Dear Birkenstocks: Fuck you

Demystifying Disability

Ariel Hayat /Staff

You are born, and then you die. Everything else, i.e. shoes, is optional.

I have single handedly purchased hundreds of pairs of shoes. I blow through them quickly because I drag my toes. I punish plastic, mar leather and destroy cork.

Why? Because my walking pattern goes toe-heel, instead of heel-toe. My hamstrings are tight and taut, like guitar strings — my body would play like a high E.

Because I’m not flexible, my range of motion is limited. Because my range of motion is limited, I hyperextend my knees to force my heel to the ground. But just before my heel hits the ground, my toes make momentary contact. And I drag my toes and scuff the top of my shoes. My body moves like a machine with dirty oil. Errrrr … ka, slosh. Ka, slosh. Scrape.

Some say this is a side effect of cerebral palsy. I think buying a lot of shoes is a side effect of life.

In kindergarten, I was the only one with pint-size orthopedics. My mom threaded colorful, sparkly plastic beads on my laces to make the clunky shoes prettier. The neon beads glimmered in the sun.

In second grade, I wore ankle-foot orthotics. The plastic and velcro encompassed my ankles. I stretched lace-frocked socks over the hard plastic. The other kids called me Frankenstein because of the bolts.

In fourth grade, I kept a pair of sneakers on a bookshelf. They were the lace-up shoes from TJ Maxx in which I ran my first mile around the playground. My time: 14 minutes. Some schoolmates played dodgeball with the extra time it took for me to finish.

In eighth grade, I wore neon, pink-and-green-striped leg casts — hard casts below the knee and over my feet — for four long months. My shoes were hospital shoes, duct taped to the base of the casts. My mom used the patterned duct tape from Ace Hardware to secure them to my legs — once, she made a tricolored peace sign. I wore basketball shorts because, for once, I couldn’t fit the casts under jeans.

At home, I put surgical booties over the duct-taped shoes to keep dirt off the beige carpet. I couldn’t go barefoot for four months; you can’t slip serial casts off when you enter the foyer.

Now, as a sophomore in college, I consider myself a connoisseur of shoes. I have worn them all.

And let me tell you: Contrary to popular opinion, Birkenstocks are not the world’s most comfortable shoes.

I fantasized for four months about being a Birkenstock owner. I thought Birks would complete my transformation into a Berkeley-ite. Arch support meant I was an activist and part of the under-30 crowd that distrusts the patriarchy, corporate America and authority figures. Everyone knows that big government doesn’t like exposed toenails. Congress wears loafers.

My Birkenstocks gave me arch-length blisters, however, and made my feet leak foot juice for two weeks. But I am stubborn, and these Jesus sandals were expensive. Therefore, I continued to wear them. I tried Band-Aids, Neosporin and cotton swabs. I wrapped my feet in painter’s tape and shrouded the evidence with paisley socks.

I’ve owned my Birkenstocks for five weeks as of yesterday. The cork is beginning to separate from the rubber sole. The sandal is all worn down in the front. The words “Made in Germany” and “Tradition since 1774” on the sole of my left Birk will last another six weeks, tops.

I don’t grieve the loss of my shoes, and I don’t dread the inevitable downfall of my overpriced Birks. Sure, it’s annoying, because I bought these things with money — money that came from an already emaciated bank account. But it’s all right that they didn’t hold up.

Because the things in our lives are temporary. Material possessions are tools to be used, then discarded. They serve a purpose for a time, and then we stroll on.

The under-30 crowd has an unhealthy attachment to consumer items. Clothes, especially shoes, are a status symbol. People, particularly the coffeehouse crowd, dress for the role they wish to have. I’m sorry to break it to you, but you are actually not an ethereal hippie. That distressed cardigan was $35.95 at Urban Outfitters.

I had a vision for my Birkenstocks that fell flat. Shoes take us places. But it’s important to remember that this is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Clothes don’t take into account what our bodies need, but we wear them anyway. We need to critically examine whether the shit we spend money on has actual or ascribed significance.

Because these shoes were made for walking, and that’s all they’ll ever do.

Jasmine Leiser writes the Monday blog on ability and its intersection with the student experience. You can contact her at [email protected].

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