MUSINGS FROM THE LAUNDROMAT | A step in the right direction

If the shoe fits, wear it. If not, well, consider this.

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon, I stepped away from the farmers market to visit one of my favorite Ballard shops. Filled with curiosities, which often require explanation by the owner, it’s a fascinating place to explore.

While browsing, I noticed three pairs of tiny, triangular-shaped shoes, no more than 4 inches long. One pair was embroidered and beaded; the other two were simple, utilitarian, black leather with ties. Having recently read the book “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” by Lisa See, I knew immediately, without asking, that these were Chinese foot-binding shoes.

Foot binding, practiced in China until the early 1900s, was a symbol of wealth, beauty and class, and women with bound feet were most desirable for marriage. Binding, which began as early as age 4, was an excruciating process that involved breaking the soft bones in the toes, turning them under the feet, forcing the sole against the heel, and binding and rebinding the feet with bandages.

The goal was to end up with a 3- to 5-inch foot that would slip daintily into a tiny slipper such as the ones sold in the shop in Ballard.

Bound feet were highly erotic to the men of that time, much as long legs and full breasts are today. But women with bound feet suffered infections and ongoing pain and, if they could still walk, could only do so in short, shuffling steps.

But, hey, they had status and good marriages.

Barbaric? Many think so.

Cultural? Certainly.

But who are we to judge?

For the sake of others
Sitting in my car at a red light on a Queen Anne Friday night, I watched young couples cross the street in front of me, heading to the Paragon or any of the plentiful bars and restaurants that now line our main avenue. The men were dressed in sneakers, loose jeans, warm jackets and hats. They looked comfortable.

But the women — with perfectly flat-ironed hair and substantial makeup — wore short skirts, skin-tight pants, flimsy off-the-shoulder tops and (and this is what really got my attention) 4- to 6-inch heels that forced them to walk in awkward, short steps.

“Huh,” I thought to myself. “That does not look like fun at all.”

It made me think of the foot-binding shoes I had seen and the things women have done — and still do — for beauty, for acceptance, to be attractive and noticed and wanted.
Think corsets. Think breast implants. Think facelifts, eye jobs, liposuction and nose jobs. Think hideously uncomfortable underwear.

I wiggled my toes in my comfy shoes, pulled my jacket closer around me, despite the heat that kept my car warm, and tousled my curly hair, relieved to be done with all that.
There was a day, though, when I chose pain over comfort in order to look “good,” according to the style du jour. I struggled mightily with my appearance for many years.

I was too heavy, my hair was too curly, my nose was too big, my teeth were too crooked.

I was too short, too tall, too whatever I didn’t want to be at the time.

My outfit choices were invariably (in my mind) failures, although I had felt good leaving the house.

My head, the media, my mother, my peers all played with my sense of self-worth, which was based primarily on my appearance.

From girlhood, the importance of being pretty is fed to us from every angle. Even fairy tales bolster the ideal of beauty. We need to marry the prince, please the king, be rescued by the knight because without him or our beauty, we are helpless.

Remember how Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters tried oh-so-hard to squeeze their big feet into that tiny glass slipper? And for what? To impress the man, to get the prince, to marry well, to be popular. Turns out the shoe didn’t fit. Cinderella got the prize, but she had to walk around all night in a glass shoe. Was it worth it?

We’ll never know because Cinderella is not real. If she were real, I suspect that she would have chucked those glass slippers and traded them in for a pair of Dansko or Merrell shoes.

What is real is the fact that women are still squeezing their feet into — or in some cases onto — shoes that hurt. Shoes that wreak havoc with backs, knees and Achilles tendons.

Not our role to play
It’s not just our shoes that are uncomfortable, though. In our attempt to live up to media-imposed ideals, all of us (men, too!) play roles that don’t quite fit, don’t we? We juggle too many things. Women rise in a man’s world by being masculine. We put our true selves aside to please others. We deny our needs to be caregivers. We dismiss significant aspects of our true natures. Why?

Who decided that discomfort was sexy? That the higher the heel, the more desirable the woman? And who is that to look good for? Certainly not the person wearing the shoes.

Just as foot binding was a hard cultural habit to break, so, too, is the idea that skyscraper heels are sexier than ergonomically correct shoes and comfy underpants.

But we can start by teaching our daughters (and our sons) that to be accepted, to be sexy, to be successful, one does not need to look — or be — uncomfortable.

If the shoe fits, wear it! If not, then find one that does — preferably a flat with really good support.

IRENE HOPKINS, who had lived on Queen Anne for 20 years, now lives on a sailboat in Ballard. She can be reached at[[In-content Ad]]