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Dubai-Based Entrepreneur Zoya Sakr on the Challenges of Growing Up with Big Feet and Embracing Her Identity

For Zoya Sakr, Dubai-based founder of The Flower Society, putting her best foot forward meant accepting the parts of herself that don’t suit the norm.

zoya sakr

Zoya Sakr

Growing up with big feet was both a quandary and an unexpected blessing for me. From an early age, I realized I didn’t fit the typical mold, literally and figuratively. By the time I was 13, my feet had already reached a US size 12 (43.5 European), which was much larger than the average for girls my age. This trait led to a series of experiences that shaped my outlook on life and self-acceptance, including having trouble finding suitable footwear and ultimately discovering a career in the fashion industry where my uniqueness would be both an advantage and present hurdles – but each obstacle became a stepping stone to success.

In Lebanon, where I grew up, access to fashionable shoes was limited, especially for someone with my size. I often wore men’s styles or had pieces custom-made at local factories, which were never quite perfect. Unlike my sister or parents, who had average-sized feet, I always felt a bit out of place. Being tall added to my challenges – standing at 183cm, I often sensed I was conspicuous. However, height also runs in the family: My brother is 197cm and my niece shares my height and shoe size, so we’re always exchanging tips on where to shop.

The fashion industry, where I eventually established my career, was a double-edged sword. While it provided me with opportunities to meet designers and access bespoke creations, it also highlighted the limitations I faced in finding shoes that fit. One memorable experience was during an interview with Maria Grazia Chiuri, creative director of Dior. I mentioned the difficulty I had coming across shoes and jackets that suited my large feet and tall frame. To my surprise, she immediately called the head of production, took my measurements, and had custom pieces made for me, including shoes and a tailored Bar jacket. Moments like these made me feel seen and appreciated in an industry that often overlooks those who are not considered to be the norm.

Despite these positive experiences, there were also many downsides. As a model and beauty pageant contestant, I often had to wear ill-fitting shoes for runway shows and photo shoots. This led to physical pain and even damage to my feet. Over time, I learned to prioritize my comfort and health over fitting in. Now, I refuse to compromise on shoe size, opting for brands that offer larger options like Gucci, Fendi, Chanel, Malone Souliers, and Jimmy Choo. I don’t need lots of heels, so it’s even easier. Traveling also opened up new possibilities – the first thing I look for is shoes in bigger sizes! I often wear Loro Piana’s Summer Walk loafers while on a trip; they are one of the brand’s most comfortable styles. Shopping in places like Las Vegas allowed me to stock up on shoes that work for me, giving me a sense of relief and confidence. Today, I am very particular about the brands I choose, ensuring they cater to my needs without sacrificing style.

Being a tall woman with large feet also had social implications but I’m lucky to have a loving family and community. Friends always complimented me on my height and, thanks to the unwavering support of my parents, I was never insecure. They instilled in me a strong sense of self-worth, making me comfortable in my skin despite external pressures.

My journey has also impacted how I raise my daughter. At 10 years old, she already shows signs of having larger feet and I am committed to ensuring she has access to properly fitting shoes from a young age. More importantly, I want her to grow up feeling confident and proud of her distinctiveness, just as my parents taught me, and to face the world with confidence and grace.

I have always been happy with myself and my body. The unusual size of my feet only emphasizes the importance of choosing what puts you at ease, rather than conforming to what others think you should do or wear. It has been a journey of figuring out ways to turn what was once a source of discomfort into a symbol of strength and individuality. By sharing my story, I hope to inspire others to embrace their differences and prioritize their wellbeing, regardless of the challenges they face.

Originally published in the July/August 2024

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