Ugly Sister Syndrome.


A photo I took in Nîmes last year: “A pair of shoes can sometimes change our lives. Cinderella.”

Summer has arrived with a vengeance in the Languedoc. The cat has resumed its favourite pastime of soaking up heat in a lazy heap on the wall. Luis the Nightingale is in fine fettle, warbling opera to his offspring throughout the night. Greasy fingers have been ceremoniously licked clean at The First Barbecue. And MM has come out in a cold sweat as she observes her summer dresses  and wonders whether she will pair them up with bare feet or a pair of trainers.

Welcome to the world of big-footed girls – the ones who spend all summer in size-too-small sandals and know the ugly step-sisters’ side of the Cinderella story by heart. Do you have hands like shovels that are too big to fit into the gloves in the dye box? Are the trouser legs too short on that pair of trousers you covet so much? Do you get tutted at by girls who “can’t see through you” at the cinema, and mutter under your breath that you will get your revenge when you are the only person tall enough pass them the last six-pack of girly drink off the top shelf at the supermarket? If so, the odds are on that you too suffer from Ugly Sister Syndrome.

MM has been a fully signed-up member of the anti-Cinderella brigade since her childhood. The brothers Grimm claim that when Prince C turned up with Cinder’s shoe, her sisters chopped off their own toes in a desperate attempt to fit inside it.  Big feet are synonymous of nastiness, frumpiness and spinsterhood in this sinister tale, whilst small feet rhyme with femininity, fairy godmothers, vertiginous social ascension and a Prince Charming to sweep you away to be a social handbag in a gilded cage.

What happened to the ugly sisters at the end of the story?  I have an idea of how their story ends:

They felt fat, frumpy and Dame Edna-like, in the full knowledge that without fitting into that damned glass slipper, they didn’t have a hope in hell of getting anywhere in Fairytaleland. They never found girly shoes their own size and, unable to leave the house for social functions, ended up living as manic-depressive hermits, binge-drinking Bordeaux out of their size nine trainers and throwing darts at the official portrait of Cinders and Charming. The End.

I remember the moment I realized that I would never be a delicate female. My mother had taken us to the theatre to watch Coppélia. I don’t remember much of the experience except my fascination with the ballerinas, and the huge ball of despair that knotted my stomach as I watched ‘real’ girls who didn’t scab their knees falling off their bikes, didn’t climb trees, held themselves beautifully and had small, delicate feet laced into minute satin slippers with pink ribbons shimmering around slim ankles. Their long, straight hair was tied into a neat, well-behaved bun on their heads. They were everything that I was not.


If the ballet dancers had been like Taylor Swift, I wouldn’t have cried on my way home from Coppélia.

Sitting glumly on the bus on the way home, I looked down at my feet in their Clarks lace-up shoes, clocked my untidy tomboy reflection in the dirty bus window, and burst into tears. When my mother asked me why, the only answer I could find was: “I want to be a ballet dancer.” She took it at face value, but that wasn’t what I meant. I yearned to be feminine and delicate. I had realised that somewhere deep down inside the resilient tomboy there was a girl, but she could never be that kind of girl. It hurt. I got over it soon enough, because everyone knows that you can’t make a tree house or sail Mirror dinghies in a tutu. But that tomboy complex still surfaces on a regular basis. Particularly when I have to buy shoes – every ugly step-sister’s nightmare.

I took my boys with me to the shoe shop last year, and challenged them to find me a pair of shoes. Bigfoot stuffed a brogue into my hand – not at all what I was expecting. He reassured me that they would look beautiful with my trousers and top – he was obviously thinking in terms of a high-power business woman, but MM’s head was already busily conjuring up a hybrid of Madame Doubtfire and Mary Poppins.

Sadista the saleswoman glided up from the depths of the slipper section – petite, with perfect make-up and tiny feet. She tipped her head back to look up at me and simpered, “How can I help you?”

And that was when the Ugly Sister Syndrome kicked in. I looked around, and suddenly felt out of my depth in enemy, girly territory. I was Goliath Girl, trampling around in a field full of Lilliputians – an Alice who had bitten off more Wonderland cake than she could chew.  Panic rose in my throat and my bold confidence disappeared in a puff of shoe deodorant. I made a last ditch attempt to appear calm and unruffled, and silence suddenly reigned in the store as an unnaturally loud and strangled “Do you have this shoe in a size 9?” echoed around its walls. Bargain-hunting predators paused and swivelled their carefully lacquered heads to locate the whereabouts of Queen Kong in the undergrowth of the commercial jungle.



“Queen Kong wanted that last pair of size 9 Jimmy Choos, but Rulah the big-footed Jungle Goddess wasn’t going to give them up without a fight.”

Sadista smirked and drummed her manicured claws on a shoe box. “These stop at a size 8, just like in most stores, for most shoes.” She drew in her breath, and I prepared to jam the box lid between her coral pink glossed lips sideways if she dared to add, “… for most women.

“May I suggest that you try mail order?” she rattled at high volume, looking at my feet with an amused smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. Bigfoot glared down at her. ‘She’ll try the size eight anyway,” he barked.

Five minutes later, Sadista trotted back with the shoes. I tried hard to fit my foot into that shoe, really, I did. But there was nothing doing. It was like trying to shoehorn a Hummer into a dog’s kennel. It would have been easier to get Sylvester Stallone into Paris Hilton’s G-string than fit my Patagonian-sized plates of meat inside those size eights.

I handed the box back. “Cinderella’s sister won’t be wearing those to the ball, then.” She looked at me in confusion. I spared my sons the embarrassment of developing my argument. They knew that unlike MM, Sadista had never suffered the humiliation of spotting a pair of garish size nine heels in a shop window and eagerly pushing open the door to what she hoped to be an unexpected haven for big-footed girls, only to be greeted by a confused transvestite who, judging by the expression on her face, was far more surprised than I was.

So we all smiled. I hooked each hand through the teenaged arm that appeared on either side of me, tapped the heels of my size-too-small red sandals together and tripped out of the shop with my heroes. Not quite Julie Andrews’ magic red shoes, but they’d do the job for as long as my apprentice Prince Charmings had my back.

35 thoughts on “Ugly Sister Syndrome.

  1. Welcome back! And what a return it is.

    I’m a size 8, so shops do stock my size… just. Usually only in the ugly pairs though. The pretty ones I really want are never available in my size. And I swear all the ones that do go up to size 8 are purposely designed to make my feet look even bigger than they already are!

    • Hi there! Thanks for reading, I’m feeling all nervous about walking into the WordPress bar for the first time in so long…
      I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my shoe-hunting dilemmas. Apparently they buy shoes in “packs”, which have one or two pairs of the smallest and largest pairs, and lots of the more common ones. That means that if you’re not in front of the shop when the delivery arrives, then you’re sunk. I agree with the clunky shoe problem, too – I pushed it to the extreme and wear bovver boots over the winter.
      The worst times were as a teenager, I always ended up with really ugly granny shoes. I never understood – it was as if shoe manufacturers thought you could suddenly wake up at retirement age with feet that have grown two inches over night and a wardrobe full of Damart.

  2. Super to see your blog heaving over the horizon…it has been much too long!

    How I sympathise…having great clods myself which seem to have spread over the years just to make matters worse.
    It was bad enough in France…but in Costa Rica it seems impossible. My theory is that all girl children here have the part of the foot between ankle and toe amputated at birth so that they can fit into the dinky sized shoes on sale.

    A lady from Nicaragua keeps a shoe shop in our little town and she can order me shoes in my size…but if Nicaragua can do it…why not Costa Rica? Thus my amputation theory…

    My husband has a similar problem….I don`t know about the rest of him but his feet would certainly qualify for pounding the beat…again, the only hope is shoes from Nicaragua!

    Luckily here the salesgirls are nice and friendly…even in dress shops…so there is not the unpleasant edge to the encounters which I remember all too well.

    Can`t resist saying it again…it is nice to see you back!

    • Hi Helen! I’m so excited (and I just can’t hide it… la la la la la…) to see another comfortably familiar name pop up. Hope that you and Leo and the dogs are still having as much fun – I will go for a wander around your posts, I have a lot of catching up to do with everyone. It’s been way too long, I agree – I may get round to explaining why at some point, but the most important thing was to get writing and hit “publish”.
      So Costa Rica is another nation of foot pygmies? I love your amputation theory. After all, the Chinese do bind girls’ feet… I feel like a female Gulliver here in the South of France. Eram do a size nine, but not in all shoes, and you have to order them as they don’t have them in stock.

      • The best thing about blogging is that you do it when and how you want…no compulsion!
        I did find a horde of shoes in my size last time in the U.K…..I only hope that the poor girl in John Lewis was on commission!

      • That’s true, but when you disappear for so long, you feel guilty and are worried that your readers may have disappeared. That’s the case for me, anyway. Ah, well, suck it and see 🙂
        I will note John Lewis as a possibility, although the GB is always the jackpot for me, I can even enjoy trying on shoes that are too big, just for the cheap thrill of it 🙂

  3. Hola!!! I am THRILLED to see you 😊 I’m a six footer and was banned from ballet at age 4. I have never felt feminine nor pretty not a real card carrying girlie. However rather oddly and possibly because I’m a mutant I have size 5 1/2 feet. This means that I can shop for normal shoes whilst towering and glowering over and at Sadistas. I rather enjoy it 😉

    • Hi there Osyth; another familiar face I am relieved to see 🙂 Banned from ballet? Geesh. That’s the kind of thing that scars a girl. I was banned from all playgroups because I decapitated dolls, dived head-first off the stage and smashed up toy prams; I suppose I’ve always had a problem with being a “card-carrying girlie”.
      I think that Sadistas are actually jealous… one mother at the village school welcomed me on my arrival to pick up Little My with the words “I see you’re wearing heels… aren’t you tall enough as it is?”

  4. Welcome back! It’s lovely to see you again – it’s been a while. 🙂 Sadista in the shoe shop made her comments as though you had chosen to have size 9 feet. 😦 I don’t suffer from the Ugly Sister syndrome (being the owner of size 6 feet) but I have two friends who do, and know how difficult it is for them to find something vaguely feminine. There are shops here called something like High and Mighty, or Long Tall Sally, perhaps they would be helpful, although not when you live in the Languedoc so perhaps that wasn’t the best suggestion!

    • Hi there Elaine, aka Queen of the Lemon Drizzle Cake 🙂 It has been too long and I’m happy to be back rolling in the blogosphere again!
      I feel for your friends. Although there are specialised stores, it is frustrating to not be able to walk into a shop and chose a pair of shoes just like anyone else. When I come back to the UK I find more possibilities than here, where I sometimes feel like a freak show on legs. I’m spending this summer in Flip-flops and a pair of ankle-length cotton boots I bought in Peru….

    • Hi there my lovely, great to ‘see’ you again 🙂 That’s exactly what I tell Sadista, too. feel for you both – shoe hunting for teens with big feet is a draining experience. Karma being a lovely thing, Bigfoot and Rugby-boy, my two boys, have the same problem – they are tall and have size 47 and 46 feet, respectively. I have lived a rerun of shoe-hunting with my mother as a teenager, but this time I experienced it as a mother with frustrated, big-footed teenaged boys. It’s like that ‘Freaky Friday’ film with Jodie Foster, when mother and daughter wake up in each other’s bodies and roles. (If you’re reading, this, Mum, I now understand what you went through…. )

  5. Well. Clearly you have been missed, not just by me. But if you think shopping for Size 9 is bad, try Size 10. Try 42, when so many of those packs stop at 41. Yep, that’s my life. It is such a miracle to find decent shoes — not as hard as finding the right bathing suit, but still.

    • Hi Bizzy! Glad to see you again 🙂 I wear a size 9 UK, which is a size 43 here in France. I’m beginning to think that we could sort out a group and write to manufacturers explaining that we really do exist.
      As for bathing suits…. I now inherit them from my teenaged daughter, although PF kindly pointed out at the beach yesterday that I had space for an extra boob in each cup of the bikini top 🙂

  6. lovely to see you blogging again, MM – and on a subject I can identify with !

    I’ve always had large feet, but last few years they have expanded sideways also so now need UK size 11 or 12 to fit – you can imagine how few shops stock these sizes (even online it’s a struggle to find any)

    my solution to this problem is not to wear shoes. I go barefoot around the house and most places outside. If I have to wear anything on my feet, I have a pair of flip-flops and a pair of sandals with velcro-fastening straps – which are ideal for my extra wide ‘plates of meat’ 😆

    • Great to see you again, Duncan – hope that you are well. My boys have that problem too, you should start an underground resistance group with Bigfoot (who doesn’t have that nickname for nothing). It’s sad to see that people who are not within classical size ranges for anything end up feeling like pariahs. You must find it impossible to buy shoes in winter… Have you tried running shoes? They are comfy, well-designed and generally can be found in larger sizes.

  7. Although I wear size 8.5…’s extra wide. I feel your pain…in all ways. I do use mail order because I’m tired of clerks telling me “they’ll stretch out”.

  8. Wonderful to see you’re back, MM, and your post resonates deeply with me. My feet aren’t as big as yours (7 not 9) but they are broad and also hurt unless shoes fit well, so shoe-buying can be a nightmare. The three grandsons all have big feet and have cost their parents a small fortune over the years as they were in adult (VAT-able) sizes before they left primary school. As for ballet, I left ballet classes at the age of 7 when I realised I would always be totally uncoordinated. Sniff…

    • It’s great to be back, Miss P 🙂 So you’re the one who bought the ‘F’ fitting shoes at Clarks 🙂 We were all Clark’s kids, or rather we were until they ran out of sizes for two of us. The only ballet we got (like your grandsons) was entire days of tragi-comic shopping tableaux going empty-handed from one shoe shop to another…
      I’m not coordinated either, but hey, you can’t climb a waterfall in a tutu (that was PF’s latest challenge for me, a couple of weeks ago. Without the tutu).

    • Oooh, coo-eeeeeeeee! How are you? This feels like ‘This is your blogging life’, it’s so cool 🙂 How is life for you? Are you still carting cement and wood around? I hope to get back to a more stable routine, life has been coming up with regular challenges that challenged my writing mojo too. Why don’t we both give it a try?

  9. Hey, you’re back and I missed it! Lovely to see your return. I don’t have big feet but I have very wide feet so very few shoes are comfortable unless I’m willing to cut a hole in them so my little toe can poke out. This is not a good look…

    • Hello you! So happy to see you are still out there in the virtual ether. I snorted by coffee down my nostril imagining you cutting holes in your shoes, you poor thing. We should create a club for big-footed misfits.

  10. I’d quite forgotten to check in – I have ballerina dainty length feet, tragically their width is the same as the length so I am a lovely square footed person. Which is not quite as bad as your issue – but in essence if you’re not Audrey Hepburn you’re buggered. Who really wants to wear beige elasticated memory foam shoes, when shops sell F..K me heels. I want F..k me heels! But and I know you get to Uk from time to time – Have you tried New Look? They go up to Size 9 – I buy their extra wide shoes (for my froggy feet) and they mean I don’t have to resort using the bacon slicer to slim down my tootsies…
    I also got them delivered to Italy, although post ‘Water’ gate my purchase may have to reduce…

    • Just saw this, sorry. I admire anyone who can walk in F**K me heels – I tried once, ran for the bus and ended up on crutches for 6 weeks. I will try out New Look the next time I go back, thanks for the tip!
      Any news on watergate? I practically fainted when I got my electricity bill recently; PF managed to mix his wires up when he installed the kitchen radiator, and we ended up heating the water heater 24 hours a day as well as the kitchen. The bill is eye…. watering.

      • Hi – I am behind too – effing migraines causing me to spend days like a Victorian lady having the vapours and of course no social media in Victorian times either!
        Watergate continues to ‘amuse’ or befuddle or enrage – depending on whose side of the fence you’re on. Three attempts to get the engineer out to confirm that we weren’t selling the water to our neighbours… You can’t actually book a time, not even a day – he just phones you when he happens to be in your area…. aarrrgghhh. After having explained that doesn’t really work as we were effectively under 24/7 house arrest, the local water office lady conceded and allowed us as a special matter to have a timed home visit. He visited 10 days ago and said your leak is okay don’t worry… we then pointed out he’d missed the critical 1 number prefixing his meter reading. He went white and said you’ve used 10 years worth of an Italian family’s water usage. As we pointed out it is 28 years worth of our normal usage. He then said, omg this is too big for me to help you, my boss needs to see this and agree an arrangement. He will be in touch in a day/two…. So today we went to the office again, and the girl said oh yes a letter is on its way – we said ‘what does it say?’ she said I don’t know! we explained for the umpteenth time the issue and said btw we are away in London for most of June, so two things – one we must have water and two we don’t want you sending us a behemoth of a bill and debiting our bank accounts with thousands of euros. She said will it be thousands and we had to explain that yes most likely 3 or 4000 euros. She also said she couldn’t help and negotiate any discount or payment plan as that level is way too high for her pay grade…Finally she agreed to block the sending of a bill and to make a note on their system that we are away. Such is my faith in the Italian systems, I am convinced we will have been cut off at the mains and possibly the house repossessed when we return. Hey ho – the jolly life of stupid expats! So I sympathise totally with your eye watering bill. The worst bit is that the water has effectively watered our neighbour’s vines and olive trees as were are perched in a patch of land that sits atop his much larger field. Do you think we could claim olive oil and wine rights?

      • Ouch, that sounds like a sitcom gone seriously wrong. The Italians sound about as organized as I am; I love reading Pecora Nera’s blog ‘An Englishman in Italy’, which details his run-ins with the Italian powers that be with refreshing humour. Pop over and get some reassurance that you are not alone – he even makes his own limoncello ice lollies 😉
        There must be some kind of citizen’s advice bureau that you could ask for help – nobody can pay a bill that huge!

  11. I have no idea how I missed this post… It is Boxing day and I sitting here with my glass of wine trawling through Bloggo and fortunately found this post from 2017. Hugs to you

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