Book Review: Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them

I have been clogging around in my graceless size 11s since puberty, when my feet reached their decisive magnitude. These babies are too wide, long, flat, and plain ugly to fit into anything revealing, and so began my early distaste for provocative footwear.

Upon spying Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them, I was hoping to undercover a juicy attack on the shoes that my feet can’t wear.

Leora Tanenbaum delivers an empathetic treatise on alluring footwear and its effects on the foundations of physical health. Don’t be fooled by the pretty, light-hearted book cover; in her evaluation of poor footwear, Tanenbaum delivers seven chapters of raw footage that does not miss a step.

“Beautiful shoes, ugly feet” attempts to ground the reader by pointing to the beautification-mortification paradox of footwear—essentially the act of wearing high fashion footwear to distract from the ugly foot, which in turn results in even greater disfiguration. Several women testify to their love affairs with shoes in “Love stories, horror stories.” Unfortunately, these affairs are not entirely romantic; these stories of deceit and abuse pose certain reevaluations after love’s gone bad.

Establishing the platform that footwear can be hazardous, Tanenbaum then delves into how. “What you should know from heel to toe” highlights common maladies of the foot. Perhaps save it for after dinner though, as reading about corns may not sit well with your corn on the cob. “Toetox: Cosmetic Surgery of the Foot” follows, as an evaluation of surgical solutions that sheds light upon health risks in extreme foot makeovers. Tanenbuam compiles research and interviews with podiatrists of varying surgical bents from across the United States to try to reveal a true cost-benefit analysis of cosmetic foot surgery.

For those of you who dig theory, a thorough analysis of shoe-love is saved for a little bit later in the book. Through written historical accounts and interviews, Tanenbaum explores the roots of the heeled shoe from antiquity and forward in “The History of High Heels.” For centuries, societies have cross-culturally denounced one another’s poor footwear over practical and ideological differences. What is revealed is a long history of hazardous footwear and ideological hypocrisy. In a chapter on “The Sex Life of Women’s Shoes,” Tanenbaum guides the reader through myriad proposed theories on the sexual symbolism of the foot and shoe. It is a careful navigation of varying biblical, folkloric, psychoanalytical, and sociological theorems regarding shoes. The bulk of the history is foot for thought, but it is undeniable that shoes have historically been and remain sexualized objects, and that sexing our feet is in turn vexing our health.

Bad Shoes does not leave the reader hanging with no one to save your sole. The final chapter entitled “Shoes Wisely,” evaluates footwear designs that best and worst fit the foot ergonomically, including lists of manufacturers with the most foot-friendly reputation.

Leora Tanenbaum has taken on a serious feat in crafting this concise evaluation of footwear, one that is both practical and theoretical in approach. Any woman, and even any man (despite its female-oriented marketing), can benefit from this vault of foot-‘n’-shoe information. The conclusive message is clear: when walking greater distances, be sure to wear styles of footwear that support the shape, size, and arch of your foot. Now, perhaps you have already been told this by a parental figure of sorts, but Bad Shoes outlines all of the cringe-worthy reasons to care, so don’t be so callous about it.

Bad Shoes and the Women who Love Them, by Leora Tanenbaum, Seven Stories Press, 2010
Reviewed by Jennifer Carroll