste of money and my comfort/skin/patience.

    It is another example of a really interesting cultural tradition that boosts our economy. We spend money on expensive, non-practical shoes and then more money on bandaids, chiropractors, etc. just like we (myself included) spend money on harsh chemicals and gadgets to do our cooking and cleaning for us and then spend money on gyms to go exercise because everything has been made so easy for us that we are never moving our bodies. Mini-rant over :)

    I do not have a car, so my shoes simply have to be good. But I do wish humans (usually females) would value their bodies enough to always want their shoes to be good! My co-worker often cannot come to lunch with us because we are walking 10 blocks across downtown and she has flats that won't make it that far and back without blistering. (not even heels!)

    1. Great points! I especially agree with the cheap shoes thing. I'm trying to break myself of giving in to the lure of "saving money" on shoes by picking up the cheap ones because I know that they're just going to end up hurting and/or falling apart. It's been a hard lesson, but spending more to get a good pair is definitely worth it . . . now if I could just keep the dogs away from them!

  3. It's sad and interesting.

    I've definitely been that person walking barefoot because the "not so high" heels were just too much. (For me, it was always the misconception that the heels would have been okay to get me through my day. I was always surprised to find they + the amount of walking I do = too much pain.)

    Now, I'm trying to think of the last time I wore anything other than athletic shoes (usually barefoot/minimalist athletic shoes) out in public. I put it at... August or September 2011? And then it was flat sandals.

    Ultimately, I decided that freedom to move -- and I move a lot during my day-to-day activities -- was too fundamental to both my job and my life.

  4. There are heels out there that don't pinch, cause blisters or damage your feet. It takes a lot of looking and sometimes spending money but it's about being practical and looking good.

    My fav pair of shoes are a set of espadrille wedges, they are leather and so comfy! I've hiked in them, run (chasing my toddler) and spent all day walking at the State Fair in them with no ill effect.

    Ladies good shoes are out there, you don't have to sacrifice your feet for style.

    Ps - My toddler has only one pair of girly shoes for dressing up (church, holidays etc) the rest of her shoes are practical gender and neutral that play well.