They are a part of us that inspires more disgust than awe. We collectively wrinkle our noses a their mention. More than arguably being the most disliked human anatomical feature in our society, they almost seem to be shrouded in taboo. Apart from the occasional olfactory joke and the odd anti-fungal ointment add on TV, feet are an avoided topic of conversation, considered too gross to grace the margins of everyday discussions.
Why is it that so many of us find them nasty? It can’t be just by virtue of being the things that we stand on. The jelly-bean-toed paws of cats are considered adorable; birds’ claws look dangerous, yet elegant; horses’ hooves are strong and sturdy. We find other animals’ extremities less gruesome than our own. But, realistically, they step on shit more often than we do.
Human feet are our point of contact with the ground. By virtue of the latter being deemed unsanitary and overwhelmingly dirty, our feet become associated with everything unclean. In a society that values icky hand sanitizer over letting children play outside in fear of microbes, our one connection with the earth beneath us is severely devalued.
There might also be a certain fear of stereotypes at play here. It seems like you either find feet disgusting, or you have a strange fetish. But, like with most things in life, it’s not black or white. Appreciation for anything exists on a spectrum, feeling positive about something otherwise disliked does not automatically make you a weirdo.
With the above in mind, I think it’s time our feet get more credit. After all, they carry our entire bodies day in, day out. They are the physical foundation of everything that makes us who we are. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. Literally.
Even though some might think of our feet as flawed machinery, I beg to differ. They enabled our prehistoric ancestors to venture out onto the plains, walking tall and proud. They are intricate pieces of evolutionary engineering, made up of a plethora of moving parts that, when allowed to function as intended, can carry us to the far reaches of the Earth. It’s only our disregard for their achievements that has forced them, across the board, into inadequately-shaped footwear that does not let them move like their anatomy intended. We are, collectively, all guilty of a certain degree of foot-binding., forcing our feet into moulds stiff as casts. One does not have to wonder, then, that we have such a negative attitude towards them – we ruin our feet and then act, for the most part, as if it was their fault to begin with.
As an endurance athlete, I have a true appreciation for how amazing our feet actually are. The physical forces exerted on them during an ultra race, for example, are impossible to truly grasp. Yet, they carry us these extreme distances. Granted, blisters and black toenails might appear on the way, but that does not make them any less incredible. More so, it is a sign of the hard work we put them through.
I believe we should spend more time outside, barefoot; wiggle our toes in the fresh air; truly feel the grass and soil beneath us. Consider it a way to be good to them and to treat them with care. Consider it also as a means to say thanks and to rekindle one’s connection to their inner child gone lost in a sea of dress shoes and high heels.
The shoes that we do wear should feel truly comfortable and ideally adapt more to the natural shape of the foot than vice-versa. There are a lot of factors leading to a happy, healthy life. Maybe, if we realized that happy, healthy feet are among them, we could get rid of this negative stigma.
Sure, feet aren’t the prettiest design that evolution has come up with. But we all know that not everything is about looks. If we did not have our feet to take us places, we’d only have our brains to imagine what the world looks like. We would never be able to experience the magic, the wonder, the awe-inspiring beauty that awaits out there. We could never set one foot in front of the other to simply wander off and explore.
Think about that.