The Birk Question, Answered. (-Ish.)

Two weeks ago, I wrote about my struggle to embrace the new (or not so new, depending on who you ask) Birkenstocks-aren’t-ugly-after-all trend. And you guys had a lot to say about that. I got a backhanded f*ck you, I got a lot of feminists wondering why I would devote so many words to talking about frickin’ shoes already, and I got some fellow shoe lovers saying hell no, we won’t go there.

Well. This should make some of you happy. (Not that last group.)

Photo of VA's Birkenstocks

Those are my feet and I’m wearing my first pair of Birks.

I think they look great. From most angles anyway.

I’m even rocking them to a work event in NYC today, because I have to schlep about the city in 90-degree heat and I know I need to do so blister-free.

And I would end the post there, on such a foot-happy note, except so many of you raised valid questions about all my anti-Birk agita, asking, quite reasonably, if it wasn’t at odds with the entire mission of the Beauty Schooled Project.

Which makes me want to explain a little further why The Shoe Thing is the main price I’ve been paying for pretty over the years. With blisters and feet that bleed at inopportune moments.

This might sound mundane, especially to those of you who engage in far more intensive beauty labor on a daily basis (I am not, I repeat, not, trying to equate the pain of uncomfortable shoes with the complex emotional anguish of an eating disorder, so let’s not even get worked up about that, okay? Just focus on whether any of this resonates with you). But as many of my wiser readers keep reminding me, a Shoe Thing might not be so mundane if when it evolves into more serious foot issues down the road.

But it’s a price I’ve been paying. And I struggle over the shoe thing like another woman might have to debate whether or not to dye her hair and cover her gray, fight to get her size 2 body back post-pregnancy when it just ain’t gonna happen, straighten her curly hair with religious fervor, or refuse to leave the house without eyeliner. Not that I haven’t also done some of those things. But this is the beauty standard that I have always taken most closely to heart. We all have one. And while you might have embraced comfy shoes, I’m going to hazard a guess that there are other ways that you’re fighting against logic and reason in order to feel pretty and like you fit the beauty industrial complex’s prescribed standards. Because we’re all struggling with that. And it’s a valid struggle! The industry (by which I include media, product makers, celebrity endorsers) doesn’t make it easy to separate yourself out and say, damn those beauty standards, I’m gonna be comfy and just be me.

Maybe even some of you who are Birk Lovers are on the defensive because you’re still separating, still making your peace with the fact that you’ve chosen comfort over aesthetics in a society that never ever wants women to do that.

And it sucks that you’re constantly getting reminders of that choice. Particularly when those reminders come from other women, like me, who should be supporting you, not mocking you.

So here’s the other piece: The process of picking and choosing our own beauty standards is all the more challenging because we also take such a genuine pleasure in so many of them, even when they cause us pain — what I call the third mojito factor. Many women love the results of waxing so they put up with the agony. I’ve always loved my small feet (the only part of me, for the record, that is ever small enough by beauty industry standards) and how they look in pretty shoes, even when those shoes make my feet bleed.

The fact that these kinds of beauty rituals hurt us does not negate the pleasure we take in them, weirdly enough.  So growing up and wearing better shoes is hard for two reasons: I have to say comfort matters more, even when the beauty world tells me it doesn’t. And even when I know I get real happiness from uncomfortable shoes because that’s been a key way that I’ve identified myself over the years. A friend struggling to accept her body two years after her daughter was born says, “it’s hard because it’s always been a given that me equals thin. That was my Thing.” And she’s still thin, by the way, using any mortal standard. But not by the clothes hanger fashion model standard that she used to live by.

I’m not saying that it’s not worth fighting to drop some of this stuff. I should wear more comfortable shoes and over time, I’m sure I’ll love being able to stand for more than 20 minutes without my back hurting, and that will be a love even deeper than oh my gosh my toes are so cute in that peep toe.

But first, we have to say goodbye to a part of ourselves that we thought made real sense, and that the wider world constantly told us was so great. We have to admit maybe we were wrong or judgmental. (Which is especially hard for me because sometimes it’s sooo fun to be judgmental!) And then we have to work on finding the beauty in places we didn’t expect, and maybe never thought to look before.

We’ll get there. I bought the damn Birks. But there are things about the old me that I might miss.

So what about you? What beauty standard do you take as gospel, even though you know it’s maybe not so good for you? Made any progress on that? Please, do share your wisdom. (Or just continue to tell me why I am so very off-base about all of this/Birks in particular. I’m all ears on that front, too.)



Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Week 31

14 responses to “The Birk Question, Answered. (-Ish.)

  1. I convinced my fiance to finally get a pair of Birkenstocks. He loves them now. Strangely, my most comfortable pair of shoes are bright gold sandals with fake diamonds on them. Weird.

    But I’m all for balancing comfort with beauty-pain. Sometimes the comfortable stuff looks the sexiest! And then you feel like doing a little dance. And you can. Because your feet don’t hurt.

  2. Mary Alice

    Congratulations Virginia! I’m so proud that you’ve taken this step to change. It sounds like it was difficult, but that it was progress in a good way. Because I love shoes, too, but I have enormous blisters after a weekend of walking at a conference in Chicago. Maybe I’ll have to see about getting some Birks myself 🙂 Are they as comfy as orginially advertised? As your cousin I also want to say that for your own health and welfare you should wear feet-bleeding shoes as little as possible.

  3. As someone who also recently purchased two pairs of Birkenstocks (dark red Sydneys and leafy green Gizehs), I also struggled to convince myself that it was a wise fashion decision. But, ultimately, I came to the conclusion that there is a great, functional form to the Birkenstock if you strip away all the granola/hippie/hackey sack connotations. Really, the Birkenstock is a versatile classic not unlike a white oxford shirt, a rugged pair of blue jeans, or a minimal ballerina flat. It’s beauty comes from its functionality and its ease… and that’s not such a bad thing!

  4. Virginia, I’m officially jealous.
    I definitely NEED to buy myself a pair of birks.

  5. I happen to be all about comfort when it comes to shoes, but I torture myself with eyebrow tweezing and bras (if we’re going to talk torture, I mean seriously, bras can be so painful—and we’re all expected to wear them, no questions asked!).

    Beauty is such a personal thing. If you want to wear cute shoes that give you blisters, that is your choice, and if it is making you happy, I really hope nobody would judge you for it (unless you’re really doing major damage to yourself). If you want to wear birks because they’re comfy, that is great too, I think we all worry way too much about what other people think of our sartorial choices.

    Also those birks look really cute on you!

  6. I recently bought the same pair, and they are comfy! I agree that they look OK too. This was a big leap for me, because even though I try to buy comfy shoes all of the time, Birkenstocks just seemed so fugly. This pair at least look more like shoes to me than medical equipment.

    (Maybe since I’ve had to wear medical device footwear so many times, I’m extra sensitive. I don’t know.)

  7. Thanks for your great perspective on beauty standards. I love starting my day with such life affirming thoughts.

    I struggle with the “2 years post partum and my body still hasn’t gone back down to the size it was” thing, too. My style used to involve lots of floor length skirts, which I totally rocked at my previous size, but now just look matronly. I’ve had to find a new look that fits my plumper shape, and I’ve turned to vintage early 60’s dresses….inspired not a little by Mad Men.

    Sorry, I know that’s off topic a little, but I’ve never tried to fit the shoe beauty standard. The shoes I’m wearing now are the brand “strictly comfort”. Hehe. I would love to hear more suggestions for brands that make really cute comfortable shoes.

  8. I don’t know where to start because you know how much crap you’ve given me over the years about wearing Birks, but I will chalk that up to having been for the greater good. I’d like to add that you don’t need to say goodbye to the part of yourself that likes pretty/fancy/non-Birk shoes. You can just give her some days off. She might even like it and then be even more excited about wearing peep toes. (Warning- I have walked around in my Birks on really hot days in the city and have gotten blisters on the bottom of my feet. Make sure they are pretty tight to minimize friction…). And a big hooray for being shoe twins!

  9. “Yes Virginia there is Santa Clause” ….and your Birk purchase makes me feel like it’s Christmas in the middle of summer. Welcome to the fold, yogini sista!

  10. Pingback: No Makeup Days « Beauty Schooled

  11. Pingback: [Six Items or Less] Yes, Really. | Beauty Schooled

  12. Pingback: [Never Say Diet] Big News! | Beauty Schooled

  13. Pingback: Do You Dress Like A Feminist? | Beauty Schooled

  14. Joy

    I’m wearing that very Birks model, in dark blue.

    For years I insisted I’d never ever ever wear Birkenstocks. One day about 12 years ago, I wandered into the Birks shop and the rest is many years of happy Birks-wearing feet.

    Welcome to the club.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s