It’s the question I get asked multiple times a week. At the gym, while running errands, walking my dog, at my waitressing job. It is usually accompanied by a subtle widening of the eyes, which are aimed at my feet. 90% of the time, the observer is male. I can sense his curiosity, his wonder. There is an invisible field of “whaaaaa?!” surrounding him as the cranium awakens, the daydreaming begins, and the ability to speak becomes temporarily suspended. I take the opportunity to wiggle my toes, to widen my stance.
When the question eventually emerges, it’s accompanied by the slightest hint of a smile:
“Are those shoes … comfortable?”
Let me first of all point out that this is NOT The Question. I see right through to the judgment, to the designation of That Which is Different and Must Not Go Unmentioned. And I get it, they’re different looking! They’re weird! But as someone who fears judgment (and also very much enjoys judging others), my response to The Question used to be a cheerful, “yes,” followed by a quick escape. Recently, though, because I am also an overachiever and a good student at heart, it dawned on me that perhaps there is more to be made of The Question in the name of enlightening humanity. By asking The Question, these people are actually seeking insight into the mind of an unusual person, not the feet – and as such, I suddenly felt called to be provide them with that experience.
“Sooooo comfortable. Check it out – I can really grip the earth, shift my weight as needed in order to strengthen all of those tiny muscles in my feet and ankles, and wiggle my baby toe independently of the others!”
“It all started when I was seven years old, in ballet class. My teacher was always fixing my ankles so they would do this (demonstration of proper ankle alignment) instead of this (demonstration of weak ankles and lazy insoles). Well, I stopped dancing in middle school, when I became a more serious athlete …”
My most recent response to The Question involved references to the approximate locations of my arthritis, and my laundry schedule. And when I step back and consider the 180-degree turn I’ve experienced as the answerer of The Question, I realize that my five-finger shoes have given me more than just renewed physical strength and the natural shape of my feet. They have allowed me to take back my power as an unusual person. Because as good as they are at feigning interest in my “shoes”, the bottom line for me is that I don’t want to connect to people who ask The Question. But I’m happy to answer it!