This week I wear ugly walking shoes
Recently I was given a pair of those chubby, stack-soled “fit” sneakers*. You know, the kind that look a cross between that very special footwear you can only buy at a chemist and those foam stilts Baby Spice used to wear with legwarmers back in 1993.
Such shoes come with claims: they are said to lift your bum, increase your heart rate, zap cellulite, solve your existential angst, sort your tax return and nab you a new partner. That last one, of course, is made up. These shoes are so ugly, they’re known universally to deflect potential suitors as soon as they see you coming (in life-improving, calf-elongating strides).
Lifted bum or no lifted bum.
As a rule, I’m wary of sportif gear. I live in fear of being one of those “all gear and no idea” types. I mean, if you’re going to wear Skins, you want to be able to run a clipping five-minute mile. And I’ve put a blanket-ban anything that says its fixes cellulite. But apparently Harrods in London has opened a fit shoe “lounge” such is the (revived) popularity of these nubby little things and sales have increased 300 per cent in the past year. Victoria Beckham and Jessica Biel wear them and a number of (albeit apologetic) fashion commentators have made the conversion, while desperately trying to distance them from Crocs. So I figured I should give mine a shot. If only to see if they can solve my existential angst.
My particular brand of chubby sneakers claim to tone legs and lift bottoms via “instability technology”. In other words, that ugly sole exists to make you wobbly so your muscles work harder (they cite studies and feature pie graphs on the swingtags). Whatever. They work. Walking in these shoes woke my muscles up in subtle ways, making me stride with purpose, agility and a Pilates instructor’s posture. I had to, just to stay upright.
Ordinarily, I run. And as you read this today I’m running Sydney’s City to Surf race for the first time after two years of being told by doctors to give my daily 10km jogging habit a rest. But for the past few weeks I’ve been walking every day (when I should’ve been jogging), such is the fun and tautness my ugly fit shoes have brought to my life. After a fortnight of wobble-correcting power striding my calves are setsquare-chiseled and I’m able to locate my abs. Which is a highly addictive result. I’ve even been getting all Working Girl, wearing them with smart outfits so that I can walk to client meetings in the city, ducking down a nearby alleyway to change into heels. And I guess this is where the value of these things lies: they make you want to walk more. And walk better.
I’m not sure that the multi-national manufacturers had this in mind when they patented their wobbly technology, but I go one firming step further: wearing fit sneakers is Zen practice in motion.
Countless Buddhists have taught “mindful walking” or walking meditation. Its simple premise: by concentrating fully on walking, you can access mindfulness and, eventually, enlightenment. As you walk you place your awareness on the act of stepping, while making a note silently in the mind, “stepping, stepping,” or “left, right, left, right.” If your mind wanders and you start thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight, simply shift your awareness gently back to “stepping”. You feel the way you place the foot to the earth and you imagine drawing the energy upwards as you lift your foot. You’re mindful of the breath going in your nostrils, of the gentle breeze on your face. After 20 minutes of this, an incredible calm takes over. It’s meditation in motion.
Anyway, wearing ugly fit sneakers encourages all this by getting you to focus on your stride. Me, I found the elevated soles shifted my alignment just enough to get me aware and alive to the way my muscles work. Left, right, left, right. The upright position it encourages also instills a certain properness, a slightly smug “I’m properly aligned” tone to things that makes you feel like you belong in a Zen vibe. Which, again, is highly addictive (in a detached way, of course).
The fit shoe revolution is yet to strike here. But when it does know this: the sneaks ain’t pretty and they won’t zap cellulite. But they might just cure existential angst.
Anyone else love these shoes? What brands do you recommend to others? Anyone else run City2Surf? I did – with my Dad. A lot of fun!!!