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Jane Barowitz

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The Sisterhood of Women with Big Feet

Posted: 06/11/2009 2:22 pm

At Barney's shoe sale the best selection is in size 5 or 10. I read it on the front page of Thursday's Style section of the Times. This was the first time I had ever heard of an advantage to wearing a size 10. I have a long, sad history of shoe size trauma so this was big news.

My problem began with Mary Janes, the round-toed, black patent leather shoes with a strap across the instep that are de rigueur for little girls in party dresses. As an eight-year-old with size 7 feet, Mary Janes were a non-starter. They were children's shoes and came in children's sizes. Unfortunately, my feet were definitely adult-sized. Giant Mary Janes didn't exist then. If my 8-year-old self or a contemporary doppleganger needed giant Mary Janes today, she could go to Barney's shoe sale and ask her mom for the $529 Louboutin version, open toed and deep purple. Cute with white knee sox, doncha think?

My history of shoe trauma is highlighted by trips to Tall Gals Shoes, featuring attractive footwear for gigantic nurses or maybe my grandmother--and not my chic grandmother either. I never learned to ice-skate because the only rental skates in my size were the dread boys' skates---low brown shoes with hockey blades, not the pretty white boots that girls wore to twirl in the center of the rink.

A story about shoe size can no more avoid Cinderella than General Motors can avoid bankruptcy. The Times writer saves her Cinderella reference for the end as she muses on the notion that the extravagance and beauty of Barney's shoes embody the promise that they will somehow "lead all Cinderellas to locate their proper mates." That is, according to the fairytale, IF they do not have big, ugly stepsister-ish feet.

The structural reliability -- even superiority -- of my feet helps me maintain a little perspective. So do the women I call the "Sisterhood of Women with Big Feet." I don't know their names, but they're right out there on sharing their shoe size as we browse dejectedly at the sparse "10 and over" racks at DSW. We understand each other. We recommend shoe stores, we who wear 10 ½ or 11 are shocked but sympathetic toward the sister who wears a 12. And because big feet tend to belong to big women, we discuss whether we really want to add 5 or 6 inch heels to our heights---subway doors become an issue.

We share our fury at manufacturers whose shoes are made in half sizes up to 10 and then skip to 11 and in rare cases 12. Do they believe that past a certain point fit doesn't matter, that big is big

"Yer feets too big!" Fats Waller bellows in his 1939 classic, "from your ankles up, I say you sure are sweet, from there down, there's just too much feet." Is this funny? I can't tell; but it has staying power. Sesame Street, that bastion of sensitivity and kindness, has a cartoon version of the song, which ends with the grossly toe-nailed heroine marching off with her feet in a pair of buses. Very funny.

Limping on blisters from too many shoes that I hoped would stretch out, I coped. I discovered that shoes could be stretched by: the shoemaker; a shoetree-like device bought by mail-order; by soaking new shoes in "shoe-stretch" and wearing them around the house with sweat socks, and I frequented depressing shoe stores that advertised specials for wide and long feet. The big shoe picture is getting better. Generally speaking, each generation is taller than the preceding one and taller goes along with bigger feet; so it will be easier to find shoes that fit.

But the memory of the jovial shoe salesman who didn't have ballet flats in my size and suggested that I "just wear the boxes" will be with me forever. He laughed at 12-year-old me as I wept for pretty shoes. If only I had known that someday far in the future a writer would declare (more or less correctly) that wearing size 10 is an advantage. However, when I was that sobbing child, Barney's was a discount store for men and boys. I guess miracles do happen.

 
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