The national blogging conference I’m attending is in two weeks. Although I continue to receive cheery updates describing how much fun I’ll have with my fellow bloggers, all I can think is what Sheldon said when Penny asked him to come see her act in a play: “Oh, that sounds terrible. Why would I want to do that?”
No offense to said fellow bloggers. I’m sure they’re great people, but they’re people—and even worse, new people. I recently took a personality test that put me in the fourth percentile for extraversion. That means 96% of people are more extraverted than I am.
The test also put me at the 90th percentile for neuroticism. In short, I’m the one everybody wants to party with.
I was already seriously thinking of excuses not to go when I noticed this badge on some of the attendees’ blogs:
And I thought, No. No no no no no.
You see, in addition to being neurotic and extremely introverted, I have a thing with shoes. Because I have a thing with my feet. The fourth and fifth toes on my right foot are webbed. This may not seem like a big deal. It wasn’t when I was little. But as my foot grew, the attached pinky toe pulled the fourth toe far over, making my foot very wide. Not the “W” on the boxes in the shoe store—more like triple or quadruple wide. My shoes were always ill-fitting, mostly because I was trying to cram this weirdly-shaped foot into a shoe made for a conventionally-shaped foot. Now, in my late thirties, I’ve developed a bunion that makes my foot even wider and makes wearing shoes even more painful.
The toes on my left foot don’t have any webbing, but the pinky toe is strangely tiny and turned to the side. One guy I slept with said that the webbed toes didn’t bother him at all. What he actually found “more disturbing” was that other tiny, sideways pinky toe. Had I been older and more self-assured, I would have asked him to please not use the phrase “more disturbing” in reference to a part of my body. But I was ashamed.
Growing up, I did everything I could to avoid being in bare feet in front of anyone. At pool parties, I sat with my foot tucked under me; at the beach, I buried it strategically in the sand. Perhaps it’s egotistical to think that people would notice such a minor deformity. Then again, consider how quick people are to single each other out for not looking “normal.” And it wasn’t just different; it was ugly. I would look at other women’s feet and pine after their toes—their perfectly normal, evenly proportioned toes.
And their shoes. They could buy any shoes they wanted.
Shoes that I will never be able to fit my foot in, let alone wear. Right now, I can only fit in sneakers, flip-flops, and Uggs. That leaves me few options for work shoes in fall and spring. Thus far, I’ve refused to wear flip-flops to work. I know teachers who wear them, but I don’t think they look professional. But more to the point, I don’t want anyone outside my family to see my feet.
When women engage in debate about who “should” and “shouldn’t” wear a bikini, I think of my feet. There’s no doubt flip-flops would be more comfortable for me, but I don’t think other people should be forced to look at my toes. So I have to weigh the physical comfort against the sense of shame and constant worry that someone will say something about them.
I know I’m being overly self-conscious, not to mention self-centered. Every once in a while I get reminded of how ridiculous I’m being. I’ll see a teenaged girl with a horrible facial deformity on a talk show. Or, like yesterday, my husband will ask me if I remember the old guy with the growth on his head who used to walk through the mall when we were kids. I had forgotten about him, but the reminder is timely. If that guy can walk through the mall with a huge, bulbous purple growth half the size of his head, then I can wear a pair of fucking flip-flops in public.
I’ve been trying to move past being ashamed of my body, to fight that urge to hide my bare feet. I don’t think it’s something you just decide to do one day; I think it’s a process. When I lived alone, I used to deal with my anxiety by walking, and sometimes it would make me feel better to take a plastic bag and pick up trash. One summer day I saw that the creek running through the park was littered with beer bottles, so I took off my shoes and waded into it to pick them up. And as my misshapen but strong feet grasped onto the algae-covered rocks to steady me, I looked down and I made a deal with them. I told them, You do not have to be beautiful. You only have to be good.
That was ten years ago, and I still haven’t accepted my feet. Despite their diligence in supporting me every day, as I teach and carry my toddler and hold the warrior poses, I’m still expecting the impossible from them.
So I WON’T be wearing cute shoes to BlogHer ’14. This is too long to fit on a badge, but just so you know, from the knee down I’ll probably look like an elderly butch lesbian gardener. I’ll be wearing ugly shoes and a fake name, both of which I’ll be struggling to own.
images of shoes courtesy of Google Shopping