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To the Women Who Say, 'My Shoes Are Killing Me'

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One of the definitive moments of the feature film, “Sex and the City,” shows protagonist Carrie Bradshaw entering the large closet of her would-be new apartment. As the lights flicker on, she takes in the size of it (really, it’s ginormous) and imagines all of the designer shoes she will fill it with.

I cringe whenever I watch that scene, as much as I love that film (it’s a guilty pleasure). Because I would never find enough “sexy” shoes to fill that closet with, even if I could afford them all. Because the shoe industry has neglected to make shoes for women like me. Women with small feet. Women with spina bifida.

For me, an assertive invitation of “Let’s go shoe shopping” evokes feelings of being a lamb dragged off to the slaughterhouse.

I’ve been that girl — the one who has broken down in the size 5 aisle of Payless and other shoe stores. Because they don’t carry anything smaller for me.

Indeed, some of my cutest “girly” shoes are in children’s sizes. And yes, they’re flats.

woman posing for photo next to a tree
One of the few pairs of shoes in my closet that have short heels. I wore this outfit to a vintage-themed event. When I posted this as my profile pic a while back, I received compliments on my cute pose. Little does anyone probably realize I am grasping at the tree to keep from stumbling.

I can’t wear heels unless they’re even. None of those stiletto-style heels or wedges — even the shortest heels will have me teetering off-balance within seconds of standing.

As I visit shopping malls and see signs indicating accessible entrances and restrooms, and ramps conveniently placed across from accessible parking areas, I’m reminded of how far we’ve come as a society that’s striving to welcome people with spina bifida and other disorders.

As I scour the ladies’ footwear section of any major department store, I’m cruelly reminded of how far we still need to go.

Indeed, I think my gender makes things worse for me as a shoe consumer. Men can get away with wearing more comfortable shoes, and even dress shoes don’t have heels. In fact, they could probably get away with wearing the same pair of shoes for a week straight, and no one would be the wiser.

But I feel like the entire culture of being a woman in the 21st century is centered around footwear. “I don’t know if I have shoes that will match this outfit!” “Let’s go shoe shopping this weekend.” “Oh, my shoes are killing me, and I didn’t bring rescue shoes.”

Guess what? Your “rescue shoes” are what I would wear to a social function. For me, there’s no such thing as rescue shoes because women like me can’t wear the shoes you so badly need to be rescued from.

I want to see a broader variety of shoes made available in the mainstream shoe industry — smaller sizes, 5 and under (for women, not just in girls’ styles). We need all types of shoes: professional and formal, for parties, work, school, you name it. Because sneakers are not going to cut it every single day. I need to see shoes that are wide enough and short enough for all shapes and sizes.

And if it were possible to create a larger variety of heels — smaller heels that are stable and easy to use for those who can stand — that would be awesome.

I can recall so many occasions on which I’ve attended parties with girlfriends. Near the end of the night, they’re complaining about their shoes. “God, my shoes are killing me, Laurita! You are so lucky you get to use that wheelchair. Can I borrow it?”

No, you may not borrow my chair, because it is not a one-time deal. With this wheelchair, (which I use often for events, especially when I have to resort to wearing uncomfortable boots to match an outfit) comes a lifetime of envy, resentment and anger for me because I can’t wear the shoes that are killing you right now. Because I wasn’t granted the luxury of being able to wear strappy heels that I will remove in less than two hours to dance barefoot on the dance floor after my feet have blistered.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, especially to myself, I love the shoes other women love — the strappy, shiny heels that you seem to glide effortlessly in, while I stumble clumsily in my flat boots.

Because Fate long ago decided that I do not get to live the Carrie Bradshaw fantasy for one lousy night, because that’s life.

Oh, your shoes are killing you? Then by all means, be my guest and remove them. You know what? They’re killing me, too.

Follow this journey on Holdin’ Out for a Hero.

Originally published: August 18, 2015
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