Editorial,  Featured,  Lifestyle & Relationships

Sole Searching

Country of origin: Indonesia & Malaysia
Trigger warnings: Chronic pain

I took a deep breath and gave away my dance shoes. It was a bittersweet moment. It felt like admitting defeat and releasing pressure on myself at the same time. They were these super chic black leather heels, complete with a suede patch (for easy turns) and padded insoles; Gorgeous, really. A birthday gift from two years ago, I kept them for this long but only occasionally put them on. I always clung to the hope that my feet would magically adjust to them, but that never happened. I could barely stand in those shoes, let alone dance. They were excruciatingly painful. 

I once heard someone say, “The prettier the shoe, the more it hurts”. The problem wasn’t about this specific pair of heels; it was all of them. Wedges, pumps, kitten heels — you name it, I tried them all. My feet just never cooperated. 


The high cost of heels

I’ve been suffering from full-body chronic pain since childhood. I didn’t know that term back then; I thought that I was just out of shape. However, while in college, my desire to be a stylish “cool girl” was so strong that I was willing to do whatever I could. Besides, I wanted to fit in with the other girls and, being a girly girl, heels absolutely fit my aesthetic. 

“Short girls look great in heels,” they said. “Heels will fix your posture, boost your confidence, and complete your outfit.” My 150cm (4”11) self readily agreed with them. 

They insisted that all I needed to do was practice and I did just that. I bought a few pairs, walked around in my room, and went out dancing in them. I bought extra suede strips to secure the shoes to my ankles. However, my feet always threw a full-on rebellion. I was always getting injuries from twisted ankles, I experienced frequent spikes of pain in my knees and legs, on top of the chronic pain. To make matters worse, my sensitive skin was also prone to sores and blisters. 

Over the years, I faced numerous comments from well-meaning women on the virtues of heels. Like me, they were sold the idea of “il faut souffrir pour être belle” or “beauty is pain.” Despite agreeing with them, I couldn’t deny the discomfort and instability heels brought me. 

At 22, I remember cat-walking the runway at a fashion show. My biggest anxiety wasn’t stage fright but walking in five-inch wedges instead. It was twisting my ankle, falling on my face, injuring myself, and ruining my fabulous clothes in the process. Luckily, I didn’t fall. I walked the runway fairly well, but I still remember that fear too well. No wonder my modeling career was short-lived. 

Eventually, I gave up on heels, opting for flat shoes with ankle support. Sure, I faced some teasing, but I refused to endure such pain for the sake of appearances.

Fast forward to two years ago, I discovered Latin dance. I watched in awe as beautiful women danced salsa and bachata in stilettos gracefully and effortlessly. They seemed to glide on their tippy toes as if defying gravity itself. I felt completely out of place in my flat-soled shoes, and the other women looked at me with a mix of mild pity and sympathy. I joked with them that I’m just a potato in sneakers. Talk about self-deprecating!

The women gave me well-meaning advice: go for a chunky heel, invest in custom-made pairs, do these specific exercises, train yourself to balance on the balls of your feet, etc. It felt like déjà vu from my young adult years — feeling left out, inadequate, and like I was not trying hard enough. I wondered… Am I still giving in to peer pressure? At this age? It was a bit embarrassing, to be honest. 


Finding my footing

And then, a massive shift happened. A few months ago, I discovered the term “hypermobility.” For years I had been chasing a diagnosis, hopping from one specialist to another. Even countless physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic sessions could not give me the answers and pain relief I needed. A woman on Instagram reels, however, described the condition with such profound accuracy, I was blown away. Yes, I’m gonna say it. The reel had me reeling. 

Suddenly, everything made sense! Not just for my feet but my entire body. Putting a name to the pain was cathartic. The word felt like a key unlocking a door to a room full of answers. It explained why my body behaved the way it did, why I was in so much pain, and even why I breathed the way I did.

Hypermobility is this peculiar trait where your joints move beyond the normal range. This discovery explained the aches and other peculiarities of my body that had long been dismissed as quirks or weaknesses. It was strange, yet somewhat comforting, to finally have a name for why I kept getting injuries, and why my body sometimes feels like it’s rebelling against me. 

I am now working on my posture and strength in a way that honors my body’s reality instead of fighting it. I accept my feet, ankles, and the whole package. I released myself from self-torture. I accept that I’m short and no longer feel the need to appear tall. So what if I’m three owls in a salsa dress? Peer pressure? I don’t know her. 

So, I’m happy my dance shoes found a new home. Their super chic black leather elegance is now adorning someone else’s feet, a young woman on the cusp of adulthood. Before relinquishing the shoes, I made sure to ask her, “Do they hurt?” She assured me they didn’t with a wide, giddy grin. I sighed, relieved that I didn’t have to worry about peer-pressuring her into wearing something that hurt her. 

I admire and support other women who enjoy heels. I acknowledge the confidence-boosting power of heels and the way they complete an outfit. However, my choice is clear — I prioritize being pain-free over fitting in with the crowd. Today, I dance in pink flat-soled shoes, complete with a suede patch for easy spinning. 

In the end, it’s not about the shoes; it’s about accepting and honoring my body. Feet first.

Who needs a partner in crime when you can have a partner in co-creation? I am Paloma. I’m based in beautiful Bali, Indonesia. I write for ethical businesses seeking to connect with their audiences on a deeper level. With over a decade of experience at the UN, my expertise lies in crafting content that inspires, informs and connects. When I’m not writing stories, I draw and paint soulful portraits. Talk to me about self-awareness, emotional intelligence, culture and inner healing. Thank you to Eric Mabry and Julianna Wages for their inspired edits on this piece.


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