Shaping a Sneakerhead

I classify my style as “I wear what I want.” It’s pretty simple: if I like the way it looks, if it fits, and it’s comfortable – it’s mine. I don’t worry about fitting an aesthetic I don’t have, or the brand. My footwear is not an exception.

But while I lived at home and went to school, I had to contend with external factors impacting {and occasionally dictating} my simple rules. For the infrequent event, the “formal” shoes I picked out were almost always decked out in sparkles. If I couldn’t wear my preferred sneakers, I was going to find some comfort in the shoes I was being forced into. Back to school shopping was always a little difficult. Jordans weren’t in the allotted budget shared between my sister and I, so I made the pairs count by making sure I liked the way they looked. Unsurprisingly, the sneakers I gravitated to were deemed “loud” and “ugly”; funky silhouettes, wild colors, that elicited constant badgering. Their appearance a cardinal sin if they didn’t match my outfit, and I was repeatedly reminded that sneakers were not befitting of the “lady” everyone seemed to hope I would become. The fight was consistent and exhausting, and as I entered critical self esteem impacting ages, I stopped choosing the sneakers I liked, and went for the ones that inspired little to no complaint to make it easier on myself.

My first experience of some semblance of freedom occurred in my 20’s. I was living in New York City, and came across a pair of Reebok in – I’m pretty sure – a Century 21 store. Low tops in a teal and purple colorway, laces in magenta. They were the epitome of “loud” and “ugly”. I picked them up off the rack and checked out before I could change my mind.


Those sneakers took me traveling through wonders of the world in Mexico, and back home in the city. I wore them through museums, galleries, gardens, on the playground in the place where I grew up, and – accidentally – to a job interview.

The manager greeted me, and as he walked back around his desk noted “The first thing I notice when I meet someone is the shoes they’re wearing.” and I remember flushing with embarrassment, my brain flooded with past commentary. I shuffled my feet far under the chair. “I like your kicks.” he said, and offered me a job 30 minutes later.

They took me back to Washington state to rejoin my family. At the SeaTac airport baggage claim, when my mother unwound her tight, worried hug, her first teary words after looking me up and down were: “I hate those ugly sneakers.”. Exhausted and full of terrifying new courage, I responded; “I like them. I don’t care if you don’t.” and that was all I ever needed say out loud to win that battle. To be clear; it didn’t stop the comments, insults, or unsolicited opinions – I just, sincerely, stopped giving a fuck about how anyone felt about sneakers on my feet.

Those words have been the foundation of every shoe purchase I’ve made since, and are especially important today given the state of the Internet. I think critique is necessary, and I know there is little in this world that boasts a universal appreciation, but let’s not beat around the bush; the sneaker community can be highly noxious. The conversation surrounding who belongs in this community has little to do with their individual morals, and is more deeply rooted in ableism, classism, privilege, and access. Instead of being a more welcoming place, where knowledge is shared and brave conversations about community needs occurs, it devolves into arguments about Jordan mids, rules only “real sneakerheads” live by.

It’s why I avoided the community for 20+ years, and maybe it’s because I got to handpick spaces that are more focused on sharing the wealth of knowledge and sneakers, but the toxicity, while ever present, doesn’t seem as acceptable as it did a handful of years ago. Still, sneaker communities can be intimidating to get into – especially for Black women and Black gender expansive folks.

When someone wants to get into sneakers and the community, I encourage them to unapologetically take up space. There’s room for all of us to participate. As my favorite and most beloved poet and astrologist, Yakari Gabriel writes: Have you seen the size of the sky, can you measure where it starts or where it ends? Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t room for you to be a star.

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