Will I Love Them In The After Life?

I hope to wear the butterfly slides with the wooden wedge and the emerald green accents again.

I have loved them since I purchased those pointed toes at a small boutique in Cambridge, Mass. where I was in town to speak on a panel at a journalism conference held at MIT. It was 2006.

The shoes are still perfect. The times for them are not.

Since the onslaught of the global pandemic in March, the economic failure that ensued and the days of upheaval in response to the cumulative racial murders, I have not worn them or any other pair of shoes besides my running shoes.

Each prolonged quarantine day I am working long hours from home, mostly barefoot or in socks. I put on shoes maybe for an hour or two each day –or every other. I leave the house wary and masked to go for a walk or to the small grocery store for cauliflower pretzels, CVS for gum care mouthwash or Walgreens to pick up my prescriptions. Zoom shots on conference calls are from the chest up; no one sees my feet.

As a 61-year-old cancer survivor with asthma, high blood pressure, fear of COVID and a dislike of crowds, I have not protested outside in this pandemic, though I believe in the cause.

I understand fully my privilege of working healthy from home with checks still coming in, as millions face furloughs, unemployment, personal, professional and economic disaster, health catastrophes, unspeakable loss.

And I also understand my privilege as a white person not inhabiting the paralysis from the weight of grief and trauma caused by the murder of George Floyd added to the roster and the widespread injustices exposed again following his killing.

Yes, my footwear focus is vain, shallow, meaningless, absurd. They don’t matter.

But I miss the shoes.    

So many have expressed eloquently about the liberation the shelter at home mandate has hatched for those of us WFH, and how freeing it is to wear pajamas all day, and (for those who did wear them)  boycott bras and makeup.

Certainly in the face of the collapse of democracy and the upending of the systems of injustice condoning violence against more than half of  Americans, and the silent complicity of many others, the choice of shoes is ridiculous. Appearance is immaterial. A disconnect from what is important.   

But I miss them. I miss who I was in them. I miss what I wore when I went outside—not for necessity, but for fun and for work. Having dinner or drinks in a bustling cafe, attending a conference, giving a training, going to work, traveling for work. I regularly wore fishnets with cowboy boots.

It was a different world. No one cares what they look like during the apocalypse.  

Each day I fumble to pull on leggings, tunic and a coated rubberband to convince my hair into a ponytail and head  to my laptop in my home office. Yes, I could elect to wear shoes in isolation. But I don’t.

I read recently in an excerpt from Donald A. Norman, a cognitive scientist and author of the 2004 book, Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things,   that  there are three levels of brain processing. He writes, “Love for Shoes would be at the visceral level, which is responsible for quick judgments, attraction and where the physical characteristics prevail.”

This scientific theory of shoes is explained in a 2012 research paper, “Protection or pleasure: female footwear,” as the Brazilian researchers also ascribe to Norman that “Love by the Shoe is in the reflexive level, which is contemplative, sophisticated, comes to the perceived rarity, experience, exclusivity, self-image and about the messages that a product sends to people.”

I have had both. I appreciate the craftsmanship and creativity of an exquisite shoe, but also the identity I adopt when I am in them; Cinderella without the bothersome prince.

As a young girl I wore patent leather Mary Janes; white and black, the only colors available. It was Keds in the summers, ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalogue. Platforms defined high school for me—cork or suede, some as high as six inches. College in the 70s for me was tight pants tucked into high boots—I loved my tan suede pair with heels that did not fare well in the snow.  I broke up with a man sophomore year because he wore Earth shoes. Yes, there were other issues as well.  

Later like most every other woman my age I was awed by Carrie Bradshaw’s shoeishness in “Sex & The City,” though I never could afford Manolo Blahnik’s. While Beyonce ventured into athletic shoes with Ivy Park recently, I directly related to her other impressive shoe game—like the spikes with the dangling beaded heels.

I have orange, fuchsia and cobalt blue suede sandals in my closet. I have multiple pairs of leopard print shoes—flats, heels and a pair of French suede ankle boots my friend Katherine made me buy. All of them go unworn.

The protests continue with curfews attached, a second surge of COVID is expected as a result. The phases of quarantine may take months or longer to move from lockdown toward re-entry. Yes, the shoes seem a narcissistic demonstration of complete and utter cluelessness.

The world must change.  

I loved the shoes before. I wonder if I will love them as much after.


  • Michele Weldon

    Author 6 books; journalist; NU emerita faculty; The OpEd Project leader; editorial director Take The Lead, mother of 3 sons.

    MICHELE WELDON is an author, journalist, senior leader with The OpEd Project, directing the Public Voices Fellowship initiative at Northwestern University since 2012. She has led OpEd Project initiatives at Stanford, Princeton, Brown, DePaul and Loyola universities, Ms. Foundation, Rush University Medical Center, Center for Global Policy Solutions, Boone Family Foundation, Youth Narrating Our World through The McCormick Foundation,  Urgent Fund Africa  and more. She is an award-winning journalist and author with nearly four decades of experience on staff and contributing positions at North Shore Magazine, ADWEEK, Fairchild Publications, Dallas Times Herald and Chicago Tribune. She is emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School where she taught for 18 years. She was co-director of TEDxNorthwesternU 2014. She is the author of six nonfiction books including her latest, Act Like You're Having A Good Time (2020), Escape Points: A Memoir (2015) and chapters in seven other books; has delivered more than 200 keynotes and appeared on scores of TV and radio outlets globally. A frequent contributor on issues of gender, media and popular culture, her work appears in hundreds of sites including New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, TIME, Christian Science Monitor, Guardian, Slate, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Los Angeles Times and more. She is editorial director of Take The Lead, a global women's leadership initiative. She serves on the advisory boards of Life Matters Media, Global Girl Media Chicago, Sarah's Inn, Between Friends and Beat The Streets. She is a former member of the board of directors of Journalism & Women Symposium.