I never thought I’d be someone with so many pairs of shoes.
I own 28 pairs of shoes. Five pairs are slippers: three for winter and two for summer. Nine are heels: three wedges and the rest have varying degrees of height and colors and patterns. I own six pairs of flats, four pairs of boots, three pairs of tennis shoes, and one pair of sandals. Of those, I probably ought to give away two pairs and throw away four more. I wear all the others.
You don’t care about my shoes. I think of it now because there are a lot of things that I do now I didn’t expect I’d ever do. I remember watching the movie Marie Antoinette when I was a senior in high school and feeling astounded that shoes were treated as such a decadence. I knew enough about that era of French history to know that this aspect of the movie was flavored to resonate with modern America culture, but I also knew that I didn’t match culture in that way. Even earlier, probably in middle school, I remember professing confusion to my mother that people ever have so many shoes. I had two or three pairs to match my Sunday church dresses, tennis shoes for school, and a pair of brown leather sandals that I wore constantly at home.
How could anyone ever need a dozen or more pairs of shoes? Basic black, alternative brown, and white handled all my dresswear needs, sandals covered comfort, and my sneakers took me from math class to PE to choir rehearsal to the grocery store. Now I have black flats, royal blue flats, sky blue flats, sparkle and non-sparkle varieties of plum flats, nude flats, nude heels, nude wedges (all of which are really varying shades of light tan).
And I don’t actually need them all. So many people would love to have a single pair of shoes, or one nice pair to wear to work, or tennis shoes that don’t have to be duct-taped on. Some people would very gladly go without if only they could buy a decent pair for their child, or parent, or sibling.
I own 28 pairs of shoes and I don’t know how my teenaged self would see me. Would she look at all the shoes and lift a single eyebrow at me over her shoulder? Would she watch me walk into work with my sunglasses on top of my head—so pompous—and my purse dangled from my elbow—so lazy—and be appalled? What would she think of my ballet bun, or my sparkly green tights, or my rainboots by the back door?
I no longer obsess over whether every minute aspect of my image to the world projects my intended effect…which was usually shapeless smart girl. My jeans, sneakers, and hoodie were my armor. But in truth, I’ve come to do a lot of things teen-me despised, or just didn’t get, because they were easy.
I started wearing sunglasses a lot more after I had eye surgery, but I want to look people in the eye, so I slide them up and down on my head a lot. I also forget about them when I’m in stores. And my purse is way larger and heavier now than it was, in part to hold the books and notebooks and umbrella I often carry with me. Getting it up on my shoulder for a short walk isn’t a priority, and I’m likely to get annoyed if one or both straps slip off. Also, my hair is longer, and the literal pain of my hair caught under the straps is a familiar foe. As for the tights—I love wearing black but I also love color, so I often wear colorful tights and a black dress. And those cheap green sparkle tights make me happy.
I’m explaining here, so I’m pretty sure I’d try to justify these things to my younger self, too. I remember how I judged people for wearing sunglasses on their heads and for their absurd number of shoes. That, too, was a kind of armor, and a cruel one.
Maybe if my younger self knew how I got here, understood the inconsequential why’s, teen-me would be less critical of other people, especially other women. And, selfishly, maybe she would be able to look past the elbow purse and see how I move through the world, and I hope she’d like the kind of person I am now.
I know I’m happier than teenaged me. I know I’m so much more confident, and that means I hurt less intensely and less frequently. I’m afraid less. This maybe be typical teenager angst, but I was so self-conscious, terrified of both being seen and being ignored.
I wish I could lessen her pain, boost her confidence, all those things. But she was also pretty great already.
She loved things wholeheartedly, and was so disciplined and so funny and so awed by things that I now completely ignore. She was a warrior, too, walking into a school she hated, sitting by peers who had bullied her or who dismissed her, enduring as best she could while smiling and working hard and being kind and trying to be kinder. I admire her so much. I would want her to like me, to be proud of and excited to become me. And maybe, by that comfort, she’d be happier, less afraid, less armor-encased, less judgmental.
I want who I am now to be approachable and relatable to teens who currently are like I was then. I can’t go back and make my younger self hurt less, but I’d really like to do that for some other teen, some other child. And that’s something I want to be mindful of this year.