Monday, February 20, 2012

Walking a mile in someone else's shoes

What does it truly mean to walk a mile in someone else's shoes? It's a cliche we hear often enough. Are we to visualize someone's life experience, their past, present and future, and imagine what it must be like living life as them? Can we truly ever understand what it means to be someone else, even if just for a moment? What if their shoes looked really uncomfortable?

I recently met and was inspired by a woman who shared her ongoing journey of self discovery. Like me, she was a self-professed tomboy for most of her life, shying away from overtly pink and girly things. (I recall my first Christmas in my husband's family where, when asked what I'd like as a gift, I asked for a Swiss Army Knife, a coffee thermos and a robe that was any colour but pink.) She didn't want to be pigeonholed or defined by her gender. Not all girls want to play Barbie, cook or be wives or mothers. Some of them want to play Dungeons & Dragons or touch football. Even though she had steered clear of the "girly" inside for many years, she was curious about that aspect of her own life. A few years ago, she made a focused effort to embrace the feminine. In the process, she found herself empowered.

The journey to femininity meant wearing makeup, spending time on her hair, wearing more professional and feminine clothing to work and she learned how to stop worrying and to love the stiletto. At first it was a kitten heel, a short heel, to start. Once she had mastered that, the height of her heels began to grow. Prior to all of this, she never quite understood stiletto fetishists who insisted the skinnier and taller the heel, the better. Having embraced platform stilettos and mastering the walk, she understands. It is about empowerment. The owning of one's sensuality.

I admit, I prejudged her. Before sitting down and having our conversation, I felt she was trying to be someone she wasn't. I was trying to fully understand her efforts to be what I perceive as ultra feminine. As though somehow it was all about me needing to understand why she was who she was. Which, admittedly, is a very narcissistic perspective. I will also admit that I have snickered when I've seen women teetering on stilettos while walking down the streets of Vancouver. I think that makes me a bit of a jerk. Maybe my prejudice comes from a place of envy or insecurity. I am very uncomfortable in heels (and would teeter in my own right). I have felt judged on occasion for wearing my comfortable and ugly orthotic shoes by women who have more stylish footwear. And the unfortunate part is, when we're judging someone based on their shoes or clothes or hair, we're overlooking an opportunity to know who they are as people, to know what their story is.

So here I was, humbled by this woman who decided one day to fully embrace the feminine side of herself. She said something along the lines of, I knew it would be hard and that I would be uncomfortable sometimes, but it was something I needed to do to fully discover and embrace myself. She inspired me. It takes courage to push yourself out of your comfort zone and into an unknown place. Maybe for you, it means committing to writing a book this year, or challenging yourself to get onstage and share your life wih others. Maybe it means buying those sexy Manolos you've been looking at through the window and committing to strutting your stuff.

You may have blisters. Your feet may ache. But after you've walked a mile in someone else's shoes, you're a mile farther ahead than you were when you started.


  1. You reminded me of a different piece I read recently on this same theme...

    I think it's important for women to not feel that they have to supress their feminity to be taken seriously.


    1. Thanks for posting that link, Kris. So very valuable. And I think we're still learning in the psuedo-post feminist era how to be feminine. The young women of today have no idea what it was like before the womens' movement (nor do you or I, truly). It makes me sad to see what is purported as girl power these days, but I have to remember we're all on our own journey.

  2. I think it's important to remind young women today that we're still on the journey -- that the feminist movement hasn't closed up show and achieved everything that it set out to do. We need to be conscious participants in our choices and I think that's something that I have a hard time with. I think a lot of people just coast along making choices without analyzing them or reflecting on if it's the best choice for them personally. I think this is my knee-jerk reaction to the knee-jerk reaction of young women who so easily dismiss feminism and what it means personally and globally.

    1. Funny, I read it as shop the first time bc I knew that's where you were going.

      Yeah, I totally agree with you. We're not being encouraged to be conscious thinkers!!