If the Shoe Fits

I’m having feet issues. A combination of genetics and decades of bad shoe choices have escalated into a diagnosis of flat feet and a need for orthotics.

Now, the word orthotics, in theory, should no longer strike fear in the hearts of people fated to wear the things. It used to be that foot problems meant orthopedic shoes, which were huge and lumpen and deformed, and were really not attractive. These days, those with foot problems fork over big cash for orthotic inserts that are not dissimilar to a plain old insole, except that they’re custom-made to fit your feet, have a whole lot more support along the arch and cost four or five hundred bucks.

Orthotic inserts were meant to solve the problem of ugly shoes, as they fit into most decently-made shoes, and no one would ever know you had uneven legs or were knock-kneed. Friends with orthotics have confirmed that they wear theirs in everything from Doc Martens to Fluevogs, just so long as the shoe has a removable footbed, decent heel support and a high level of shock absorption.

My chiropodist, however, is intent on only dispensing my orthotics to me if I come in with a pair of shoes that meet her approval. This means one thing – a pair of butt-ugly running shoes that look like huge pillows have been tied to the tops of the feet. Black versions are marginally less offensive, looking like a pillow in a garbage bag. She sent me to a shop that specializes in running gear where I tried on a couple different pairs, barely able to contain my tears. If they came in red, I could stand outside Mickey D’s and shill burgers.

Besides the fact that the shoes were something that I’d never want on my feet, or in the same room as me, they were almost double in price at this shop than anywhere else. I found them online for almost half.

None of which matters, of course, because I didn’t buy them, and won’t, at any price. There must be stylish, fashionable shoes out there with similar engineering that would be acceptable to both my chiropodist and me.

The problem is that she’s a very conservative person. I can tell that I confound her slightly, that she finds my style and attitude and choices to be very foreign. She obviously thinks that everyone will have some use for a pair of athletic shoes. I don’t run, but I walk a couple of miles each day, which apparently qualifies me to live in ugly shoe land. Nothing I do is going to be able to convey my loathing of these shoes to her, because in her eyes, she sees my style as wrong, not the other way around.

Deep down, part of me wants to believe that style doesn’t matter. No one should care what my shoes look like. I have an innate desire to take Stacey and Clinton from What Not To Wear and bang their heads together, pointing out that there are more important things in the world than accessorizing.

But I also know that people judge others by how they look. And certainly, my personality is expressed in how I present myself. From the bobbed red hair and the cat’s eye glasses to the still slightly-Gothy clothes and an unhealthy obsession with go-go boots, I tell the world a little bit about myself by how I look. The other aspect of this is that I have to – I’m a fat girl with coke-bottle glasses. I already have to work harder at being fashionable than most. If I dress “normally”, I’m going to look slovenly. Jeans make my ass look as wide as a billboard, my hair is naturally mousy-brown, my eyebrows might as well not exist. All I need is a stained sweatshirt with a picture of kitties on the front of it, and I would be that image we all used to have of girls who needed the orthopedic shoes. Which is to say – too slow to care.

I know that sounds mean, but there it is. I don’t want to look like the woman in my building with the ratty hair and the underbite and the saggy pyjama pants and the sensible athletic shoes.





Because that’s what “normal” athletic shoes say to me, when worn by anyone not running along in a spandex outfit and a number on their back; “I’ve given up trying”. I don’t ever want to be a person who gives up trying. It’s completely and utterly vain, I know that. I don’t care.

Probably, yes, the ugly sneakers would do my feet more good than putting my orthotics in a less padded and bouncy shoe. I have no problem going out and buying new shoes that are better for my feet than the years of ballerina flats and thin-soled granny boots, and cute but crappy sneakers bought solely for their punk rock cachet. But I’m not wearing shoes that make me feel pitiful. I’d pity any girl who wore these sneakers and looked like me. I’d be humiliated on her behalf.

There may well be a catfight at the doctor’s office when I go to pick up my new orthotic inserts. I’ve picked out a couple of pairs of shoes online and am going this weekend to try them on. I suspect no matter how much I love these new shoes (and some of them are very love-worthy  – there really ARE cute shoes out there with decent support and cushioning) my chiropodist is going to put up a fight.

I may well end up being flat-footed and knock-kneed until I die, but at least those flat feet will have held on to their integrity and stood by their right to never be seen in ugly shoes.