For years, I have been not OK with my feet. When I was younger, I took dance and beat the heck out of my feet. The summer after I graduated from college, I hiked the Appalachian Trail for 2 1/2 months, hiking through rainy days, hot conditions and rough trails. For the last couple years, I have developed a passion for running – and all that it entails (blisters, missing toenails, bruises and more). My feet have never looked great, and it took me a very long time to even be comfortable wearing open toed shoes (something that finally happened about 14 years ago, when I moved to Bermuda, in fact). I hated my feet, and I thought that other people would be offended just by looking at them.
Fast forward to today. My feet are still not pretty (I’m currently minus one toenail, with another one more likely than not to come off). In fact, they may be as ugly as they have ever been. Add this to the laundry list of things I don’t like about my body (big hips, big legs, flabby arms, etc, etc). I mean seriously, if body bashing was an Olympic sport, I could rival many other women for a spot on the medal podium. Like so many other women, I have body image issues. Like so many others, I have suffered from this for most of my life. It’s gotten better the older I get, but I don’t think the critiquing will ever quite disappear completely. I think I just am a bit wiser about sharing those thoughts and the degree to which I feel them when I look at myself in the mirror. This seems to be something that comes with age, for which I am thankful.
Which leads me to this past June, when my 13-year old niece was down for a visit. We went for pedicures and did some fun girly things. In conversation one day, my niece talked about how she is embarrassed by her feet. Her feet. At 13! I stopped in my tracks. I’ve been there. I sometimes am still there.
Now, I may not be a mother, but I am a female, and I know how much more critical we are on ourselves. I felt like this may be a moment to impart some of my heard-earned wisdom to her. After all, it’s taken me almost 40 years to accumulate some of this wisdom, and if I could help a 13-year old reach some of the same conclusions a bit earlier in life than I did, then perhaps my words won’t be wasted breath.
I looked her in the eye and asked her why she felt embarrassed by her feet. It seems she feels they are big and not very feminine. Being in Cayman for a week with her feet exposed almost constantly during the trip, I can see why she would feel self conscious. I got it. I get it. And I hoped that I what I was about to say would make sense to her.
See, my niece is a soccer player. She is quite good in her league and she loves the game. During her trip, I somehow convinced her to run an 8K with me at Thanksgiving when we are back in town for our annual family visit. My niece is a wonderful, smart, funny, card cheating, special, athletic, fabulous young lady.
She may not have the most beautiful feet around, but what I told her is that I know. I know exactly what she was feeling. But when I start to think about how ‘ugly’ my feet are (missing toenails and all), I remember they are strong feet. Feet that have helped me hike 1318 mi of the Appalachian Trail. Feet that have run five marathons in six months, with about 900 mi in 2016 (to date). Feet that help me move through each day and hold me up. Feet that get me around when I need to go somewhere. Feet that I beat up and abuse on a regular basis with my running – and feet that are still there for me the next day, ready to help me continue on the road I am headed down that next day. That is what I see when I look at my feet – the strength, the power, the ability.
I told her that while her feet may not appear to be beautiful, they are strong feet. They are the feet of a soccer player, feet that allow her to run the field and score goals. Feet that probably rarely complain when she laces up for another practice or game and helps her make it down the field numerous times in a single session. These will be the same strong feet that she uses to run across the finish line at her first 8K. Feet that she should be proud of. Feet that are strong and hers and wonderful feet that will take her many places in life.
She’s only 13. I hope that she remembers this lesson. Because whether she keeps playing soccer, takes up running or tries something completely different, I know that she will have body parts she doesn’t love. It’s inevitable. And yet those same body parts will be so critical for her and the success she has in life. I hope that she will look at her feet (and her legs, arms, etc) and recognize the power, strength and incredible awesomeness that is those hated – yet loved – feet.
And I’m excited that I will be running with those feet in the 8K in November! Our feet can be awesome as they take us almost five miles down the open road – together.
How have you come to terms with a body part you don’t like? How long did it take you? I think it’s very much a process that we have to go through at different stages in life, and we get a little better each time we do it. Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts!