Live a Life Worth Loving

The Real Reason My Characters Have Bare Feet

Toes with GirlI love shoes.

Now you must think this is crazy, coming from woman who is barefoot most if the time, and who has built her art around that fact. But I have to admit, I am addicted to shoes. My dear friend Candy, who died from Ovarian Cancer back in 2003, was a shoe nut too. Although she was not so much into quantity, she did have a bunch of cute ones.  If the saying is true, that “She who dies with the cutest shoes, wins” I have bad news. The game’s over. Candy won. I’ve never have seen so many cute shoes as she had in her closet after the funeral.  I only wish I wore her size. But my obsession with shoes doesn’t come from the fact that there are just so many cute ones out there to collect.  It stems from a slightly sad, lack of self esteem story from my childhood.

I was one of those kids who got her growth spurt in one spontaneous explosion that left me at my full height and bone structure by my 11th birthday. At five-foot-nine and 110 pounds, my large bone structure was even more exaggerated.  I stood out among all my friends. I was taller than my 16 year old sister by an inch and had large size 10-1/2 wide feet to match. I was a stick with duck feet!!!  My long, blonde, almost white hair and bright blue eyes just added to the oddity that I felt growing up in Hawaii in the late 60s.  Hawaii is a multicultural melting pot of mostly small, petite Asian and Polynesian girls with jet black hair and dark exotic features. I can remember coming home from school one day and begging my mom to dye my hair black so I’d fit in better. Thank goodness she didn’t!  Can you imagine how my platinum blond eye brows and eyelashes would have looked, framed by a head of dyed black hair? (Thanks Mom for saying, “No.”)

But back to shoes…Fortunately shoes were totally optional at most places on the island. Bare feet were the norm, at school anyway. But if I did need to wear something on my feet, I could get my size 10-1/2 wide feet into a pair of men’s rubber flip flops.  I was always on the lookout for a non-gender-specific color (men didn’t wear pink back then) and style that wasn’t too manly. But there were a few situations that called for shoes…real “girl” shoes.

This is where my challenge came in. In the late 60s, on a little island in the middle of the Pacific where most petite women there never wore bigger than a size 6, choices were limited to say the least. Catalogs from the mainland offered my size, but only in matronly orthopedic varieties that looked like something worn in a soviet block countries by female shot-put champions. So instead, we’d travel almost an hour to shop the Ala Moana Mall, hoping to find something that would fit.  Shopping was horrible. We’d walk into a shoe store and my mom, who has a loud booming voice second only to mine, would ask the cute little Asian shoe man, who was half my size and height, if he had anything in a women’s size 10-1/2 wide. The man, along with everyone in the store, would look down at my feet as if to catch a glimpse of an oddity only reserved for those with a paid ticket to Ripley’s Believe It or Not. The salesman would shake his head as I tried to slither out the door before any of the Japanese tourist got their cameras out.  This whole situation, experienced over and over again, did NOT help my self esteem. Many times I remember whining to my mom, asking her what we’d do if my feet kept growing. Instead of answering me, she hit me with one of her famous platitudes (she had thousands): “There was a girl who cried because she had no shoes until she met a girl who had no feet” Then she would try to boost my spirits.  Usually we’d sit together at the counter at Longs Drug Store, still shoeless, and share a piece of Coconut Cream Pie.

Once however, low and behold, we found a pair of X-large, slip-on mules with a bow across the toe. They were a bit too small, but they were backless.  They allowed my heels to hang out over the back edge, and they hurt my little toes like crazy, but at least they didn’t look like something a grandmother would wear. (Thinking back now I think they were actually some kind of glamorous Boudoir slipper to be worn with lingerie!) Nevertheless, I was able to endure them in short spurts. I owned them as my only pair of shoes for well over 3 years. They started out as white leather, got resoled yearly and then in an effort to suck as much life out them as possible Mom had them dyed different colors several times in an effort to hide the wear. I hated those shoes after three years, yet I lived in a panic of what I’d do if they ever got to the point where they were no longer repairable.

By the time I moved to the mainland, it was only slightly easier to find stylish shoes in my size.  But somehow I survived my shoe trauma of young adulthood. Today, the options for a size 10-1/2 wide shoe do offer more choices …thank you Nordstoms and Zappos!  But every time I find a pair of shoes that do fit, I have this compulsion to buy them, cute or not, in every color they come in. And then, after they have served their purpose and lived out their life spam, I can’t bear to get rid of any of them.  I have shoes in my closet I haven’t worn in years that are so worn out that they are not fit to give the thrift store — but I almost go into an anxiety attack if I have to throw them out.  So I hoard them.

I can still remember a few short years ago when I came home from the store with shoe boxes in tow, my mom, who was then living with me, would be just as excited as I was to put another pair in my closet. She still remembered this silly little trauma of my childhood and each time would tell me “It’s okay Suzy, you just buy all the shoes you want. You’re making up for lost time!” Today, when the same scenario repeats itself, my  husband, just rolls his eyes. He knows better than to say anything. I add them to my stash and remind him that shoes are a cheap fix and  my drug of choice for a traumatic childhood!

It is interesting that my life’s work, The Sacred Sisterhood of Wonderful Wacky Women, is noted for their wild haired, faceless heads and their bare feet. I am continually asked why they have these traits. As I finish telling them the “Why no Faces” story about my adopted son, wanting to know what his birth mother looked like and how I drew a little faceless woman so he could imagine her face himself.  I quickly add that their bare feet are most likely a result of my growing up in Hawaii and the fact that I never wear shoes.  Well now you’ll know the real story. The fact is, they all wear size 10-1/2 wide and just can’t find a pair of shoes that fit.

Regardless of the stash of shoes that now fill my closet, if I ever get the chance to meet you, look down… most likely you’ll see the cutest pair of 10-1/2 wide bare-feet you ever saw!


  1. Alice Young on April 2, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    Suzy, I get a planner and wall calendar EVERY year! And, now I’m following you on Facebook. Thank you for being REAL!
    Much love,

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 3:07 pm

      Thanks Alice. Im so happy to hear you enjoy my work. I put my heart and soul into every piece!

  2. Eileen Friel on April 2, 2019 at 4:47 pm

    Suzy I had a similar problem after a car accident when I broke both ankles. I had to wear a brace on my leg and the only thing that would fit were men’s wide sneakers. This was 30 yrs ago so I had a choice of gray or black at the time. Things are a little better now without the brace but still have to have very specific shoes. When I die I want fancy heels glued to my feet for the wake and leave them uncovered. LOL Thanks for answering the shoeless question. I just assumed they were free spirited hippies.

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 3:07 pm

      Well I am a bit of a hippie too! Sorry about your accident. But go buy that pair of shoes for the wake now!!!! Put that in your will. I love the idea.

  3. Gail on April 2, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    Me too! Now I collect expensive Italian size 10c ! They are like an art collection for me to look at

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 3:05 pm

      I so “Get this!” I have three pair of shoes I no longer wear that are gorgeous to look at…works of art but now at my age they are not comfortable nor do I think they are age appropriate. (6″ wedgies!) I have them on a shelf in my studio to look at as art!

  4. Schmede on April 3, 2019 at 3:15 am

    I was one of those 5′ 11″ girls who weighed 117 at my biggest and who had size 10 AA shoes. Life was unbearable at points but now I just wish I had feet that I could wear barefoot. 4 surgeries later (12 years) on my right foot and now I’m considering amputating my second toe because of how it overlaps my middle toe. Your feet are gorgeous! Show them off as much as you can!

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 3:03 pm

      Im so sorry about your foot issue. I am lucky that going barefoot allowed my feet to grow well and I have no feet issues at all. And although they are big, I am grateful they are not ugly! However my Husband has tiny feet. Mine are way bigger than his Ouch!

  5. Karen on April 3, 2019 at 3:53 am

    Yes I can also relate to this story…i have always hated shopping in stores and have done a lot of catalog shopping. We are the women we are today by learning to make positives out of negatives! Thanks for making it fun and in our face on paper and in beautiful color!

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 3:01 pm

      I am so over it all… I think. Until I find a cute style that fits well and I walk to the register with a pair in every color!!!!

  6. Andrea on April 3, 2019 at 5:28 am

    I was 5’9″ by high school & 5’10” going into college finishing at 5’10 3/4″ with a size 10 narrow shoe (now a 10 1/2 narrow/B). Shoes that were age appropriate were always an issue. I am not a shoe lover & prefer bare feet…flip flops are my favorite footwear. I love hearing the stories behind your art!

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 2:59 pm

      AH, a kindred soul. You “Get it!”

  7. Darlene on April 3, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Oh, how I remember the Ala Moana shopping Mall. Growing up in Hawaii in the 60’s as well, remembering no schools at school. I had my first pair of a sock with a lite sole ,that your big toe was separated from the other toes. Being Blonde and green eyed I was the odd ball. I still would not change a thing about the whole your memories.

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      I was in Hawai’i recently and was shocked that Ala Moana looks so unfamiliar. My favorite is still the lower basement level where the parking garage is.

  8. Carol Watson on April 3, 2019 at 12:56 pm

    I never knew this story. It is a sad one. I am glad for 2 things…you are now comfortable in your own skin- feet and all, and that you can find cute shoes in your size.

    • Suzy Toronto on April 3, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Yes! I do love the cute sandals especially that I can find. Interesting though, I only have 2 pair of shoes that are not open toes flip flops or sandals. One is a pair of tennies and the snow boots!

  9. Phyllis on April 25, 2019 at 1:19 pm

    Suzy, for years l have ordered the desk calendar.
    Are you still offering them.?
    Please let mo know so I can order one.

  10. Loma Rothmund on April 27, 2019 at 5:00 pm

    OH SUZY!!!
    We are sole sisters for sure.
    I was the wild toeheaded urchin from the mountains of Arizona. Tall ( I ended up at 5’11 1/2″), long legs, that ended will feet too big for any cute girly shoes. Today I still have a hard time finding cute shoe to fit my size 11-12 (depending on the style of toe) wide feet.

    Dad would tell my mom & I ” if nothing else she will just have to wear chukka boots.”

    Mom would sigh in desperation and find me yet another pair of Saddle-oxford shoes, because they were sturdy and I wouldn’t ‘walk out’ of them too fast.

    My brother told me, after he went into the Navy, ” your shoes are the boxes they ship the aircraft carriers in.” BROTHERS!!!

    My 3 sisters would just shake their heads and be glad their feet were ‘normal’ sizes.

    So in the summer I would toughen up my bare feet by walking on the cinder rock roads we had, winters I HAD to have shoes on.

    As a young lady & teen I dreamt of designing awesome shoes for big footed girls. But my own self-esteem did not stand up to the wisecracks from family & friends. Now days as an old lady with fallen arches & arthritis in my feet I have to wear those ‘old lady’ shoes you wrote about. My husband could always know where my shoes were when I asked him to help me find them. They were always by the door I would come into the house through.

    So you see, my sole sister Suzy, we weren’t alone in our plight. Here’s to never needing shoes in heaven !!!

    • Suzy Toronto on May 3, 2019 at 4:14 pm

      Oh Loma…I so get it….as I sit at my computer right now barefooted.

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