Tiny Problem, No Big Deal

What happens when we let our egos decide how significant a problem is? Here is the story of my toe.

I was born with an oddly shaped toe—the middle toe on both feet is the longest toe. The right foot has been more problematic. That foot is also a bit longer, and there is even less space in a shoe for it. If you look at the photo of the “perfect” foot, you will see perfectly conforming toes with the big toe being the largest and the subsequent toes gradually getting smaller. What happens when one of your toes do not fit such perfection?

When Someone Finds a Flaw in You

My teenage boyfriend was the first to point out the middle toe. He said I had square feet in a mocking tone. Bye-bye, first boyfriend. But now that I knew about this “problem,” I wondered how many other people might mock me for having an oddly shaped toe. “Square feet,” however, became a background feeling to describe my relationship with my toes.

As I aged, however, I understood that I could not wear “stylish” shoes because shoe sellers predicate their designs on everyone having a “perfectly shaped” toes and two same size feet. We all know from watching many police shows that shoes give away who you are. If you can’t wear stylish shoes, then forget stylish clothes. This tiny problem also impacted how I dressed, mostly in slacks with shoes that had square “toe boxes.”

I began spending exorbitant amounts of money, not on designer shoes, but orthopedic shoes that never really were comfortable. My middle toe would never have enough space to be itself, and the nail would send painful shock waves up my leg. I decide to get professional help from a podiatrist who happily cut away the nail. Two years of nerve pain later, the nail just grew back. So what’s a gal to do with a non-compliant toe?

I wear Crocs as much as possible because Crocs designed their shoes to give one’s foot support and space. Three months of lock down made me forget my toe. I only wore Crocs. But now, because I can leave the house occasionally, I began wearing shoes again, and the pain came back.

How Merchandise Controls Our Perceptions

I decided to hold space for my toe with love and compassion. The first thing I noticed was how central this toe is to my well-being. There is nothing in being longer than average that makes it a defective toe—it performs all the tasks one expects a toe to do. Because it is different from what our society acknowledges as a middle toe, few produce shoes to accommodate it. The basis of shoe design is the supply and demand economic model. This model impacted how attractive I felt, the people I dated, and the shoes and the clothes that I wore. Somehow even though the boyfriend is long gone, his harsh words hang in the air as an acknowledgment of the limitations of not having a “classic” foot form.

Getting to Know my Toe

When I hold space for the toe, what comes is how it has been my reliable bellwether. If Diana Foot.jpgthe boyfriend didn’t like my toe, he needed to go. He was a nascent domestic abuser. When I felt pressure to dress in the hyper-sexualized clothing that society promotes, I thought, “what’s the use, I can’t wear the shoes to make the style work.” If I do not regularly care for my toe when I have to wear outdoor shoes, the unbearable pain makes me stop everything else and care for it. I’ve learned to be proactive in caring for my toe so that I can move, walk, dance, and play without pain. Maybe when I stop my ritual care for my toe, it is the same time that I am not taking care of other parts of me. So my question is, what does my toe need now?

The first word that comes is “constant.” When I have outdoor shoes on, there is never enough space for this toe. My toe develops more hard callus right at the point where the regrown nail is as a way to protect itself. The coming together of the callus with the nail’s edge is what alerts me something is wrong. My toe wants me to know that it constantly suffers from this constriction and works hard to protect my toe by reinforcing the callus already there. Then, I work carefully to remove the callus because that is what relieves my perceived pain.

I have more compassion for my toe and its lifelong journey to live under conditions that do not support it. I also hold an appreciation for the role it has played in my life to give me a reason to leave unhealthy people and activities behind. I hold space for the “not knowing” how to support my toe so that it is not under constant pressure to protect itself only to have me undo that protection. How many other ways do I undo my body’s natural activity to heal because it doesn’t fit my perception of what is right? By holding space for my toe, I trust my body to inform me of what it needs.

Perfect Toes: Photo by Lisandra Medonça
Diana’s Toes: Diana Scalera

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