As a lecturer, I want to present myself as a professional – I do not want to give a presentation at a conference wearing flowery shoes (Picture: Erin Pritchard)
I am a size 12 in children’s shoes but have wide feet and a high instep.
That’s not to mention the taste of a typical woman in her thirties – making children’s shoes a less than ideal choice.
Asking for fashionable yet accessible shoes may seem like a first world problem, but we should all be entitled to proper footwear.
Typically, the fight for equality for disabled people has focused on creating more accessible buildings and tackling employment discrimination. However, clothing and footwear is also a problem – it’s actually one of the issues I encounter the most. We need to broaden disability access and equality to include these necessities.
In most cases, I buy shoes online, but there is always the concern that they will be impossible to get on. When a pair of new trainers arrived recently, I could not get my foot into them because the tongue was stitched to the sides so they would not stretch.
And because I have a disproportionate body size, I could not reach far enough to pull the shoe over my heel. It was another disappointment. Now they are back in their packaging and waiting to be returned.
Despite this, there are perks to buying shoes online. For one, I do not have to visit the children’s section, where I am often surrounded by parents and children who stare at me in wonder. My difference is emphasised by being in a space that is not meant for me.
If the section is busy, I will often just leave. There is something humiliating about having to publicly search for shoes made for children as a woman in your thirties.
It’s why I felt excited when, earlier this year, Nike released its Go FlyEase Sneakers. They were created after Matthew Walzer, a man with cerebral palsy, wrote asking for accessible trainers that he wouldn’t need help to tie up.
Hoping that these shoes would be available in my size, I searched online and found that there are similar versions for children – but they’re not quite the same.
I always try to wear age-appropriate footwear for work, even if it doesn’t fit right. As a lecturer, I want to present myself as a professional – I do not want to give a presentation at a conference wearing flowery shoes.
Sometimes I can get away with buying shoes where only the soles have childish motifs, however, I have to remember not to put my feet up in case someone sees the pawprint pattern and remarks upon them, which has happened in the past.
Comments – always said in a childish tone – such as ‘those shoes have pretty little bows’ or ‘look at the cute pawprints’, just make me cringe, especially when I am at work.
On a number of occasions, I have been told how ‘lucky’ I am that I can buy children’s shoes. It is easy for those who probably have a wardrobe full of age-appropriate footwear to make that remark, unaware of how annoying it is searching for something that’s not covered in sparkles, love hearts or unicorns.
Those are not the kind of shoes I want to wear to a job interview.
It would make a world of difference if I could find shoes outside of the children’s department to fit me
The type of clothing we wear reflects who we are and influences how people perceive us. I once had a pair of black ballet pumps, which unfortunately had some bows on them and prompted a woman to remark in a childlike voice, that they were ‘very cute’. I felt embarrassed.
Instead of challenging her, I just smiled, especially as she was interviewing me for a job.
Not surprisingly, I didn’t get it. I am not saying it was the shoes, but they obviously didn’t help give a good impression of my suitability for a role intended for a mature adult.
I want shoes that reflect my age, instead of giving people another excuse to express their infantilising attitude towards me: people with dwarfism are regularly treated like children, regardless of what’s on their feet. It’s something I mentally prepare for whenever I go out and encounter the public.
It is degrading and makes you feel like you are not being taken seriously.
Also, I like to try to shop ethically but as someone with a limited choice, it’s hard. If I could buy a pair of fair trade shoes made from recycled fibres I would, but I do not have the luxury of choice.
There are a few online retailers who offer smaller women’s shoes, but sometimes even then the smallest size is a children’s 13, which can sometimes be too big for me. Also, I have wide feet, which does not fit neatly into their category of ‘petite’.
Then of course, there is the price. A pair of adult boots that would typically cost someone £40 would be around £170 in my specialist size.
Dwarfism is a rare condition: there are about 6,000 people living with it in the UK. So, despite the majority of us experiencing difficulties in finding suitable clothing and footwear, making items in our sizes is not economically viable enough for businesses to care.
I’d love for some associations for people with dwarfism to try and rally support for this cause and raise the issue with producers and designers, but many of them seem to be more interested in social get-togethers than activism.
The only time I have ever felt like any other woman walking into a shoe shop was when I visited Macy’s in New York back in 2012. There was a shelf full of small, wide children’s shoes that were designed like women’s.
That experience showed me that it is possible to produce shoes for people like me. I still regret not returning with a suitcase that could have put Imelda Marcos to shame.
Instead of creating more needless problems – such as sewing tongues to the sides of shoes – designers need to be more aware of consumers with diverse needs.
People with dwarfism, like me, are not your typical disabled person. We are usually left out of the disability conversation as if we do not need alternative access or adaptations.
Until 2016, when disability advocate and fellow person with dwarfism Sinead Burke cast a spotlight on her need for a dress to wear to visit the Obamas at The White House, we had been entirely ignored by the fashion industry.
Nike has now shown that it is possible to design shoes for both disabled and non-disabled people. More designers need to start thinking about how they can produce fashionable shoes with accessibility in mind and in a wider range of sizes.
It would make a world of difference if I could find shoes outside of the children’s department to fit me.
Failing that, being able to walk into the children’s section without being made to feel on show and out of place would be great. That means parents changing their attitudes towards difference and educating their children.