The New Neutral

Spiderman called. He wants his shoes back.

I’m not what you would call a “sporty girl.”  Though reasonably coordinated and, in certain situations, able to pull off “graceful,” I’m not exactly athletic.  This is the direct result of my extreme aversion to sweat….

I was energetic throughout childhood, but refrained from activities involving contact with other sweaty bodies.  Team sports was definitely not my thing.

In later years, and for most of my adult life, I avoided pursuits with the potential to result in anything more than a light personal glow.  As such, I own zero sports bras and just one pair of athletic shoes — if you count the traditional white canvas Keds I’m required to carry in my model’s bag.

Still, I exercise regularly.  I walk — in assorted Teva flip flops, beautifully coordinated to compliment whatever cute top I’m wearing at the time.  I somehow manage to get my heart rate up, keep my Tevas on and elude excessive perspiration.  It’s not easy; but that’s how I roll.

Well, that’s how I rolled right up until last Fall, when my feet began to protest.  At first, they were stiff and tender.  I chalked it up to the extra lap around the lake.  But when that was followed by an uncomfortable pinching sensation under the ball of my foot, I began to suspect trouble.

When I could no longer assume the standing position without a five-minute pep talk, I broke down and called the doctor.  You see, I’d been down this road once before.  The first time it was heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis.  Three months of daily boot therapy was successful (and also afforded me the perfect excuse to watch old Dallas reruns each afternoon).  But the custom orthotics were not exactly well received (they simply would not fit into my Marc Jacobs pumps).

This time it was something called sesamoiditis.  Knowing full well that nothing ending in “-itis” is ever good, I braced myself for the explanation.

According to Dr. Przynoschivich (who kindly allows me to call him “Dr. P” because, really, who can pronounce “Przynoschivich” correctly?), sesamoids are the ball-of-the-foot equivalent to kneecaps.  There are two in each foot, embedded in the tendon connecting the big toe to the foot.  They act as pulleys, helping the big toe do its thing and providing that extra “oomph” when you need a little leverage.  Mine were fractured.  And there was no real cure.

Dr. P offered advice to help quell the flare up and resultant pain:  Rest the foot.  Return to the orthotics I’d been previously prescribed.  And buy a neutral shoe.

Sure, I’d be glad to rest up for awhile.  The orthotics?  Well, no, that just wasn’t going to happen (I still had my Marc Jacobs to consider).  As for the neutral shoe, I was surprised.  Who had told Dr. P that neutrals were all the rage this season?  And would he approve of a nude platform pump?

It was then that a miracle occurred:  Dr. P handed me a prescription — an honest to God prescription — for a “neutral shoe,” smiled and suggested I go shopping.  My eyes filled with happy tears.  But then he spoiled the mood:  “Try Foot Locker or Dick’s Sporting Goods.  They have the best selection.”

Foot Locker?  Dick’s Sporting Goods? It suddenly hit me that Dr. P was prescribing an athletic shoe — a sneaker, for crying out loud.  Sure, extra points for recognizing the importance of a nice neutral — it would go with everything.  But did he really think I would wear a plimsoll with a pencil skirt?

Dr. P added insult to injury with his final admonition: “I know you won’t wear them in your lady shoes (I tell you, he actually called them lady shoes), but allow extra room in the athletic shoe for your orthotics.”  Busted.

Dejected, I took the prescription and went home.  I wasn’t ready to shop for sneakers; I didn’t know the first thing about them.  But I did know someone who might be able to shed a little light.  So I picked up the phone and hit speed dial.

Thank God for good friends who like to run and play tennis and do other athletic things.  Julie, who is so sporty she actually owns clothing with swooshes on it, answered on the first ring.  She listened to my tale, laughed mightily, then quickly explained that “neutral” did not refer to color, but meant my foot didn’t roll inward or outward when I walked.

Hmmmm.  Apparently, I needed a neutral like Switzerland shoe — one that didn’t lean one way or the other.

According to Julie, this was a “really good thing;” and she seemed genuinely pleased for me.  I thought fleetingly of the nude platform pumps that would not be and could not match her enthusiasm for this new neutral.

I allowed silence to convey my general feeling of disgust.  My friend took pity on me and proposed a joint outing to find an appropriate shoe.  I wondered if one existed?  I wondered if it was available in a size 11?  And I wondered if Julie had a pair of socks I could borrow?

We hit the local sporting goods store the next day.  The smell of rubber products stripped my sinuses, and I steeled myself for a long and grueling afternoon.  Julie, well at ease, took charge, took my elbow and took me straight to the shoe department.

As she strode past a monumental wall of footwear, she plucked a couple of walking shoes off acrylic risers and deftly peeled back the innersoles to examine the piecing.  Her eyes lit up as she inspected the stitching underneath.  She evaluated midsole cushioning, appraised treads and compared the toe box in both men’s and women’s display shoes.  The girl knew her trainers.

Sesamoiditis kept me from running.  It wouldn’t have been an option, though.  Because in a matter of minutes, Julie had four pairs of shoes lined up for me to try.  Reluctantly, I pulled up a chair.

The blue and red shoes simply would not do; they made me think of Spiderman (I’m into the upside-down kisses, but not so hot for the unitard).  I sort of liked the purple and silver high-tops, but wasn’t convinced I could pull them off (if only I were 20 years younger and Ne-Yo).  That left a somewhat doable pair of women’s Asics in pink and the men’s version in olive green.

Now neither of these shoes was remotely close to being “me.”  No sneaker is.  But the pinching pain had evolved into stabbing pain.  And so I pulled on a sock, then a shoe.

The women’s Asics was a bit narrow.  I was glad, thinking the pink might have been limiting.  The men’s Asics was a much better fit, providing a little more wiggle room and easily accommodating my orthotics.  I stood and walked across the department.  It felt sort of bouncy.  Neato.  I liked this new neutral in neutral that would allow me to wear whatever I wanted on top.

It’s been almost a year since Julie helped me make this important athletic footwear purchase.  Though I never wore them while lunching with the girls or out to dinner with Mr. Wonderful (in my book, those are strictly lady shoe affairs), I did put them on whenever I walked for exercise.  I also wore them around the house while doing chores.  I still do.  And as un-me as they are, I know they are the reason my feet are feeling fine these days.


  1. Shonni says

    Welcome to my world! I have plantar fasciitis and have grown to love CLARKS and MERRILL shoes! I’ve had to let the fancy shoes go, but CLARKS has some wonderful styles and are frequently on sale at my favorite shoe site –

  2. Mark Hiatt says

    Since I work in the Retail Branding services at Avery Dennison Corp…..I am meeting with retailers and having idea discussions frequently. Im gonna love this Blog!
    An added bonus is getting to keep up with and SEE one of my most favorite human beings every given to the earth– Jennifer!

  3. Jennifer Allen says

    You sweet, sweet man…. You’re ruining my mascara! ;-D Love you, too, Mark.

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