Man-Footed: How I Learned to Stop Fearing Shoe Shopping and Own It

I have big feet. I’ve been a women’s size 11 since the 9th grade. The most common response I get when I tell people this is a confused “Really?” I guess maybe they’re expecting ridiculous looking clown feet that stick out weirdly, and mine don’t look particularly odd or disproportionate. I’m about 5’8, which is around two inches shorter than two of my best friends, although my shoe size is one larger. But, really, if you look at the numbers the difference isn’t that dramatic. Size 11 shoes are about 10.625 inches long and Size 10 shoes are usually about 10.25 inches. One of many unsympathetic shoe salesladies in the ongoing misery that was my highschool shoe shopping experience told me that the average woman wore size 7, which is about 9.5 inches long. That’s only a difference of 1.125 inches! 1.125 hated inches that had me wearing men’s (size 9.5) shoes throughout highschool. Sneakers are pretty gender neutral so probably no one could tell, but I knew and felt like a man-footed freak. I know because I wrote it in my journal at the beginning of each school year after another tearful shoe shopping trip.

"I AM A MAN-FOOTED FREAK!!!!" underlined nine times in purple gel pen.

And, of course, it got even worse when I actually had to shop for shoes specifically made for women. Like, say, for prom. I guess I was lucky that I was only Size 11, which seems to be generally the upper limit of shoe size you can find at all at stores, even if pickings are slim. Still, forget shopping at any store where a sample of one shoe is out on display and the employees have to fetch particular sizes from the back–it will always, even today, be a parade of almost Cheese Shoppian disappointment. The only places my poor, determined mother and I would have any luck were stores like Rack Room Shoes or Shoe Carnival, where the entire inventory is out in giant stacks for you to peruse, sometimes with the “unusual” sizes like 11 marked with a bright sticker. My strategy, honed through many such outings, is to never look at the shoes, instead hunting only for that sticker. I think if you have more “normal” sized feet you’re allowed to do it the other way, but I’ve learned it’s the best way to avoid disappointment, especially back then when higher sizes were even rarer. Often I would be choosing between only two or three shoes in the entire store, and if I didn’t like the color or height or stupid beading, too bad. I started to loathe all of the cute, sparkly shoes for sale in the stores at the mall my friends liked to shop at, because, even in catalogs, the highest size offered was always size 10. I remember getting the dELiA’s catalog in the mail and just despairing over the beautiful, perfect shoes I could never wear since it always said “Sizes 5-10”. Now, of course, I would be suspicious of buying anything from a company that plays so fast and loose with capitalization, but, at 14, it was heart-breaking.

Luckily, things have gotten better. More stores are offering more choices in size 11! Even my old nemesis dELiA’s has an “extended sizes” section that offers sizes 11 and 12-13. There are far fewer choices but at least they’re recognizing that we larger-footed sizes exist. Lately I’ve bought a lot of shoes at Target, where I can usually find almost any shoe in their shoe department in my size! The day I bought my first pair of cute, girly flip flops it was a HUGE deal after a lifetime of wearing boring men’s sandals. I told the checkout girl all about it; she didn’t really seem to understand the immensity of the occasion. Apparently the average women’s shoe size has been increasing steadily, so hopefully shoe manufacturers will catch the hell up soon.

The three pairs of shoes I wear most often: blue men's athletic shoes my brother left here, converses, and black ballet flats from Target!

Recently, I went shopping for shoes for my wedding! At the Converse outlet store. It was the single greatest shoe shopping trip of my life!!! There’s no distinguishing between women’s and men’s converse; each box lists both sizes together and 9.5, my equivalent size in men’s, is a totally common size!!!! I could choose from any color and style in the entire store!!! It was the best day ever!!! Rob, who was with me, seemed really confused by my sheer exuberance, but probably just thought I was super excited to be getting married. Which I was!! But I was also fulfilling highschool Patricia’s dream of being able to shop for shoes like a normal person, being able to choose between more than three things, being able to find the perfect shoe for the occasion, exactly what I pictured in my head. And for it to be in my size.

Perfection!

So, things are getting better, but they’re still not great. I got to fulfill Highschool Patricia’s dream, but I still had to do it by being man-footed. Before deciding on Converses, I went into two Rack Rooms to look for more normal, strappy girl sandals or heels, and found a grand total of one pair between them both. True, if my heart was set on it, I probably could’ve found something that would have worked online, after expanding at least twice the time and effort of someone with stumpier feet, but why should I have to do that? At one of the Rack Rooms (the one with nothing) one of the salesladies asked me if I needed help and I explained that I wear size 11. She actually seemed quite apologetic and told me that she was sorry they were out of their admittedly very sparse stock in that size. I shrugged and said I was used to it, and she agreed saying “I know it must be hard to find shoes for you, I’m sorry”. But maybe I’ve matured since the bitter highschool years or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it, because all I said was, “I don’t mind. I’m sturdy.” Which is kind of how I’ve come to look at it. One of my best friends in high-school, trying to cheer me up, told me that she thought “man-footed” sounded like a term of endearment, and from now on I’m going to see it as such. Yeah, it’s a huge pain finding shoes in my size, but at least it’s harder to knock me over. At least I can go on hikes and do wicked kickboxing kicks and all the other amazing things my feet can do for me. Plus, I rock those man shoes so whatever.

Sure, dainty tiny feet are probably prettier, but, like my Viking ancestors, I was built to pillage some awesome loot and show those frost giants who’s boss. Which is just as good, and probably more fun, than being Cinderella and worrying about having feet small enough to fit into some prince’s (or society’s) silly expectations of femininity.

3 responses to “Man-Footed: How I Learned to Stop Fearing Shoe Shopping and Own It”

  1. Bova says:

    This was inspirational, Patricia! You are so eloquent! I think you should send this to Seventeen or like Cosmo or something…I totally see them publishing it!

    I just always felt way too tall in general throughout middle and high school and hated being unable to find pants long enough or wear “sexy” high heels. But now that I have embraced my height, figured out where to find long pants, and decided that high heels are stupid I am much happier!! (It’s weird that I only wear size 8.5 shoes if you wear 11…I feel like I must be unstable or something??)

    And I LOVED your wedding shoes! You rock!

  2. Megan says:

    i love this! as someone with baby-sized feet, i envy people with mature, adult-sized feet. i might save a few bucks here and there by buying children’s shoes, but let’s be honest … when you can share shoes with the 7 year old you babysit, it gets to you.

    keep rockin’ with those sturdy feet! :)

  3. […] It’s not a huge wound, but apparently you use the side of your foot a lot more than you think, because I’m still hobbling kind of funny. It’s getting better though! And they assured me that the nail would grow back only slightly wonky. I’m pretty sure this is my foot’s revenge for me airing my past grievances about its size to you. […]

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