What I Learned While Wearing Toe Shoes in Public
It was my longest walk of shame.
This article originally appeared on VICE Germany
I possess a deep propensity for shame. I'll leave the house with a little pimple on my forehead – just a moderately-sized whitehead, not even a big angry puss-y number – and immediately feel it throbbing. I'll imagine people staring at it, taking photos and uploading them to a rapidly growing Facebook group called "Michi Buchinger Acne Updates". It's highly possible that my shame is in some way connected to my inflated sense of self.
For whatever reason I have a need for strangers to think good things of me. It's a weakness, and I need to move beyond it. But what's the best way to do that? What can I do to signify I have both given up wholeheartedly on myself and care not what other people think of me?
One simple answer: toe shoes. The most embarrassing footwear ever designed.
Nobody knows exactly why toe shoes happened. My theory is some designer wanted to take "the next step in dynamic footwear", but instead of taking that next step just took a completely wrong turn. They're shoes shaped like feet – with toes and everything – and they make the person wearing them look like he or she accidentally put gloves on their feet.
The actual point of wearing toe shoes is probably that they're comfortable. Reviews on Amazon usually touch on that, like one from a "M. Schultz", who calls his toe shoes "heaven on earth :-)" and "totally stress free". Which makes me worry for M Schultz's, because there has to be something severely wrong with his life if wearing normal shoes is stressful.
Anyway, I figure walking around in these shoes for a bit might help me deal with my sense of shame, and help me build some confidence. So I buy a pair in the hope they'll change me forever.
I can honestly say I have never tried to stuff the dead body of a very large man into the boot of a Volkswagen Polo, but I can imagine that's about as difficult to pull off as trying to force my feet into my new toe shoes. I feel like one of Cinderella's desperate stepsisters. On top of that I never considered the fact that having a compartment for each toe means I can't wears socks – unless I buy toe socks to go with the shoes, which I do not want to do at all. So here I go, off on my first outing with the toe shoes, barefoot and feeling anxious.
Outside, I can't shake the feeling that every stranger passing me by disapproves of the choices I have made – footwear-related or otherwise. I feel hollow and nervous, and want to apologise for taking up space on the beautiful streets of my city, Vienna. I want to tell people, "Hey, my eyes are up here!" but I feel too uncomfortable to try to make a joke.
And I wish I could say it was all in my head, that really no one cares – but on my walk someone does ask me why I'm not wearing normal shoes. I have no answers. I make the outing as short as possible.
Yesterday, I felt people's gazes burn a hole in my feet, but after sleeping on it for a night I've figured out how to prevent that today – I'll take my toe shoes for a jog. If I run fast enough, no one will notice what I'm wearing – or at the very least they won't be able to ask me questions about it. And if they do, I can just lie and say they're for a fungal condition, because that's less embarrassing than admitting I bought them for their aesthetic.
There are many strange things about these shoes, but the strangest thing might be that it really does feel like you're walking around barefoot. So what I thought would be a normal jog becomes a very painful excursion – much more painful than usual, I mean. I feel every little pebble pricking into my soles. On top of that, these shoes are new and tight and probably not meant for jogging. After 15 minutes my feet start bleeding. I decide to take my run of shame home, where I spend the rest of the day. I don't have to wear shoes if I don't leave the house.
I'm invited to a party at a friend's house, starting in the early afternoon. Staying home is not an option. Hours before it kicks off, I start feeling anxious and consider wearing something flamboyant and distracting to the party – like a big floppy red hat. Contrary to what M. Schultz suggested, these shoes are giving me a lot of stress.
When I get to the party I discover there was no need to worry about my friends judging my cartoonish feet – everyone at the party has left their shoes by the door. It also means that I'll have to walk around the house completely barefoot like a flower child, but I quickly make peace with that. It takes a bit longer for the other drawback of taking off the toe shoes to sink in. I might feel like a flower child, but my feet don't smell like flowers. Just to be safe, I go and hang out by the cheese board.
My friend Barbara quickly notices I'm not enjoying myself and asks me what's up. I immediately tell her everything – about the toe shoes, my nerves and that if she smells something weird it might not be the camembert. She starts laughing in a way that suggests she wants my kind of problems; that the world would be a happy place if everyone just had problems like mine. "Of course people will stare at your feet and laugh at you," she says. "You're standing there sulking the whole time. It's not the shoes, it's the fact that you look as rattled as Kate Winslet by the end of Titanic."
She might have a point – I've been looking like a sad emoji on legs for the past few days."Why don't you just walk around town in your toe shoes," Barbara suggests, "and try to believe that your shoes are perfectly normal and everything is absolutely fine and everyone else is crazy for not having picked up the trend yet?"
It's solid advice. People who seem to exude confidence never look anything like sad emojis on legs – they look like they know what they're doing, which makes it easy to believe that they know what they're doing. And you believing they know what they're doing will give them even more confidence. I've always said that faking it is the key to success – it's what got me through most of my school exams. And it could get me through a day in toe shoes.
The first good news of the day is that my shoes are worn-in by now and don't hurt as much any more. The fact that they no longer make my feet bleed allows me to walk around more confidently, and less like a drunken pirate. The second bit of good news is that the weather is very nice today, which is always a better setting when you want to strut around self-assuredly. I find it's fairly easy to follow Barbara's advice and just change my attitude – and surprisingly, when I stop thinking 'please don't look at my shoes please don't look at my shoes' it seems like people actually do ignore them and me and just continue paying attention to their Candy Crush game. I still hate and and fear them, but more because they're holding up the pavement while staring at Candy Crush.
I go about my day as I would normally – I go to the supermarket, meet a friend for lunch, have a work meeting. No one says anything about my shoes – at least not to my face. I'm tempted a few times to whack my feet on the table and force a reaction, confront them by saying: "You took me seriously, but aha: I've been wearing these the whole time!" But I don't – I'm not sure I can handle the response yet.
M.Schultz might have been more correct than I thought; with the right mentality toe shoes can really be pretty stress free footwear. I'm not saying they're more stress free than toe-less shoes, but they're nothing to panic over. And it's good to know that being less critical of yourself and your ridiculous footwear incites significantly fewer stares and laughter. I'm very much looking forward to trying out Barbara's advice next time I have a throbbing red pimple on my face.