Disability

Full Transcript: If the shoe fits...

This is a full transcript of If the shoe fits... as first broadcast on 17 July 2018 and presented by Niamh Hughes with Beth Rose.

NIAMH- Shoes. Shopping for them. Wearing them. Whether you love them, hate them or feign indifference it still affects us all in the disability community. And plenty of us have been there, scanning shelf after shelf of brightly coloured, highly impractical shoes with the thinnest of straps, the flimsiest of soles, or the highest of heels. You imagine wearing them and the reality hits you - it's not going to happen.

In the wake of ASOS featuring BBC reporter and wheelchair user, Chloe Ball-Hopkins, in their latest ad campaign it got us here at Ouch thinking. Disability representation in the fashion industry is one thing, but what about the clothes themselves? What about the shoes? So whether you require orthopaedic trainers, Velcro or a buckle over laces, or like me, you choose fashion over function, shoe shopping can be a nightmare, and we've all got a story.

So we're going to share some of those stories today. The successes, the disasters, are shoes even necessary, and should we have to choose function over fashion? I'm Niamh Hughes, and joining me in the studio is the wonderful Beth Rose.

BETH - Oh, hello.

NIAMH- We've also got actor and comedian, Tim Renkow.

TIM - Hello.

NIAMH- And on the line from Brighton is presenter and lifestyle and fashion YouTuber, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, and just so you know, she's accompanied by her sign language interpreter, Ruthanne. Now, Jessica, you have hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsy, or HNPP. And that's a genetic disorder of peripheral nerves, so any nerve outside of your brain or your spinal cord, these are the nerves that control sensation, movement and function. But you also have mixed connective tissue disorder, and that's an autoimmune disorder where the body's defences sort of attack each other?

JESSICA- Yeah, that's right, yeah. I was blessed with two genetic disabilities, one from each of my parents.

NIAMH- Now, I'm opening this first question out to everyone, disabled and non-disabled. What do we think about when I say shoes? Firstly, Jessica?

JESSICA- The fanciest thing you could possibly imagine, I'm sure. Very sparkly. There'll probably be some bows.

NIAMH- And Tim, what do you think about when I say shoes?

TIM - Oh, just a pain in the ass really.

NIAMH- What about you, Beth?

BETH - Well, I always want them to look super nice, but then at the same time I'm thinking please be comfortable, please be comfortable, please be comfortable.

NIAMH- And firstly, Jessica, I am going to come to you. Your style is really interesting because you take a lot of inspiration from sort of 1940s and '50s vintage.

JESSICA- Hmm-hmm.

NIAMH- Now, your style is really unique and quite polished.

JESSICA- Thank you.

NIAMH - I've watched a couple of your YouTube videos and you're very, very well presented. So why does that retro style appeal to you?

JESSICA- People ask me that often, and it's actually a very hard question to answer. It's sort of why does your style appeal to you, right? It just does. I like to look in the mirror and feel like not a hair is out of place and I like to have all of my colours in my outfit matching. Yeah, they're just very odd little fashion rules that I set for myself when I was a child and decided I had to keep forever. And it sort of semi accidentally looks like I'm from the 1950s, but really I just buy the things that I love and wear the things that make me happy.

NIAMH - Now, as I said earlier, you have HNPP and MCTD. You've spoken a little bit about it on your YouTube channel. How do those conditions affect your feet?

JESSICA- Yeah, I'm always really open and honest on my YouTube channel about living with disabilities, how that affects my life and how that also has an impact on my style. And my feet, due to my HNPP, can't really feel very much, so I can't feel my toes. And my left foot I can't feel at all. It sort of feels like it's not there, but then I do get some internal pain and the MCTD makes my feet very floppy so they don't roll properly. Normally when you're walking you have to roll your feet to move along and mine do not do that. So I've found that wearing heels is actually the best and easiest way for me to get around, because I don't need to roll my feet.

NIAMH - Interesting, because historically high heels and stilettos are notoriously uncomfortable. When we look back at 1950s or 1940s starlets, you know, later on in life they had quite a few problems with their feet. I know Marilyn Monroe had quite a few bunions and things like that, but as I said in the introduction, they kind of picked fashion over function. Essentially what you're saying is that being elevated by a heel, so you don't have to roll your feet and it's much easier for you to walk then?

JESSICA - Yes. Also I find that the way I walk around my house when I'm not wearing shoes is also on tip toe because that's the way to make my ankles the strongest, if that makes sense. If I just walk on the heel of my foot then I tend to fall over. The worst injuries I've had to my feet have all been from falling over whilst I was wearing either flat shoes or no shoes.

NIAMH- I see.

JESSICA- All of the worst. And then when I wear heels I actually find I fall over less, which is very odd.

NIAMH- nSo it's the opposite effect to sort of what I suppose more able-bodied people would experience in heels.

JESSICA- Yes.

NIAMH- So I was reading a little bit about you and you've got something called POTS which is where your body can't quite regulate temperature and stuff? Is that correct?

JESSICA - Yeah, yeah I do.

NIAMH - Apparently you have to drink Diet Coke to stand up. What's that about?

JESSICA - Yeah, it's because the caffeine in Diet Coke is a vasoconstrictor. It's not really specific to Diet Coke, you know, any other kind of caffeine would also work, I just hate tea and coffee. So that leaves me with Diet Coke. And I can't have sugar. And what it basically means is that my veins and arteries don't constrict if I stand up, so due to gravity my blood just kind of, voom, rushes down to my feet and they turn purple and then I faint and fall over. So instead I drink a lot of caffeine.

NIAMH - Do you have to time it, so you think okay, I'm going to stand up in 15 minutes, I'll have a shot?

JESSICA - I'm very much used to do that but now I just drink it all the time.

NIAMH - It's better just to drip feed it in.

JESSICA - Yeah, that's my thinking.

NIAMH - Have any of your followers made comments about the shoes you wear? Do they find that difficult to understand, whether disabled or non-disabled?

JESSICA - Yes, it's very interesting. It's about split 50/50. I get half of people going, "How on earth do you wear these shoes? Oh my God, I have a similar nerve condition and my feet hurt so much I couldn't wear heels." And then you get other people who are saying, "Oh, I've got a muscle disorder and I can't wear heels other." But then the other 50% of my followers are all like, "Yes, this is me. This is me exactly, I can't walk except for when I'm wearing heels." Or, "I'm in a wheelchair most of the time so I decided to wear fabulous shoes, because why not?"

NIAMH - But do you feel like showing off your style, particularly on Instagram and YouTube being such a visual media, do you feel like that's a conscious decision? Is there a part of you that wants to subvert expectations as a disabled woman about what disability looks like?

JESSICA - Oh, definitely. I think people tend to think of disabled people as being a monolithic group, like we're all the same, we all need exactly the same things, we all look exactly the same. And it really isn't that way. So I want to represent that there are different types of disabilities, different adaptions are needed. And one of the things that I really like doing with my Instagram is taking pictures that are kind of those 1950s advert style beauty shots, but then there's a hearing aid there, or there's a wheelchair. Just showing the beauty in other things, that beauty doesn't have to come in this one package.

NIAMH - But at the opposite end of the spectrum we have Tim Renkow. Now Tim, you have cerebral palsy and I'm sure that anyone listening or knows anyone who has CP will understand this, that buying and wearing shoes is a nightmare. I myself have hemiplegia, so it's almost like an offshoot a bit of cerebral palsy, you know, you get through shoes really quickly. But you come from a different perspective to Jessica, you don't wear shoes very often.

TIM - No.

NIAMH - So Tim, I think the obvious question is, do you have sweaty feet?

TIM - No, 'cos I don't wear shoes.

NIAMH - And you don't find that even in this heat?

TIM - Shoes are the things that make your feet sweat. Your feet don't get gross if you don't wear shoes.

NIAMH - And I suppose yeah, another obvious question is why? What was the catalyst that made you think, right, I don't want to wear shoes anymore?

TIM - I grew up in the country and I never needed to wear shoes, and then I moved to the city and thought, why start now?

NIAMH - Really?

TIM - So I just never really wore shoes. From the time I was about 12 I gave up.

NIAMH - What was it about the shoes that you didn't like?

TIM - Everything. They take time putting on. You destroy them very quickly. I go through a pair of shoes in… My record is five minutes I've destroyed a pair of shoes.

NIAMH - How do you destroy them? I hear lots of people say that they destroy their shoes so quickly. What happens?

TIM - Because I drag my feet and shoes aren't made… so the toe just wears out very quickly.

NIAMH - I do feel like we need to confess today though, being the BBC and all, Tim has turned up wearing shoes.

TIM - I know. I've got a girlfriend and she makes me wear shoes.

NIAMH - Is that more of a safety thing?

TIM - Yeah, because it starts like… because I don't have much feeling in my feet either and sometimes when I was walking I would notice hot flashes in my feet and I was like, what's going on? And then one day I realised I was stepping on bits of grit, and just not realising.

BETH - Oh, no.

NIAMH - And I read a couple of articles in preparation for today. You said that you liked the fact that not wearing shoes bothers people.

TIM - Yes.

NIAMH - What do you mean by that?

TIM - It just bugs people. The thing with shoes is you're supposed to wear them but there's not really… Like you're supposed to wear them for societal rules but there's no real reason to wear them, just like there's no real reason to wear gloves.

NIAMH - So what's it like when you walk into a café or a restaurant? What reaction do you get?

TIM - Sometimes I just get kicked out.

NIAMH - Really?

TIM - I mean, that's fair, they have rules, no shoes, right? A lot of times they just look and just go, "Oh, there's so much wrong with him, we'll just give him this thing."

NIAMH - But you've not convinced your girlfriend to go shoeless yet?

TIM - No.

NIAMHShe's all into her shoes.

TIM - She likes Doc Martens. I have a feeling she just likes the idea of being able to kick something very hard. I think that's why she wears shoes.

NIAMH - I love Doc Martens, but that's just because they're the sturdiest shoes ever and I don't fall over in them, which is refreshing. It feels like, yeah, it's a bit of an investment, but you know that they're going to last you more or less a lifetime. And I've had mine for about two years, there's barely even a scrape on the sole and that would never happen to any other shoe. I love Doc Martens, they are the best.

Now, this is more of a quick fire question and this goes out to everyone. Actually Jessica, because you've been talking about high heels I want you to go first. I want you to describe to me your ideal shoe. You can take all the liberties and artistic licence you want. Rocket blasters, the works. Go.

JESSICA - Oh my goodness. Okay. I would take a pair of shoes that I already own, because I love them, and then I would adapt them a little bit. So they are sparkly silver, but truly very, very… It looks like someone has patted glitter onto these shoes. I love them. And they have a massive bow on the toe because I love bows, they're absolutely adorable. But one thing I would like to add into them is some kind of cushioning inside. I also have some shoes that are from, let's say an older lady's shop, which have some very beautiful cushioned insides. It basically feels like you're walking on pillows, it's great. So I'd like to put those inside my very nice looking shoes.

NIAMH - And Tim, if you could design your ideal shoe, despite your opinions and your sort of societal rejection of them, how would you go about that?

TIM - Exact same as what she said, except they also give me the ability to talk to the dead. [laughter]

NIAMH - And Beth, what about you?

BETH - I feel like my ideal shoes are almost made and I'm completely going, sort of against what Jessica wants, but I would love some really stylish heels, you know, like really good strong colours, but you know how they've already made trainers that are high heels? I want trainers which look like high heels but feel like trainers.

NIAMH - Oh, okay.

BETH - I feel like they're so close and yet they've not realised that they've done it the wrong way round. So, comfort for me.

NIAMH - Yeah, comfort is key. And actually, Beth, you don't have a disability, but do you find that this sort of story resonates with you anyway?

BETH - Shoes is my one dilemma. If I have a wedding or an event I always think oh God, what shoes am I going to wear? Because I just find them, they're quite uncomfortable. And as much as everyone else seems to master heels and seem to be pain free for an entire day I am not the case. So I like to have a good thick sole. I feel like I've become 50 overnight in saying that, but it's true.

NIAMH - But in terms of designing your ideal shoe, comedian, Francesca Martinez, wrote an article for Ouch in fact describing how she loves heels, and while she learned to accept certain limitations due to her disability, she has cerebral palsy too, but she really wants to wear heels. You know, they look great, and there's definitely something to be said about feeling sexy and elevated in heels. I don't know if that's just her, but Jessica, would you agree? Does it have that kind of effect? Does it make you feel really different when you wear heels?

JESSICA - My feet hurt after a few hours of doing anything, and it doesn't matter whether I'm not wearing shoes, whether I'm in orthopaedic shoes, or whether I'm in heels. So they might as well hurt and still look good. It feels more like me to have those kind of pretty, sparkly, super girly shoes. I feel like it works with my whole outfit, so I'm kind of just projecting who I am.

NIAMH - What are your thoughts on that, Tim? Do you feel for Francesca in that respect?

TIM - I look good in high heels. I guess so. I mean do what you want to do.

NIAMH - But she actually came up with a resolution, she came up with this idea of retractable heels that she can fold away when walking and then take the heel out so that she can show it off while sitting down so she still gets that same feeling. What are your thoughts on that, Jessica?

JESSICA - Well, I mean that is an excellent idea, definitely. I tend to find though that I personally have like Barbie feet, so my feet are in the shape of heels, which I think makes it harder to then walk on flat. I do love the idea of changeable shoes though. I should have added that to my perfect shoe.

NIAMH - Now, the other day I went to an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum and it was called Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. Did you guys know that she modified her shoes and clothes as a result of her disabilities? So Frida Kahlo had polio as a child which meant that one of her legs was shorter than the other.

So for her longer leg she cut the heel of her shoe off, which I thought was really inventive, and later on in life she had gangrene so she cut away some of the top of her shoe to kind of accommodate her foot. Do you think that maybe shops or retailers could maybe take some inspiration from Kahlo and at least provide products to help adapt shoes? Do you think there's scope for that, Jessica?

JESSICA - Yeah. No, I think that's a really interesting idea. The same way with what Francesca said about having the heel that folds away. I think it would be great if there was more scope to do more with shoes, rather than just we're given this one type. I think I very much like the idea of having a bit of a lace frontage, something that you can adjust.

NIAMH - Oh, I see what you mean, yes.

JESSICA - Yes, kind of like corsetry for your feet, but not painful.

NIAMH - That is sort of similar to what Frida Kahlo did wasn't it on her prosthetic? She had a sort of lace up corset type thing, presumably for that reason.

TIM - I was a punk kid, I just wanted a leather jacket with spikes on it. When you're a little punk kid you do kind of end up making your own clothes, so you just… Yeah, I just feel like if I wanted something I would make it.

NIAMH - Do you wish you could tell retailers to make their shoes more adaptable?

JESSICA - Yeah, I do. I have a slight problem in that my feet are quite stunted, so although they are… They're the width that they should be but they're too short, so I have to wear very wide shoes. And shoes that come in wide are not always the most attractive, it must be said. So what I'd like to do is encourage retailers to think that just because something is for an orthopaedic reason it doesn't need to look bad. You could make shoes that felt good and looked good, there's no reason why not.

NIAMH - Do you think it might say something about attitudes towards disability in the fashion industry?

JESSICA - Oh, certainly. Very much so. I think they just sort of believe that disabled people can't be interested in fashion, because we just don't fit in that world. So they don't need to make things for us that are fashionable or on trend if it's a disability item. Much in the same way that we get that terrible greige colour for all adaptable things.

NIAMH - Do you think it's going to be one of those coming from the inside out methods? So you need to get someone in, someone with a disability who understands this and wants to be fashionable and look cool? Encourage them to become a shoe designer and then make a revolution.

JESSICA - Oh, certainly. If you are listening and you would like to become a shoe designer and you also happen to have a disability get on it, do it, because it's very difficult, especially for a retailer, to consider what they cannot see. They need to see young women on the billboards, super fashionable, young men as well, and they happen to have a disability.

NIAMH - The great thing with the Chloe Ball-Hopkins' ASOS campaign was the fact that Chloe's in a wheelchair, she wrote to ASOS and said, "Hey, I need some nice things that suit me in my wheelchair," and then they got her to be involved in the design and then in the advertising campaign. And I mean, this went in loads of papers and magazines, so hopefully other retailers are itching to get involved and to broaden their offerings.

JESSICA - If you're going to start trying to broaden your market you need to bring people in from that market and see what they are actually wanting.

NIAMH - This is a really interesting but highly nuanced topic for us here at Ouch and it's been really difficult to compress all these ideas into such a short space of time. In fact, we want to hear from you guys. You can find us on Twitter, we're @bbcouch. You can search for BBC Ouch on Facebook, and on Instagram, we are @bbc_ouch. And a huge thank you to Tim Renkow and to Jessica Kellgren-Fozard for taking part in today's podcast.

You can also catch Tim Renkow at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year. He is going to be performing at the Monkey Barrel Comedy Club from 2nd August. And if you want to find out a little bit more about Jessica Kellgren-Fozard you can find her on YouTube via her channel, Jessica Out of the Closet.

And finally, if you're interested in visiting the Frida Kahlo exhibition I mentioned a little bit earlier you can do so. Frida Kahlo, Making Her Self Up, at the V&A from now until 4th November. I'm Niamh Hughes, and I'll speak to you soon.

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