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The Feet We Deserve - Steve Wheeler

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This is an entry in The Future We Deserve - a collaborative book project about the future. See all the entries or talk about this entry.



Put it on a pedestal, in a glass box. Invite children to come and look. Explain. “This is the kind of thing people used to wear on their feet.” Cries of disbelief from the assembled youth. “How did they walk?” “Why would they do that to themselves?”

They can't imagine strapping several pounds of rubber and plastic to their feet and having to carry that weight on the end of their legs all day; they can't imagine what it would be like to not be able to feel the floor beneath them: their supple moccasins are made of natural materials, thin puncture-resistant sole flexing to the contours of the ground, uppers moulded to the shape of their feet. Some have a gap separating the big toe, like Japanese tabi – others have individual glove-like pouches for each toe.

Get a pair of antiques out and let one try them on (it's fine – we have the Museum We Deserve now). The child totters about: “Why is the heel so high? Why can't my foot bend?” Point out the other ill effects of wearing the ancient contraptions – how their heel now strikes the ground with such force, sending a shock wave through their body into their skull; how their toes can no longer flex individually, freezing their foot into a single lifeless block; how their posture has altered, their head and pelvis tilted back, their chest and shoulders thrown forward in compensation. He nods. “Yes, it's harder to breath like this.”

The novelty wears off. The kid wants out. “When did they realise how dumb this was?” Tell them you're not sure – because nowadays kids have the Teachers They Deserve, honest about the limits of their knowledge. Perhaps it was the beginning of the century, when people started realising everything else was wrong as well. Imagine how many people's feet must have started going wrong, arches collapsing because they were wrapped in soft cushions all day.

One is troubled, brow furrowed in thought (mental note – tendency towards tension cognition; perhaps she would like to spend some extra time with Ajarn Frank, learning how to think clearly without resistance?): “You know what we did in our Soma class last week, when we talked about Qi and refex... refexlollogy?” Cute. “Well, if there are so many important acu-points in your feet, wouldn't wearing those things be bad for your Qi?” Smart cookie. Count yourself lucky you're not in ancient China – they'd have had your feet bound up extra young for showing skills like that.

Hm. Maybe they're old enough. They need to know how far gone things were. How we weren't just victims of bad design: that the distortion of natural posture, the withdrawal of energy from the feet, the constriction of flow and feeling were actually fetishised, eroticised, deliberately reified – and how it was women who were the worst victims of it all. You take another exhibit from the cupboard and read the label to them: “ 'Louboutin, 2010'. Who wants to try these on, then?” The children catch sight of the straps and buckles, the painfully narrow toe and the vicious-looking spike. “Eergh!” they cry in unison, giggling and wriggling at the thought of it.