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It’s a fight for me to not judge people on their shoes. I’ve even created a sort of rubric for them: leather men’s wingtips indicate intelligence; tennis shoes (especially in less casual settings) show a lack of social awareness; women’s heels generally suggest elegance; boat shoes make me think you’re preppy. I’ve joked before that I refuse to go on second dates with guys because of their shoe choice. I was only half kidding.

Shoes, in this case, represent something larger — the natural human tendency to judge the external. We see clothing, we hear accents, we notice physical interaction, and we make conclusions about someone simply based on their physical attributes. The external pieces of someone’s personality help form our internal judgment. In my case, I look to footwear to provide me with a quick personality assessment.

How many people have you judged today?

I’ve probably judged six or seven — maybe more. A quick look at their clothing (specifically, shoes), a glance at their handwriting, and some attention paid to their accent tells me everything I think I need to know. Within a minute or two, I’ve formed an opinion of someone that, frankly, is fairly unlikely to change over the course of my knowing them, regardless of how much they prove me wrong. Studies conducted by organizations like the Society for Personality and Social Psychology have shown that first impressions are notoriously prone to inertia.

At the beginning of the year, I judged so many people unfavorably that my resulting attitude has poisoned my relationships with many of these individuals. Someone’s Vans suggested to me that he was a “frat boy,” so I did my best to keep away. A stiletto-wearing girl seemed pretty “touchy-feely” around boys, so naturally I decided she would be no friend of mine. Some wore too much makeup; others said the word “like” too much. Some didn’t wear any makeup at all; others just wore terrible shoes. I’ve probably judged everyone at this point. But I wish that I hadn’t, because my impressions of them last year colored our later interactions, as I had already more or less decided that we wouldn’t be friends.

What I’ve since discovered is that people’s shoes are not representative of their personalities or their personal struggles. Shoes, believe it or not, don’t reveal everything there is to know about a person. The “frat boy” has absent parents who bought him his Vans as a late birthday present. The girl I deemed “touchy-feely” struggles with body image and craves approval. The boy with ugly shoes wore them because he couldn’t afford nicer ones. I’m not friends with these people now in large part because I never considered them beyond my externally-based judgments — and I regret this deeply. I can only imagine how many meaningful relationships I’ve missed out on because of my fixation on shoes, instead of the story behind them.

I wonder what people think when they see me. My best friend once commented how she didn’t think I liked her when we first met — I came across as standoffish. My clothing choices, love of Soviet history, and Midwestern accent might tag me as undesirable in certain circles. I wish that people wouldn’t pay attention to those things during our interactions; I wish they would see me as a product of my personality, struggles, and achievements, rather than just my accent or clothing. But, by the same token, I realize that I myself judge people on the external — and, consequently, treat them the way I resent being treated.

Sure, quick, superficial judgments save us a lot of time. Rather than getting to know someone on a deeper level, making decisions based on the features we can see means that we don’t have to invest time, energy, or effort towards friendship. But friendship is ultimately far more valuable (and thus, worth the investment) than a rejection based on something as trivial as footwear.

I’ll admit that I still look at people’s shoes when I talk to them — it’s a habit. But every interaction on this campus has proven that people are more than their leather and laces. Friendships are hard enough to find as is, and I’m trying (and often failing) not to complicate them with judgments. Over time, I’ve started to learn that relationships are so much more meaningful that way.

Leora Eisenberg is a sophomore from Eagan, Minn. She can be reached at leorae@princeton.edu.

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