Last week, a woman and her daughter walked into the shoe department where I work and plopped two old plastic shopping bags on the counter.
She looked at the sales associate and asked if we could stretch some shoes for her.
Shoe-stretching is a simple service we offer customers who are buying new shoes in our store, but in no way are we cobblers of any kind. The associate asked if she had recently purchased the shoes in our store. The customer pulled out some receipts from over a year ago and then laid out four pairs of extremely worn shoes on the counter.
The associate—unsure of the customer’s expectations—said, “These shoes are already broken in, and I’m not sure we can stretch them any more. What exactly seems to be the problem?”
“I need them to be a half size larger. They are a 9.5,” replied the woman.
The associate politely replied that we would not be able to stretch the shoes a half size larger and suggested the customer try on some new shoes in a size 10.
The woman became very serious and stated, “My husband can’t know that I wear a size 10 shoe. You need to stretch these for me.”
At that moment, the manager in me smiled, and I directed the associate to take the shoes to the back and put them on the stretchers.
I looked at the woman and her daughter in front of me, promised that we would do our best, and sent them on their way for an hour while we tried to work some magic.
The wild woman in me, however, rolled her eyes, threw herself on the ground in a fit of outrage and screamed:
Are you kidding me?!
You don’t want your husband—to whom you have probably been married to for over half your life—to know you have big feet?
You are going to walk around for the rest of your life squeezed into shoes that don’t fit you, just so he won’t know the truth? Again—are you kidding me?
Are those not the feet that have paced your floors with worry through the years? Are those not the feet that supported your body as you pushed your children into the world? Are those not the feet that wrap around his waist in passion?
Tell me, woman—after all that you have done and all that you are, do you really believe that he cares about the number on the bottom of your shoe?
My disbelief and frustration eventually simmered down to a quiet sadness, as I began to examine all the different ways that many women, including myself, make themselves smaller out of fear—fear of rejection, fear of not being loved.
We dim our light, muffle our voices and cram ourselves into roles or personas—or even shoes—which do not represent our authentic selves.
When we struggle to be the ultimate mother, the successful career women, the doting wife or the sexy lover—or more likely, all of them combined—we lose our true soul in the pursuit of unattainable perfection.
It is a race with no end, and it is exhausting.
Imagine if we spoke to ourselves with the same tenderness as we do our children? Imagine if we forgave ourselves for our mistakes and imperfections, as we do our friends—or wrapped ourselves in the comforting compassion that we offer strangers?
We would know that we are enough. There would be no more fear. We would raise daughters who honor themselves and sons who celebrate the women in their lives.
As much as I wanted that woman with the size 10 feet to know that I thought she was enough and deserved to be free, I wanted her to know it herself. My compassion would do nothing compared to what her own self-compassion could do.
Self-love is the key to the kingdom, ladies.
Kick off your shoes and run wild.
Author: Christine Lumley
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina