Every woman has body parts they feel slightly – or even majorly – ashamed of. Usually we ladies are busy making mountains out of molehills, staring into bad mirrors, trying on bathing suits in fluorescent lights (never a good idea), scrutinizing every inch of ourselves in bathtubs and comparing our figures to those of Victoria’s Secret angels.
To point out that women are their own worst critics is cliché at this point; men don’t even notice most of these perceived female flaws. And we’ve all learned the fine art of accentuating the good and playing down or covering the not-so-good.
But there’s no hiding big feet. In the same way big hands and big feet on men are construed as “masculine,” big feet on women – let’s say, anything above a nine – are de-feminizing (the opposite of emasculating – yes, I just made that up). Women are supposed to be dainty, right? Demure, dainty, delicate – these are attributes historically associated with the cultural idea of “femininity.”
Some of this thinking can be traced back to Imperial China in the 10th and 11th centuries. The feet of girls from wealthy families were bound up in heavy tape to discourage growth and maintain what the Chinese call “lotus feet.” While it actually worked to deter growth, it also caused lifelong disabilities for most of its subjects.
I was “the tall girl” of my school by fifth grade; in class photos, I stood in the back row with the boys. And if that weren’t embarrassing enough at the time, my feet seemed to never stay at the same size. For awhile, it was a nine – and if you’re five foot nine inches like I am, you pretty much better have feet that long or you’re going to fall over. Then it went to a 10 – my mother blamed that on my wearing sandals on the beach all summer. Then I broke a few toes here and there along the way and truth be told they swelled and expanded a little. By the time I was 25, I was wearing the very dreaded size 11.
Consequently, I’ve never gone shoe shopping with a boyfriend – and used to suffer incredible embarrassment with shoe salespeople who would look askance when I told them my size. I started beating them to the punch, saying, “I wear the dreaded 11. I know you probably don’t have that many shoes in my size.” Yes, I actually had a salesmen tell me, “Why don’t you just wear the box instead?”
My worst critic and chief humiliator was my mother. Even though she wore a size nine, she was always telling me my choice of shoes were making my feet look big and that I was walking with my toes pointed out instead of in. I became, of course, horribly self-conscious about my feet, both in shoes and out of them.
We all know high heels make your legs look great; they have the same effect on your feet because your heel goes much higher and your foot appears shorter. But if you’re over five foot eight inches, do you really want to tower over guys? And all your girlfriends? That might be fine for Jerry Hall or Nicole Kidman or Karlie Kloss – all notoriously gorgeous and thin as waifs – but most women don’t have their confidence or their bodies.
I gave up on high heels pretty early. Pointy toed shoes really have be purchased a size up – and asking for an 11 is brutal enough. Louboutins often had to be two sizes up to be comfortable when they have very pointy toes (and most do). I came home crippled enough times to know that hobbling and falling over is even less attractive than big feet.
Luckily, the kitten heel became a thing with the rise of Manolo Blahnik in the ’90s. Manolos are feminine, always comfortable and classic. The fact that they start at about $800 is a bit of problem, though. I always make sure to have one pair on hand in black – you can wear them with anything and they still look feminine. Prada and Miu Miu are also pretty comfortable and come in larger sizes. So do most Chloe shoes.
And the truth is that despite most women over five foot eight inches having bigger feet (that means almost all supermodels), most designer shoes – the gorgeous expensive we ones we crave by Louboutin, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Celine and Valentino – are often very hard to find above a size nine.
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Good luck finding them at Barneys or Neimans … I’ve tried for years. Only Saks Fifth Avenue makes it a point to stock larger sizes. J. Crew makes a very nice medium priced flats and kitten heels and stock a lot of 10s, 11s and even 12s. Websites Net a Porter, The Outnet, Zappos and My Theresa are known for keeping a stock of larger sizes. Nordstrom claims to carry up to a 13. And UGG is known for larger sizes – but sticking my size 11s in UGG boots makes them appear like my feet swelled up to epic proportions.
Certain shoe shapes look better big, particularly when it comes to flats. And flats are a tall girl’s best friend. In the last three years, designers are making fabulous flats that are actually kind of sexy. They often have “toe cleavage” or fronts that are not very deep. A flat boot or not very open flat exaggerate foot length, particularly if you have either skinny or thicker ankles. Black tights make it all recede.
Miu Miu has fabulous beaded and sparkly ballet flats and Lanvin really kicked off the leather ballet flat trend about ten years ago. Roger Vivier does a very chic flat with buckles in every color and fabrication – even printed and floral ones. Manolo’s silk evening flats with beading or gold trim are even black tie appropriate. And it takes a really cool girl to do black tie flats. Remember when Sofia Coppola wore flats to the Oscars? She’s always in flats and she’s as cool as it gets.
I often refer to my wardrobe of very chic ballet flats and even groovy oxfords (which became trendy about two years ago) and loafers as my “short guy date shoes.” I was crazy in love with this guy for a full two years who was, on any given day, one to two inches shorter than I am. I know, I know – it works for Nicole Kidman.
Lots of tall women now date and even marry shorter guys – there’s not a stigma there anymore and guys seem to love it. But I feel embarrassed if I’m out with a guy I have to look peer down at. Yes, I feel the dreaded “less feminine.” That’s my problem. But I’ve never managed to get past it. Chemistry is non-negotiable, as they say.
But I have managed to get past my initial humiliation at having big feet. You probably don’t know this, but here’s a list of women who are known for size 10s, 11s and even 12s: Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn, the famous model Veruschka, Kendell Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Serena Williams, Paris Hilton, Famke Janssen, Uma Thurman, Kate Winslet, Maria Sharapova, Elle Macpherson, Jerry Hall, Katie Holmes, Sandra Bullock, Whoopi Goldberg, Geena Davis, Cindy Crawford and Oprah Winfrey.
And these are the ones we know about. Kate Winslet once revealed that Leo DiCaprio referred to her feet as “my canoes.” And Uma Thurman’s size 11s apparently inspired Quentin Tarantino to write the famous foot massage scene in “Pulp Fiction.”
One would certainly never accuse any of these ladies of being anything less than fabulous – big feet or no. As Rod Stewart once sang – they wear it well. Proudly. These are not shrinking violets.
So if anyone gives me a look when I mention my shoe size in the last few years – and I’m much touchier about my age than my shoe size these days – I say, “Yes, I wear the same size as Jackie O, Audrey Hepburn and Cindy Crawford” and they very quickly shut up.
I’ve purposefully always worn very feminine clothes; I rarely wear pants (which make you feel longer unless you’re in stilettos). And I’ve found if you say it with pride – like bigger actually is better – the stereotype gets busted. In fact, historically, the perception of many female body types has always altered: Once it was all about big boobs. Now it’s about big butts. Sometimes it’s about lithe, toned or even buff arms.
One of these days, I might walk down the street and even get complimented on my “more the merrier” feet. But until then, I am walking the tightrope of attempted camouflage – and wearing deep red lipstick. If everyone’s staring at your face, they won’t even notice your feet.
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