Shoes are for Bitches

I still have nightmares about arriving to school, walking down the corridors filled with smelly, smirking teenagers, as they point fingers and laugh hysterically straight into my face.   I feel dizzy from the slanted visions of funhouse deformities emanating from the faces of fellow classmates.  The cause of the hilarity? I am full-on, buck-naked, save for mittens on my feet.  Who on Earth walks to school naked with mittens on their feet?

I wake up in a cold sweat, still in my bed, lying in the early blue light just before dawn.

It was hard for me to make friends in high school.  It seemed like a monotony of confusion mixed with brief periods of coolness abruptly interrupted with sharp, moments of pure embarrassment. This period of life is painful enough as it is, but our school, because of our rural nature, included 7th through 12th grade in one building. This only exacerbated the already complicated nature of puberty.  Six-foot tall seniors sporting facial hair wandered down the corridors with their arms around the waist of a young girl of no more than 13 years old who just last year quite possibly still had a set of Barbie dolls under her bed.

In middle school I was really good at playing the flute and writing poems. I wore handmade clothes my mother sewed and secured my braided hair with those 1980’s-style barrettes with the ribbons and beads, remember them? That didn’t work out so well for me. So, in high school, I vowed to remake myself. My best friend and I spent the summer before 7th grade practicing basketball every day. We decided we were going to make the junior varsity team, skipping altogether the junior high team. Being a jock was my saving grace in high school.

First of all, sports gave me structure. Practice was every day after school that we didn’t have a game. Games were twice a week.  One home and one away. In order to stay relevant to the coach, I needed to be my best. There wasn’t really any time to be distracted with boys, fashion or what the history teacher did in class this week.

Except, I was obsessed with boys, fashion and what the history teacher did in class this week.

Secondly, sports gave the illusion of coolness. Now, it’s important to emphasize the simplicity of growing up in my school. With less than 1,000 students between kindergarten and twelfth grade, there wasn’t a significant social strata to navigate. Either you were either a nerd, a jock, popular, or not. There wasn’t much in between.

By the time I made it to twelfth grade, I became acutely aware that I was in all and none of cliques simultaneously. I had managed to piss half of them off and alienate the rest. The truth is that I don’t know what was so terrifying about the experience. The repeating dream, with me, walking into school naked with mittens on my feet speaks volumes for my ambivalence to the situation. Vulnerable, yet showing up regardless, making do with whatever I could find. Wasn’t that good enough?

The hard truth is that middle and high school can be terribly hard. Especially for those of us labeled, “sensitive” by the greater community. Puberty brings all sorts of new challenges.  And honestly, who among us is really ready for them?  It isn’t until we go through these challenges that we are able to really define them and many times these experiences remain deeply protected wounds that erupt, oozing in adulthood at a staff meeting when a coworker unknowingly triggers one of them.  

And the funny part about is, at least from a woman’s perspective, (maybe it is true for men too) that what we wear, and most certainly shoes take the lead in this list, can make or break our professional social careers.  We live in a world that amplifies the outward image and admonishes any kind of nonconformity or the oddities of our subtle, inner nature. 

There is, however, a balance between not giving a fuck and getting ahead.  And that my friends, is the sweet spot.  We find this lovely, sweet, uncontroversial bastion of safety not by calling too much attention to ourselves, but rather by subtlety evoking the quiet, still voice within to graciously summon the courage to speak up, with authenticity. 

RHEA helps bring this voice to the surface in a way that honors the soul as much as the situation at hand.  If you want to work with me, please email jill@rheacorporation.com

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