Walking my first 10K for Steps last month taught me a couple of valuable lessons. Firstly, I need to build up my leg strength, particularly around my knees, or I’ll never manage the hills and rugged terrain of the South Downs Way. And secondly, I need to find some comfortable walking boots that my orthotics fit into properly, so I don’t get blisters.
This second realisation makes my heart sink. Oh no, not shoes….
Shoes have always been my personal nemesis. Practically and emotionally.
I was born with hip dysplasia (DDH). My pelvis is incomplete, crooked and I have legs that are different lengths. I also inherited some ‘unusual’ feet that are different sizes – and a left ankle that turns out a bit like Mary Poppins. I wear orthotics to correct my leg length and knee position so practically speaking, pumps or shoes that are light and tie tightly to my feet are the best.
Emotionally – well, like many women I drool over the sexy heels on display in the LK Bennett window. But shoe shopping just isn’t fun. Unlike Cinderella, the shoe rarely fits on either foot and the need to insert orthotics writes most girl-shoes off the list. When it comes to dressing up girly, I often feel more like the ugly sister than the fabled princess in waiting.
I didn’t mind shoe shopping as a kid. My orthopaedic consultant insisted on good shoes that fastened well to my feet so we always went to Clarks in the Co-op department store in Sheffield. They had animated models of the Animal Kwackers there, who I loved. Like Boots and his silver platforms there was a blingster in young Jill – so I always chose the shiny shoes with gold braiding. Happy memories.
The psychological challenges started for me as a teenager. Wearing stilettos was a marker that you were growing up and at that age I become hyper-conscious of the image that heels = sexy. So I persevered with my heels and fishnets at school (it was the 80s in a school with no uniform) because I wanted to fit in. And I wanted boys to look at me like they did the other girls. In reality heels just accentuated my limp and made me walk badly because they’re less stable.
Yet to this day I still dread dressing up for a night out where women wear sexy high heels with their dresses. My own inability to stand up, let alone walk or dance in them, makes me feel like I’m not quite cutting it as a woman. Of course, this is just my own perception – a story I’ve invented in my own head. But it’s honestly what goes on in it! Rationally I know it really doesn’t matter and I’m lucky I can walk. But emotions are funny things….
I was recently with a group of girlfriends who were sharing their first childhood memories. Ironically, mine is about shoes. My pre-school playgroup used to streamline the rush for bags and coats at the end of the morning, by sending you to get them according to shoe colour. “Everyone with red shoes. Now everyone with brown shoes.” It’s a happy memory for me because I got to go up on my own. I was the only one in blue shoes and I simply loved that I was different. I was differently-abled and differently-minded.
Thankfully stilettos aren’t the rage along the South Downs Way. So right now it’s about finding boots that can support but not cripple my funny ankles. And getting good orthotics that are fitted properly inside them. Since my 10K I’ve been consulting with a chiropractor and my podiatrist, and I’m being fitted for new orthotics next week.
The more I explore my life with hip dysplasia (DDH) and what goes on in my mind about that, the more I see that we’re all differently-abled. We all have things we’re not good at or a bit paranoid about. And let’s face it, you don’t need to have hip dysplasia to be crap at walking in heels!
My pledge is to try and be more like 3-year-old Jill – newly walking in her blue shoes. Walking differently. And proud of it.