I was just about to turn 13, getting ready to have my bat mitzvah — a religious coming-to-age ceremony for a Jewish girl around 12 or 13 years old, regarded as your gateway into Womanhood. While this was a momentous occasion in my life, and my parents were going to throw me a party to remember, I was a nervous wreck because not only did I need to read in Hebrew for the first ever in front of everyone I knew, I also had to look great while doing it! As a 13-year-old girl, this was perhaps the most important part.

So now imagine this — I am a 13-year-old girl who is 4 feet tall, who walks with crutches, wears a back brace for her so-called scoliosis, and has metal braces on her teeth. Probably not cover girl material, but I was happy and excited for what was to come. My bat mitzvah was going to be one of the best days of my life! In preparation for the day that I’d enter Jewish womanhood, I was going to Hebrew school twice a week, have Rabbi and Cantor lessons every Sunday, and I needed to find the perfect dress, and more important to me, the shoes that would make the entire outfit come alive. Shoes were always an issue as I got older because my foot had not grown since I was 7 years old, and to be honest, neither did my height. No matter if you are petite or tall, a seamstress can always help you fit into that great outfit, but no one can increase or decrease your foot size, so you can’t just fit into whatever you want to wear. There are not enough tissues in the world that can make your size 4 foot fit into a size 6 shoe; it’s simply impossible — trust me, I’ve tried. Therein is the issue — why can’t I find shoes that fit me?!

My bat mitzvah day finally comes, and while I loved the dress that we had professionally made to fit me perfectly, the shoes were found in the kids’ store and simply did not give me that extra boost of confidence I was looking for, on the day I am supposedly entering into Womanhood. They made me feel like a kid….

Fast forward 20 years (OK… 30 years). I am still 4 feet tall; thankfully the back brace and braces are now off, however, my shoe size hasn’t changed. In all these years, you would think finding shoes would have become easier. The internet exists now! We can get almost anything at the touch of a button, yet, we still cannot make shoes that fit me. Why is this?

It’s not that we can’t do it, but we don’t because it seems that too small and too large sized people don’t matter in the shoe industry. But shouldn’t all sized people matter in this world? I say yes and therefore believe that it’s finally time to make a stance and make shoes available for all people. As a physically disabled woman, I am constantly told no. “No, you can’t do that; no you can’t wear that; no we don’t have your size, but you should try the kid’s section!” I’m 42, a female entrepreneur and don’t want to wear kid shoes, damn it! All I want is to wear fashionable shoes that actually fit and won’t cost me a small fortune. Shoes not only complete an outfit, but they provide me and many women an opportunity to step out in a positive and empowering way that makes us feel unstoppable.

With diversity and mass representation being at the forefront of important causes today, it seems like only a handful of people and companies are putting their foot down and saying, “Size Matters!” I represent the handicap community, but more broadly, I also represent a large percentage of women who simply have small feet. I am not average in any way at all and expect it is about time that the fashion industry appeals to the less than average sizes. Isn’t this what fashion is all about anyway — standing out?! Adversity in fashion is real for the disabled or the simply “other” sizes. It is only in the last few years that we are finally starting to include all kinds of people in commercials, on the runway and in magazines. Runway of Dreams’ Mindy Scheier is helping to make a change in how physically disabled kids and adults get fashionable clothes today. Model Jillian Mercado is breaking down barriers for people like me by being part of runway shows, part of ad campaigns and overall speaking about the importance of acceptance in fashion. I am grateful for these people and their contributions but feel I can use my own experiences and connections to make a difference in the places I see need changes. When you look good you feel confident, your self-worth rises, and most importantly, looking good makes you want to smile back at yourself. Maybe I am taking a chance here, and the industry will knock me down, but I am ready, willing and loud enough to make a difference.

It’s time to say I matter, which is why this fall, I am thrilled to announce that I am launching my own shoe line Unstoppable by Lauren Jae that will afford women of all sizes (3-13) shoes and feel confident whether they walk into the boardroom or the bedroom. Here is a sneak peak of what’s to come!

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  • Lauren Ruotolo

    Disability Advocate, Author, Speaker & Shoe Designer

    Lauren Ruotolo is the author of Unstoppable In Stilettos- A Girls Life to Living Tall in a Small World, launching a shoe line in 2019 entitled Unstoppable by Lauren Jae.  Currently, Lauren is a consultant for Johnson & Johnson where she oversees all corporate channel content for LinkedIn as well creates enterprise marketing partnerships with the entertainment industry to increase the company's brand reputation. Previously, Ruotolo served for a decade as the Director of Entertainment Promotions at Hearst Magazines in New York City, where she was responsible for developing critical strategic partnerships with TV & cable networks, music labels, and movie studios. In her spare time, Ruotolo advocates for people with rare diseases and speaks to corporations on the need, and value behind hiring the disabled community. Visit Lauren on Facebook, follow her on Twitter (laurenjaenyc), Instagram (laurenruotolo) or log onto www.laurenruotolo.net.