“I have size 11 feet. Yeah, it sucks, because I see all these super cute shoes in the stores - Guccis, YSLs, Manolos. And when they bring them out in my size, they look like clown shoes." –Paris Hilton
Confessions of a big footed girl
by Molly Jong-Fast
My feet have always been my Achilles’ heel: They have been called ships, boats, giant wedges of bony flesh, even flippers. Yes, I have very mixed feelings about my size 11 dogs: sometimes I am annoyingly liberated, embracing my hugeness, filled with the glee of a young bra burner in the 1960’s, and sometimes I just want to be able to buy a pair of Royal Elastic sneakers.
I suppose a good feminist would say that my feet are my own unasked-for, built-in protest against the patriarchy, freeing me from the conventional bonds of femininity. After all, foot binding in China was all about oppression, right? So by that thinking enormous feet are freedom--freedom to share shoes with drag queens, freedom to scare pedicurists, freedom to make kitten heels look like some kind of science experiment gone horribly wrong, which they are...
But here’s the crucial difference: unlike enormous, lopsided boobs, or a nose that is aerodynamically problematic, or giant twisted yellow teeth, my feet are incurable. There is no surgery to fix what ails me, there is no treatment, there is nothing Pat Wexler or Doctor Dan Baker can do to fix my problem. My enormous problem, my drag queen-sized problem, my feet, size 41, are large enough so that I will never be able to squeeze into Mella flip flops, cute Charlotte Ronson wedges, Tory Burch logo flats, or most styles of Kors by Michael Kors shoes.
I wish I could say, like a dimwitted golden retriever, that I have to love my enormous fleshy appendages, the way Angelica Huston cherishes her nose and Lauren Hutton loves the gap in her teeth. Because self-loathing is so 1990’s, right? Because we have entered the age of oppressive self-love, and the admission of displeasure at anything about my body will lead to teenage girls everywhere sniffing furniture polish.
Growing up I was pretty normal, at least for the daughter of a sex queen and a Buddhist, who lived on Manhattan’s upper east side in a dilapidated town house with a hot pink door. I had a pretty, newly single mom (Erica Jong) who was a successful writer and obsessed with fashion. Tragically, much of the fashion my mom was obsessed with was eighties fashion. For better or worse, mom was a constant clotheshorse of Koos, Norma Kamali, Zandra Rhodes, and the ubiquitous Maud Frezon. Her two large walk-in closets were like shoe museums, a testament to her obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and I spent much of my life sitting hiding in those closets.
I was a very anxious child, terrified of the city around me (I had some reason to be terrified, because from ‘85 to ‘88 our lives were ruled by mom’s stalker). But much of my hiding was about shoes, about loving them, about wanting to be with them --their impractical kitten heels, their sky-high platforms, their angry alligator skin. It was the safety of inanimate objects that those shoes offered me. It was the spirituality of commerce that saved me from the very clear and present danger of my mother’s activities: partying at Studio 54, dating, marrying, and writing books about sex.
Growing up, I assumed that I would have a closet like my mother’s—filled with beautiful, tiny (size 8 and 1/2; tiny is relative), sexy shoes, all of them with skinny, precarious heels. But around the age of twelve I started to have inkling that things might not go exactly as planned. For one thing I was fast becoming taller than my mother (who is actually 5’2 but lies and says she’s 5’3). On a good day, I am 5’8, and if you actually measured me you might find I am as short as 5’6. Not a shrimp, by any means, but short enough to perhaps have normal feet.
I don’t remember the day I crossed the demarcation line, trotted right into the Gaza strip of shoe buying. Anyone who has fallen off the foot normalcy map knows there is a huge difference between a size 10 (40) and a size 11 (41). All shoe stores carry size ten, all brands go up to size ten—when you have size ten feet the world is your oyster. But eleven is a totally different story—many luxury department stores only order one or two pairs of size 11 shoes. The Prada store on 70th and Madison routinely sells out of size 11, though I think some of this is because of my good friend the heiress who just buys all the size 41 shoes at Prada before they even hit American soil. Some stores and websites like Chuckey (of Madison Avenue) and www.shopbop.com carry almost no size 11 shoes.
Of course, shoes are merely one of the many manifestations of size discrimination in the world of the moneyed—go into the super-luxe Scoop store on Manhattan’s upper east side, ask for a size fourteen, and see if they start giggling, or try to find a pudgy model on a runway. All the plus size models have gone to Canyon Ranch, and even Star Jones seems to be shrinking.
Two years ago, when I got pregnant I was paralyzed with fear. Was I about to head into no man’s land? I could love size 11, I could wax on about feminist power, but at the end of the day, I could still score a pair of Prada sport boots. If I went to the other side there would be no coming back. As a teenage junkie I knew all about the lines in the sand—a month at Hazelden in Minnesota was a pit stop on the road of life, but a return trip meant something completely different. All daughters of privilege know the difference between rebellious stage and cautionary tale.
Around this time my perfect, insanely beautiful, model-bodied, multi-lingual, perfect-skinned, jaw-droppingly wealthy cousin was also pregnant. Our pregnancies ran basically parallel courses except that she gained twenty pounds (which she effortlessly dropped) and I gained NINETY pounds (of which fifteen pounds seems to have decided it loves me and wants to stay). She wore Missoni during her pregnancy. I wore a sheet from Land’s End and the wrappers from my most recent piece of pound cake. But despite the differences between us, we shared one crucial inheritance. We both had plus size feet. When we ran into each other at a baby shower for one of our other cousins (who also has size 11 feet), we compared notes.
“Nice shoes,” I said pointing to her Manolo Blaniks.
“Thanks,” she said. Did I mention that she doesn’t diet, that she has the fastest metabolism in the entire world?
“So,” I said in my slightly competitive fashion, “have your feet grown since the pregnancy?”
“Well,” she said with a limp smile, “I'm a forty-two now, a true forty-two. You know, a forty-two is really right between an eleven and a twelve.”
She could couch it in whatever Euro-speak she wanted, but the truth was my cousin had trotted right through into the North Korea of shoe buying—it would be bread lines and specialty stores for her. “Oh,” I said. I couldn’t think of anything to say to her, although I wanted to add something like “well, at least you’re thin.” But there was nothing to do but look sadly at her feet and smile.
In a world of floods, famines and endless wars, huge feet might seem less than tragic, but much of modern life is myopic, obsessed with the most trivial detail. And in that sense enormous feet matter as much as any other important triviality. My parents divorced after a triumphant 20 months of marriage, but my father and I spent a lot of time together. One of my happiest memories of that time was hanging out with him in the kitchen of the weird house he rented after he moved out of my mother’s house. When we listened the sound track to the Muppets, we used to dance with my feet on top of my father’s size thirteen feet. His feet were cold, white, and insanely luminescent, like the skin of a cadaver. Sometimes I would look at his feet and wonder how anything could be as huge as his long toes, which looked like mutant fingers. Years later, I see myself in my son, who walks on my feet and tries on my enormous shoes. Some day he will look at his enormous feet and think of his mother. Sure, he’d probably rather inherit a giant trust fund than a pair of size 13 steppers, but sometimes you gotta take what you can get.
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