Women’s feet are supposed to be small and narrow, but what is constituted as ‘small’, varies from culture to culture and time to time. This is not just a tacit rule, the prevalence of small women’s feet is evident in the general lack of shoe sizes over 41 (9 ½ USA, 7 UK) in mainstream shoe industry and stores. When something as natural as the shoe size variety is being ignored – and not producing bigger shoe sizes is a capital consumer negligence – then big feet are being Othered or to put it differently, the society (and shoe industry in particular) is being sizeist.
Sizeism is a discrimination against a person on the basis of her/his/their body size (fat, thin, small or tall), but it also includes a less common prejudice against a person’s length and width of feet. This prejudice is far more problematic for women, whose feet size is larger than number 41. They fall out of the category to be ‘beautiful’ because western society’s notions of women’s beauty are intertwined with their feminine physicality. Beautiful = feminine.
Women’s feet are – as any other body part – defined and validated via disciplinary regimes of beauty. Besides the usual young, pretty and thin imperative, women’s hands and feet are supposed to be small and delicate. The littleness of feet is yet another body ideal, placed upon women with its subtle message that their bodies should not occupy a lot of physical space; women should make themselves as small (hence the tyranny of slenderness) and invisible as possible. When it comes to feet, there is a ‘big feet’ shame that – in everyday life – translates into taunting and is primarily damaging for girls and young women, who do not have small feet and if they are also tall (i.e. over 1,80m), another aspect of sizeism (i.e. women’s height) is being added. These societal body prejudices can harm a young person’s body image.
When a woman does not belong to a ‘normal’ shoe size, she is being ‘punished’ for her size discursively (being constantly taunted for her feet) and materially (not being able to find the right size or kind of shoes). Her right to choose shoes has been eliminated. The only options left for her are sports footwear or men’s shoes. But not every woman has a desire to wear those limited types of footwear, if those choices were forced upon her and she also wishes to engage in more diverse (e.g. feminine or extravagant) footgear. Reasons can even have an economic aspect – not everyone can afford custom-made shoes or to order shoes of specific shoe brands from abroad.
If I apply the traditional psychoanalytic approach about a shoe as a symbol of female genitalia, then too big or too wide women’s shoes translate into the sexist understanding of a vagina as being ‘loose’ and needs to be corrected or medically tightened. In times where vaginoplasty is becoming more normalized, the repulsion of anything big (e.g. body fat, ‘loose’ vagina, big labia or big feet) on a woman’s body just reinforces the idea that being a woman is nothing but shameful.
Therefore, a big feet shame should just became a big feet Pride.<<< Back