Last week was one of those weeks where Tuesday felt like Friday and the only things slower then the workday were the people around me. No matter how hard I worked or how many hours were logged at the office my to-do list only got longer and longer. Dreams quickly turned into nightmares as my coworkers took center stage even at night, reminding me in sleep just how much there is to do. Running around the office, desperately attempting to chip away at the laundry list of must-dos I was confronted by a co-worker who wanted to talk to me about something very important, something that had been bothering her for weeks. Her hushed tone and secretive approach had me both worried and intrigued, wondering if anything could have gone terribly wrong with deliverables on a project where she and I crossed paths. Much to my surprise the important conversation was not on that project or a client question. Our conversation turned personal very quickly as she begun with “You’re a very pretty girl but…”
It is amazing that the sentence did not actually take a long pause with the word “but” yet my brain had enough time to process hundreds of possible endings. It is almost embarrassing to admit the myriad of things that went through my head to finish off this backhanded compliment. The first was one I have unfortunately heard from family and strangers for decades; “you would be beautiful if you lost some weight.” Intense sadness overwhelmed me as I thought of all the times I heard those words and all the girls who still hear in various ways that only thin girls are beautiful. Shaking off the sting from those haunting words my mind went into overtime trying to prepare for any other potential things this co-worker was going to say. You’re a pretty girl but… you should cut your hair, wear makeup, change deodorant, wax your eyebrows, use a breath mint, stand straight, watch your language, or find Jesus. What else could she possibly say?
You could just imagine my surprise when this co-worker completed her sentence with “you wear the most awful shoes.” Apparently my shoes are big, clunky and not very feminine and if I would just wear better shoes I would be more graceful. Out of everything I expected from the conversation I never expected the focus to be on my shoes. I was completely prepared with a retort on my weight, makeup, hair or breath but could not for the life of me formulate a response about my shoes. After looking down at my feet the only thing I could communicate was it was winter and I will not wear dainty shoes in the snow. The shock on my face was apparent but I could not spit anything out of my mouth that would be constructive, appropriate or witty. Shock quickly turned into disbelief as I replayed the un-welcomed and unwarranted fashion advice.
This unusual conversation could qualify as an HR violation but my coworker meant no harm. She was trying to bestow some honest advice which makes me seriously wonder how many others she chatted to about my gigantic shoes before having the courage to schedule a footwear intervention. A partner with my first post-college employer once approached me about my attire. She did not wish to embarrass or offend me but felt as a woman in a man’s world she needed to give me career advice that I could take or leave. Her advice; even in a business casual culture it is important for a woman, especially a blonde woman, to dress for success if she wants to be taken seriously. There were many times in my career that I did not heed her advice and at those times I realized just how right she was; when I wear a suit people treat me with a higher level of authority, but my shoes?
Men with foot fetishes are not ones to give me a second look and modeling agencies have yet to knock down the door with a shoe modeling contract. Trips to the shoe store are just slightly less painful then a root canal. With big feet it is nearly impossible to find shoes in my size let alone “cute” shoes. Size 6 shoes displayed in storefront windows are adorable but those same shoes in a size 10 and above look like small tug boats. To make matters worse my feet often swell as a result of breaking both, in separate incidents, within the past 5 years (for the record, neither of those accidents were a result of bad shoes). So not only is it impossible to find shoes that fit but when I do they end up being more functional then fashionable. If it were not completely inappropriate for the workplace my paws would wear nothing but flip-flops, allowing plenty of room to swell. The development of my nasty purse habit is directly correlated to shoe envy, jealous of women who could fill their closets with the latest stilettos and espadrilles.
Considering the suggestion that smaller shoes would lead to more grace and beauty is appealing. After a lifetime of being large and clumsy was the right pair of shoes the only thing needed to complete my modern day Cinderella story? Could I somehow become the picture of charm and poise when Prince Shoesalesman slipped on the right pumps? It is a nice thought but somehow I do not think a pair of Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks would transform me or any other woman into the picture of elegance. Dainty girls don’t throw shot put, play rugby or bounce at bars. At five foot nine and 195 pounds it is safe to say there is not a dainty bone in my body and no shoe in the world will ever transform that. Shoes are only magical in fairy tales or for women with itty bitty feet. The rest of us have to find our fashion magic elsewhere.