19 April, 2011

Big, big feet.

Confession: I have big feet.

All throughout my years growing up, I outgrew shoes faster than I could wear them in. I remember for a brief period while I was in 4th grade (age 8) I could wear my mother's shoes comfortably. She was a US size 8. I remember praying to God that my feet would stop growing when I was a US size 8 so that I could always share my mother's shoes.
Unfortunately, my prayer for my feet to stop growing took a long time to reach God's ears (I blame the Aurora Borealis, and Solar Winds) and he finally answered my prayer when I was 12 years old... and size US 11.
Just call me Bigfoot Harry.

Not only are my feet huuuuge, but I also have funny toe lengths and sizes. My big toe is large, with an appropriately large nail, and the next two are knobby, then the last two are short, curvy and plump. Not only that, but they don't descend in size like normal toes. No, mine start out with three tall toes, and two short, short stubby toes. As if that weren't bad enough - almost all my toenails grow with natural grooves running vertically as they grow, making the toenails look almost cracked and/or scaly. Ugly, big feet. 
My mom had ugly feet too. Her toenails grew curvy and her feet had big scars on them from when she had skin cancer removed... plus her feet were rough and tough because she was barefoot all the time - so I felt pretty normal until my teens.

When my feet stopped growing, my nephews and friends would point out how oddly shaped my feet were whenever I was barefoot. I was already a bit embarrassed by how large my feet were because of a running family joke that we could save money if I just wore the shoe box with a hole cut in the lid - but when my toes began to gain ridicule, I stopped wearing sandals altogether. I was embarrassed!

As a young teen, and having a few close girlfriends who would go shopping with me, I was always insecure about shoe shopping with them. Whenever we'd get close to the shoe section, I'd suggest we go elsewhere since I knew that their feet were demure size US 7's and US 8's. Finally, a friend dragged me into a shoe store and made me try on shoes with her. Reluctantly, I asked the attendant for a size 11... 
She frowned and said they don't have that size, but she could probably find a 10, if I'd like. Being 13 and afraid to decline, I accepted the offer. That was the day I discovered that I could fit into a ladies size 10 with minor discomfort.

To me, the discomfort was completely worth it to me to be able to find pretty shoes. To those with smaller feet, you may not be aware that usually manufacturers' largest size is a US 10 - so all the pretty shoes end there. Size 11 shoemakers must not actually know anyone with size 11 feet... almost all the shoes I've ever found for that size are chunky and sturdy  when all I wanted was a pretty, delicate looking  shoe. It's like they make these shoes thinking that only 7' tall amazon women, basketball players, and women like Madame Maxine from Harry Potter are looking for them.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am an average 5'6" (5'7" in the morning) woman. I do not wish to wear chunky shoes, just because they had to use the whole cowhide to make them and that's all they could figure out for someone like me. 
For years and years, I have told people I wear a size 10. I convinced myself that if I squeezed into a US 10 for long enough, my feet would fit. This idea came from hearing that the Chinese used to wrap babies' feet to keep them small.
I was in denial.

Every now and then, a US 10 would fit perfectly though, and I would wear these shoes to death, furthering my conviction that I wore a US 10. If I had to try on a size 11 shoe, it just wasn't worth it. To me, it seems it became all about the number. The higher my shoe-size, the less attractive I would be. 
Sound familiar? Jeans sizes, weight in pounds, shoe-size. These numbers have always made me feel unattractive. The higher the numbers, the less beautiful I became - to myself.

Even as recent as a couple months ago, I was self-conscious about my shoe-size. Finally, I decided that it's time to love myself for who I am. As my dad used to say, "Rome was not built in a day." and so I knew when I started on this road to loving myself, it would not happen overnight. All those years of being bullied for various things can not be erased in a single day, week, month... you get the idea. 
I decided to start thinking of all the things I was ever made fun of for, and reverse them one by one. I started with my feet.

First, a friend introduced me to pedicures. Much like a fresh coat of paint can breathe life into almost anything, it definitely helped me love my feet more. A coat of paint, some polish, even a little sticker... I learned that my big, big toenail can have stickers of any size on it, making it all the prettier.

Second, I started wearing sandals again. I found a pair of flip-flops that were super comfy and wore them almost every single day for an entire summer when I was 23. Because of this, I discovered for the first time ever that my feet have freckles, making them even cuter. I started taking the occasional photo of my feet and used those photos to remind myself that my feet are part of me and what makes me unique. Plus the photos that I have of my feet remind me of where I've been and sometimes, I can even remember how I felt wherever I was standing at the time.

Third, I started giving my feet the space they deserved. I decided it was time to open myself up to wearing shoes that fit and were comfortable. I said to myself, "Shannon - you are a size 11!" and I felt good, but it wasn't enough. I told my dad, my best friend, and my husband too. When not one of them made fun of me for it (quite the opposite - they congratulated me), I was able to believe it. I accepted it.

Before I accepted that I am a US11 - and one of those times where a US10 fit correctly, I purchased a pair of shoes. I have worn these shoes for almost six years, day in and day out. Of course, because of this - they are pretty tired.

The insides of these shoes are worn so smooth that I can now easily slip my feet into them without unfastening them. They have seen many miles of walking.

And they're worn in every way you can imagine. Though parts of them are coming apart, I can't bear to get rid of them just yet. I'm sure I'll wear them for quite a while longer - just not as often now that I found new ones.

In Dublin this weekend, my friend Anne and I happened upon a shoe store touting a 50% off sale on shoes. Since she was in need of a new pair, we went in together. As always, I was a little reluctant to look at shoes. Having such large feet it's hard enough to find shoes, and in Ireland it's almost impossible to find a pair in my size for a good price. In fact, since living in Ireland - I have not found one pair of shoes that was my size (other than Converse... but even then, it's always the men's colors/designs).
I walked up to the sale rack and a pair of simple brown leather shoes were whispering my name. At first, I passed them by, refusing to be disappointed to find out they were not carried in UK size 9 (US 11). 
I looked at shoes with Anne (a petite size US 6) and still heard the shoes whispering my name.
Finally I just had to know if there was a size 9 of this shoe somewhere in the back, and to my delight - the clerk said there was! He offered to go get it for me, but suggested I try the 8 instead, because size 9 feet are pretty rare. I laughed a little and told him I'm about 98% sure I'm a UK 9, so resigned, he fetched them for me. Of course they fit. And of course they were perfect.
Knowing how hard it is to find shoes my size, I just couldn't pass them up. I ended up walking away in a new pair of Dr. Martens. My first ever pair, and for the bargain price of just E35. I win.

Now that I've accepted my feet for what they are, I feel like I can now start to appreciate them more. And i do. I love my feet, friends, and I feel like now that I've taken the step to admitting to the internet that I wear such large shoes - I will be able to move on, and learn to love another part of my body.

Size 11 is not the end of the world. 

... it feels so good to be able to say that now. 


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