I've always been proud of my feet. When asked what my favorite part about myself was, my standard answer was always my feet. I liked that they were not too big or too small for my average-sized body. I liked that I had short toes, or "Fred Flintstone feet" as my mom would call them. They were not long and craggy; they were petite and cute. I liked my high arches and grasping toes. When I looked down, I thought my feet were pretty. What I liked about my feet was my preconceived notion of what it meant for them to be beautiful.
Years later, I was still proud of my feet, but things had changed. I was proud of the colors I could paint on my toenails. I was proud of the softness I felt when I touched my heels together. I was proud of the ridiculous shoes in to which I could cram my feet. Red patent heels, black suede pumps, turquoise peep toe wedges. The higher, more insanely colored, and outrageous the better. My feet could take the pain; the beauty was worth it. My feet were my favorite part of myself because they could conform.
These ideas are no longer what I think about when I look at the things attached to the bottom of legs. Yes, I still paint my toes. Yes, I still love to pinch and cram my feet in to stilettos on a Friday night. However, my feet represent something greater. They are not a vessel of beauty. My heels are cracked. Blisters are forming under the balls of both feet. The tips of each of my toes are calloused. It is unclear if my toenails are black or blue or a clean, healthy pink because they always have a somewhat chipped coat of opaque polish. What my feet are is strength. They stand up every morning when my brain says "three more hours of sleep." They walk with me to the shower, to breakfast, and to my car, my bike or the bus. When my feet aren’t supporting me through the mundane yet necessary aspects of my life, they can do the extraordinary.
I woke up one morning during my sophomore year of college, laced up my gym shoes and walked outside. I didn’t really know why I was outside before 7:00 am, while everyone else was still asleep, but I knew my feet would show me. When I started to run, my feet transformed. They were no longer cute little things to stuff into shoes or something to pamper on spa days and girls’ nights. My feet powered my, one in front of the other, until the steps turned in to miles. I’m still not sure when this change happened. I didn’t notice it at first. Sure, my feet were on the road with me. My feet ran the trails, the hills, the pavement, and the track. Of course they were there; they were attached to the rest of my body. My feet got ugly. The blisters popped up, the calluses emerged, and those toenails occasionally started to turn. As the evidence of my mileage was written on my soles, I felt proud. Not proud in the old way. The beauty of my feet was no longer in the way I could perceive them outwardly. The beauty of my feet was in their story. I could dress them up in heels, dress them down in loafers, or lace them up in my new favorite running shoes. No matter what I did, my feet have a story. They have carried me every step of my journey, through two marathons, five half marathons, a sprinkling of 5k races, and across the stage at my first graduation. My feet are on to the next journey of graduate school, blisters, calluses, stories and all. Hopefully they can still be well dressed.