Footwear Fetish

How average are you when it comes to shoes?

There are shoe women, and there are non-shoe women. I fall into the latter category. For one thing, my feet are enormous—size 11—and no matter how cute a shoe looks in size 6, by the time you stretch it out to 11, it resembles a boat. For another, I have bad feet, thanks to osteoarthritis. Comfort matters much more to me at this stage of life than style.

So I was surprised to learn from an “All About Shoes” poll of more than 1,000 women ages 18 and up, published in the April issue of ShopSmart magazine—a Consumer Reports publication—that I’m more of a shoe woman than I thought. The average American female, it turns out, owns 17 pairs of shoes. Hell, I have that many pairs I never even put on. I can’t understand how shoes that feels so comfy, so just right in the store, can metamorphose—right in the box, as you drive them home!—into instruments of torture.

According to the poll, most women buy three pairs of shoes a year. I buy that many pairs of sneakers alone, trying vainly to find ones that will make me run faster and jump higher—as if. We spend an average $49 per pair, though a third of respondents confessed to verging into $100-plus territory for at least one pair. Only eight percent of us regularly wear high heels, defined as two-and-three-quarter inches or better; 39 percent regularly step out in flats.

Twenty-eight percent of us put a lot of thought into which shoes to wear with an outfit; 17 percent take the first pair at hand. A third of us have had an evening out ruined by shoes that don’t fit. A colleague of mine here at the Post, a thoroughly modern woman, told me recently that she’d considered voluntarily binding her feet so they’d fit better inside shoes she loved that were rubbing her the wrong way. When my mom was in Catholic school in South Philly, the nuns would collect money to keep Chinese girls from having their feet bound.

Sixty percent of us are willing to put up with shoes that hurt if they look hot. As Rex Ryan knows, foot fetishism is the most common sexual preference for a body part that isn’t, um, sexual. Scientists have linked rises in podophilia—no kidding, that’s what it’s called—to venereal-disease epidemics, including gonorrhea in 12th-century Europe and syphilis in the 16th century, since foot-worship provides a safe alternative to plain old sex. They’ve also linked foot fetishism to eras of female empowerment: Kiss my toes, slave! Actually, just bring me that chair, would you? My feet are absolutely killing me.
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