The Power of Shoes

If the shoe doesn't fit, must we change the foot?” -- Gloria Steinem

I’ve come to the realization today that I have a preoccupation with shoes. There’s something to be said about being a female and having a preoccupation with shoes, but that will be left unsaid.

I don’t own a lot of shoes; it’s not a preoccupation with owning shoes.  I, in fact, hate shoe shopping.  My feet are flat, misshapen and deformed and I have a hard time finding shoes that look right and fit comfortably and won’t kill me.  I remember shoe shopping with my mom when I was younger, and not being able to get the cool shoes with the pink hearts or light-up heels because they didn’t have enough “arch support.”  Plain, white, K-Swiss shoes for me.  I was the footwear fashionista of the fourth grade. 

My feet have always been the bane of my existence.  I have few pair of shoes that I wear on a regular basis--one pair of tennis shoes, a pair of boots, a pair of brown shoes, a pair of black shoes and a pair of dress shoes.  That’s it. The rest of the shoes sit there, reminders of misspent money and dreams of one day being able to wear them--not enough arch-support, I’ve learned.  More than likely, they’ll end up at Goodwill.  I refuse to admit my mother was right.   

My favorite movies are Cinderella and The Wizard of Oz.  Both movies with plots that revolve around shoes fitting perfectly.  What a dream. I’d kill for a glass slipper that was just my size--but I can imagine how squished my foot would look in it.  The scar from my surgery would be visible.  What prince would want that?  It’s a fairy tale, after all.  I’ll take the ruby slippers.  Slippers are my thing--I own three pairs, and they’re all I wear when I’m at home.  I’d wear them out, if I could.  Oddly enough, I love wearing sandals--the most revealing of all shoes.  I wait for the warm weather to break out the sandals.  Sandals are power shoes, for some reason.  Maybe it’s because it’s the freedom and adhering to the social custom.  The best of both worlds. 

I wore shoes I hate to school today.  They’re ugly, they hurt my feet, they have no traction and they didn’t really match my outfit.  Why did I buy them?  I thought they would look better with these pants than they actually do.  I wanted to wear the pants more than I cared about the shoes that went with them.  They’re brown and flat and dull with lots of crap supposedly decorating them.

When I got to school, I took them off and felt the freedom of my sock-clad feet on the industrial green carpeting of Fort Atkinson High School.  There’s something about not wearing shoes when it’s seemingly required that makes it almost taboo, almost cool in a way.  “Look, I’m flouting authority--I’m not acquiescing to their rules.  I’m taking off my protective footwear and there’s not a damn things anyone can do about it--except tell me to put them back on.” In the book I Am the Messenger, Sophie runs without shoes, symbolizing her freedom from the restraints of “that’s how everyone does it”.  I’m personifying literature for my students, really. 

Now, I’m wandering around the English pod without shoes, and the thing is--my feet hurt more without the shoes than with them.  But I look better without the shoes on, and that’s really the key.  The hard calluses and soft tissue from daily treatments of lotion hit the hard carpet and the harder linoleum, searing pain through the foot, making me wish for the pink fuzziness I left at the foot of my bed.  It’s true--the feet are the most important part of the body and if they hurt, everything hurts. 

I traipse around my classroom, out into the hallway, into the writing lab, feeling liberated, letting my flowing pants and blouse echo the freedom of not wearing shoes.  Then, I go to another teacher’s classroom to ask him opinion on a test I’ve created.  A man’s classroom, an older man who has more experience, who’s been teaching for about as long as I’ve been alive.  A man I admire, a man I think is a good teacher, a man I respect.  A man who I talk with on a regular basis, a man who I laugh with on a regular basis, a man anyone would call a “nice guy”.

Suddenly, my lack of shoes no longer represents freedom.  My lack of shoes represents awful, self-conscious inadequacy.  Somehow, my lack of footwear makes me less powerful, less respectful, less of a person. In some way, I was more submissive; I wanted to crawl into myself, admit that I was not good enough. There was definitely power in the room, and I didn’t hold it.  As much as I hate to admit it, I was more feminine by the simple fact that I was wearing brown socks and he was wearing brown shoes.

All the while I was there, I kept wishing I had shoes on--why was I such an idiot to wander around without shoes on?  Who did I think I was?  I was self-conscious and craved my shoes to make me feel whole again.  Not the ugly ones I had worn that morning because they might have made me feel more ridiculous.  I wanted power shoes.  I wanted my brown shoes--shoes with heals, shoes that were shiny with a buckle, shoes that were expensive, shoes that clicked on the linoleum with authority when I walked down the hall, shoes that made me feel more in control of my body and movements, shoes that hid my socks, as though they were something to be ashamed of.  What the hell did my footwear have to do with a less-than-five minute visit to a colleague? 

The experience of not wearing shoes made me feel overly vulnerable in a way I shouldn’t for just removing my footwear.   What is it about the removal of shoes that makes me uncomfortable?  Is it the protection?  Is it the social pretense?  Was it the fact that I was breaking the “rules” and I didn’t want my colleague to think of me that way?  In what way?  I felt oddly submissive--younger, female, shorter, less-experienced, more wanting of his approval and acceptance, and above all, shoeless.  What about our culture would make me feel insecure about not wearing shoes? 

And, you know, I’m sure that he didn’t look at my feet once.


“What spirit is so empty and blind, that it cannot recognize the fact that the foot is more noble than the shoe, and skin more beautiful than the garment with which it is clothed?” ~  Michelangelo

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