Metro-East Living

Michelle ‘toe-tally’ nails it with this column about being ‘toe-conscious’

Michelle Shrader paints her toenails. Once a source of consternation, Shrader says she doesn’t give much thought to her shoe size.
Michelle Shrader paints her toenails. Once a source of consternation, Shrader says she doesn’t give much thought to her shoe size. Provided

I used to hate my toes. As a teenager, I would paint them bright colors and pretend they were beautiful. But deep, down, I was always “toe-conscious.”

“You used to blame your big brother, Michael, for your weird toe knuckles,” my childhood pal, Anne Sweeney, reminded me recently. “You said he’d hold you down and pop your toes until you’d cry ‘uncle.’”

“How could I forget that?” I said and laughed.

In truth, I think my odd toes are the result of lying about my shoe size. As a child, I wanted Barbie Doll feet but mine were more the size of Ken’s. And so, I would curl up my toes when I tried on new shoes, limping away in a size-too-small pair.

My mother eventually figured this out and had my feet professionally measured. I don’t mind wearing a size 9 today, but back then, I was mortified.

“Everything was embarrassing when we were in fifth grade,” my twin sister Melanie concurs. “I used to hate my toes because I have a big space between my big toe and my index toe. You could fit an extra toe in between them.”

“Does that still bother you today, Mel?”

“Naaah, way too many other things to worry about.”

Ahhh, for the days when our feet were our greatest worry — and sometimes our greatest source of joy.

“Remember when we’d go to Paddler’s Swim Club in the summer?” my buddy Anne reminded me. “We’d have contests to see who could pick up stuff off the bottom of the pool with our toes.”

My prehensile toes were perfectly suited to this game. They also came in handy for another game Anne and I invented — “Toe Wrestling on the Couch.”

A take-off on Thumb Wrestling, our toe matches always started with the rhyme: “One. Two. Three. Four. I declare a Toe War!” Lying at opposite ends of the sofa, Anne and I would push the soles of our bare feet together — locking our smaller toes, before letting our big toes go at it.

I called my big toe “Tuffy Toe” and he took down opponents right and left. (A little known fact: The big toes on left feet are easier to defeat, since most people are right-foot dominant.)

Fast forward 30-plus years. Tuffy Toe has long since retired but his memory still makes me smile. These days I don’t give much thought to my shoe size unless my best friend, Lydia Kachigian, and I are out shoe shopping.

Lydia has beautiful toes and ankles. She could be a foot model if she weren’t a lawyer.

“My feet are the one thing I like about myself, Shell,” she has told me throughout our friendship. “Once you’re an adult, your shoe size never changes. You can eat all you want and your feet stay the same. It’s just nice to slip something on and know it’s going to fit.”

“May I quote you?” I asked her.

She said I could. But only as a footnote.