This is Part One of a two-part post on why I gravitate toward certain shoes and completely eschew others. Even if you know me well, this will explain a great deal!
I never wear flats. Never. Of any kind. I haven’t for a long time.
There are a couple reasons for this. The most important of which is that I simply cannot comfortably walk or stand in shoes with no heel or wedge. The fact is that I was born with a deformity in my tendons. They did not develop correctly. I learned to walk on the ball of my foot, and have ever since.
One of my earliest memories was seeing a podiatry specialist as a child. I couldn’t have been older than three or four (it was long before I started school). I was a little scared, honestly. I think I had been to the podiatrist with my mother before – she had bad callouses that had to be cut with sharp, scary things – but this time they were messing around with my feet! I had to stand in several very uncomfortable positions while they took x-rays, and sit very still as some strange old man fondled my feet and legs while taking notes. I was so afraid they’d whip out the sharp things at any moment; I don’t think I relaxed until we were in the car! After that, it was another visit to my pediatrician (whom I hated at the time, but later came to love). She put up the x-rays and told my mother that, with physical therapy, I could probably walk normally. The key was to put me in a hot bath and work my heels back and forth. She also said to make sure she “corrected” me when she noticed me walking with heels up. But the part I will never forget was when she knelt down and addressed me. English wasn’t her first language, and she said something like “and if that doesn’t work, when you are teenager, we cut open your legs and slice the tendons!” GAH!
Mom was adamant that I walk normally when I started school, so the other kids didn’t make fun of me. So cue the bath time torture. What she had been told to do was have me sit in a tub of hot water with my legs stretched out in front of me. She was then to grasp each foot and press on the ball, as hard as she could, while pulling the heel forward. Oh my Gods, the agony! I cried. She didn’t stop. My right leg was worse, always, so that’s where she concentrated. When she finally let go, I kicked and squirmed until she promised to stop. We did this dance for several days. I remember waking up one morning in so much pain I could barely stand.
I’m not sure how I finally convinced Mom to stop hurting me. I was little, and it’s possible that I just wore her down with crying fits. But I was also really smart for a little girl, so it’s also possible I promised her that I would do the stretches myself in the bathtub and made her believe. She would try again several times over the years I was in elementary school to get me to do these “exercises,” with no success.
Why didn’t I want to do them (besides the fact that it just plain hurt)? Because I simply did not understand why it was a such a huge problem for everyone. It certainly wasn’t a problem for me, beyond shoes being uncomfortable. I got around just fine, thank you very much. Maybe I couldn’t run as fast as other kids. Big deal. I was happy and fine just the way I was. Why couldn’t everyone else just accept that?
Mom continued to “correct” my behavior. I learned to make sure flexible soled shoes were picked out when it came time to buy; this made walking on the ball of my foot easier in flat shoes (I lived in jelly shoes at one point) I heard the phrase “Set that foot down!” at least a hundred times everywhere we went. “People are looking at you,” and “you’re embarrassing me,” were also favorites, as she tried to shame me into compliance. This I completely ignored. What the hell was there to be ashamed of, exactly? From time to time, she would swat the backs of my legs as I walked, to emphasize her point, but I don’t remember it ever being a very hard swat.
Yes, other children made fun of me for the way I walked. I was called Tippy Toes so damn much I think half of my elementary school forgot my real name. I think I had more hatred of the name as I got older and looked back on how I was treated than I did at the time. Then, I mostly ignored the kids who used it. After all, I was the only kid in the class who enjoyed reading, preferred cats to a passel of hunting dogs, used big words, hated playing sports, and liked to wear black – there was plenty to single me out for. Mom didn’t realize this. Maybe if she had, I would have been saved a lot of pain. Or maybe not.
Finally in late elementary and junior high school, Mom started buying heeled shoes for me. Not for my comfort, mind you. It started with a pair of “granny” boots (which were popular at the time) that had a heel of maybe an inch and a half or two inches. She realized that when I was wearing them, the way I walked on the ball of my foot with my heel in the air was much less noticeable. Then I realized after she bought me my first real pair of grown up dress shoes (I can’t call them pumps because the heel was maybe two inches) that I was much more comfortable in them. I wore them every day to school after that, with everything from jeans to leggings, despite her protests and comments from the other kids. Because I was comfortable.
I never did do the exercises designed to “fix” my legs. I also never had the surgery. Amazingly, my parents never brought it up again after I was older, and for that, I am really glad (more on that in the next post).
What did happen is that I grew up, none the worse for wear. The realization came one day after I had my first real job that I didn’t have to try to wear normal shoes anymore. That I could, in fact, buy those sky high platforms if I wanted. No one could tell me “no,” or “you can’t have those.” And the best part was that I could walk, stand, even dance around in them comfortably. Internet shopping opened up an entire new world of shoe possibilities for me – wedge flip-flops, wedge snow boots with lug soles, and even wedge sneakers and workout shoes! Now if it’s less than a three inch heel or wedge, it isn’t up for consideration.
People still comment on my shoes. “How the hell do you walk in those?” and “Why do you wear heels every day?” were common questions when I still lived in a small southern town. Most of the time, I just flat out told them – that shut up the vast majority of people who really didn’t care, they just wanted to make a snarky comment. Once in a while someone will actually argue with me, as if they don’t believe there’s something wrong with my feet and legs. Mostly these are little old ladies who think they know more than everyone else and who try to tell me “you’ll be sorry in twenty years” and things of that nature. I tend to ignore them just as I ignored the other kids at my school back in the day.
To this day, I still do not understand why such a big deal was made of the way I walked. I got around fine. No one was hurt or even inconvenienced by it. All I know is that I was so happy after I realized that I didn’t have to be uncomfortable anymore. And I am sad because, had I been left alone, I would have probably been a happier child. It’s so much a part of who I am and my experience that sometimes I see women in flat shoes, and wonder how they walk before I realize that they’re the ones who are normal…
And I honestly would never trade places with them.