It's summertime ladies, so the magazines and lifestyle sections are going to have a slew of reminders about making sure your feet are up to code. You know: Exfoliated. Moisturized. Pedicured. Properly covered. Like a reminder to adjust the clock or check your smoke detectors, apparently you need a media-wide nudge to get your foot affairs in order. There are also a lot of protests this time of season about the lack of compliance among citizens, all pointing to one thing: Feet are gross — you must help us tolerate this scourge. But why? Feet are pretty crucial. Why are we so weird about them?
Let's journey together!
So I read this Slate piece called "Your Flip-Flops Are Grossing Me Out." I much prefer the name given to the story in the URL, "Put a Shoe On You Slob." Dana Stevens, a terrific writer/film critic, argues that normally she's pretty chill about what people do/wear, but this flip-flop thing has gotta go.
She traces the origin of the flip-flop back to 4000 B.C. and notes its modern pervasiveness 'round the world. And while she addresses other legit flip-flop concerns: the sloppy decoupling of the shoe from the foot, the laziness, the bad-for-your-foot-ness, it's the exposing of the foot in public so brazenly and its general lack of hygiene (mentioned later) that seems to drive the issue:
Extended flip-flop use seems to transport people across some sort of etiquette Rubicon where the distinction between public and private, inside and outside, shod and barefoot, breaks down entirely. I’ve witnessed flip-flop wearers on the New York City subway slip their “shoes” off altogether and cross their feet on the train-car floor with a contented sigh, as though they were already home and kicking back in front of a DVR’d Cheers marathon.
Flip-flops are terrible for your feet if you're going to actually do real walking. So are heels, but we tend not to protest them so universally.
I'm not a foot fetishist or anything — I guess I'm what you might call a foot neutralist — so I try to think of the human body as baseline utilitarian. But, feet hanging out in public. In sandals. Eh, I don't know. It's not my favorite thing. But I think we tolerate all manner of exposed goods we could get miffed about: asses, boobs, elbows, guts — elbows! Kinda gross, eh? — knees, necks, that it's hard for me to get behind this one. Feet get a bad rap, when they are so clearly the good guys.
So I looked into the whole why-do-we-hate-feet thing, and found the blog of a Foot & Ankle Clinic in Platte Valley (Colorado) who wrote a post called "Ewwwww Gross!!! Why Feet?" which addresses the apparently oft-posed question, "Eww why would you ever want to spend all day looking at feet?!"
The answer was reassuring: " It is important to remember that feet are just another part of the body, which unfortunately are often neglected by many due to their dislike and disgust."
So a byproduct of our foot shame is that our discomfort for own feet means we don't actually do the stuff to take care of feet that would make them more pleasing to look at and in better shape, thereby keeping them hideous! What's the word for that? Ah yes, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The blog mentioned a Facebook group called "I Hate Feet" — 106,000 strong — which features desperate calls for approval with these status updates: "We can all agree we hate feet but like if you hate being ill even more" and "People with nasty feet should have them chopped off and replaced with a wooden one at least that wont make us throw up." Really? They have to lose BOTH feet but they only get ONE wooden foot back? That doesn't seem exactly fair.
Then, I hoofed it over to a New York Times story about the foot hatin'. Here, I learned that spas nationwide say that, pretty much, everyone shows up at their doorstep all embarrassed and shit, apologizing profusely for how terribly hideous their feet are.
Also, we hate our feet so much that, even if we have time/money for regular pedicures, we barely pay any attention to our feet in between that outsourced care. So we show up, slinking in through the backdoor in disguises and turn away in horror when we uncover our unsightly hooves.
I would like to mention again that feet are super useful. One wooden foot in place of two feet is a bum deal. But here's the kicker (HA!): It turns out that 50% of women are ashamed of their feet on the daily.
50% OF WOMEN FEEL FOOT SHAME ALL THE TIME.
HALF OF ALL WOMEN ARE ASHAMED OF THEIR FREAKING FEET.
Now let me tell you a little story. I was getting my Oh-shit-I-have-a-vagina checkup. The lady was like, "Everything's fine here. I see in my chart it's your birthday next week. Have a happy birthday." Then she patted me on the shoulder and added in a lower voice, "Get yourself a pedicure."
Oh no she didn't! Vagina doctor tried to shame me about feet! Nope! No way! Not gonna accept that news! What if I was like, thanks for the checkup, then whispered, Time for a teeth cleaning.
Maybe I'm doing it wrong, but I see professional pedicures as OPTIONAL. If you want to do something to pretty up your feet, have at, your prerogative. But I will not regard optional aesthetics as mandatory simply because I have a vag. No one would say that to a dude getting a prostate check.
And I'm not talking about neglecting foot care which is not the same thing as a socially pressured nails-painted pedicure in the spa sense: if you have a fungus or infection, do something about it. Nails must be trimmed. Feet must be tended to, especially callouses or cuts. Women do a lot of shit to their feet in the name of the fashion shoes, so we must cut them a bigger break when it comes to callouses, corns and such. Dudes, however, are notorious for having a weird, gross nail for like, three years and just trying not to think about it or whatever, but still totally letting it be in family pictures.
But like all body prettying efforts, the foot kicks women in the ass much harder, and more often. Get ready for spring! Don't you dare wear sandals without helping the general public tolerate your feet more! Get a pedicure, vagina!
But enough about me.
About foot care. Apparently lots of women are all about slathering moisturizer and sunscreen on their faces and hands, but they do nothing with their feet. Instead, people wait until they have a pedicure appointment and discreetly upgrade to callous treatments. Meanwhile, spa pedicures might actually cause more infections, or draw attention to your feet, and if they are so gross in the first place, now what? You have the feet equivalent of a shiny piece of bait on hooves.
Some people are so ashamed of their feet that they actually don't take their socks off ever, not even during SEX, and don't allow their partners/significant others to see their feet. Is there a never-foot-nude syndrome?
MONEY QUOTE: "You see nice hands, but feet take a beating.”
This blogger, who makes sure she is only discriminating against feet and not anyone else, attempts to explain why feet are super gross with the logic "they just really, really are" would like you to please keep your feet away from her face. She would also like you to know that if you're reading her blog right now? Your feet smell. Because they do. You know who you are. (Incidentally, all feet sweat, and all feet have bacteria. Someone came up with coffee-infused socks to ward it off.)
Here are some celebrities who have pretty faces but ugly feet, which is a form of criminal negligence in Hollywood.
This nurse who routinely deals with tons of bodily fluids and infectious things hates adult feet, but says it's really about hating her own feet.
This author saw feet on otherwise attractive girls on a train one time and observed that they were not human feet, but feet that belonged "on chickens, on witches, on the gargoyles at Notre Dame Cathedral." (Yes, it's the Daily Mail.) Once she started paying attention, she realized gross feet were everywhere, because feet.
In conclusion, I couldn't really find any solid arguments to prove that feet are any grosser than any of the other things we could/do find gross about being human: Mouths, teeth and buttholes also have germs and stuff too. You know? You know what I'm saying. Also, don't look at this picture.
Perhaps the closest thing to an explanation about our foot shame in that New York Times piece comes from Harvard, so you can feel good about it:
Angst about feet is age-old. Feet are at odds with our cultural imperative of cleanliness. “They sweat a lot, especially in our shoe-wearing culture,” said Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist at Harvard University and the author of “Survival of the Prettiest.” “They can be smelly. They can be dirty. They touch the ground. A certain morality comes up around feet.”
But there's also the relentless pressure to make every single inch of our bodies super perfect, which creates so much pointless anxiety. Can nothing on a body be merely functional? So maybe let's let up on the feet a little.
That said: Some basic foot care is a good idea, but like many things, it does not require dropping mad dough, risking infections, and trying to preserve showroom quality feet at all times so as not to offend the average stranger who may or may not have a foot problem. If you're reading this, you know who you are.