Foot Stories

Katherine Jamieson

The foot bone's connected to the leg bone,
the leg bone's connected to the thigh bone...

My last boyfriend hated my feet. He assured me it had nothing to do with my feet in particular, he felt this way about everyone's feet, including his own. His vehemence on the subject - what I initially, jokingly called the "anti-fetish" - surprised me, though I respected it with the curious interest one has in a new lover's ways. It seemed a harmless idiosyncrasy. I asked him what had spurred this keen dislike, an accident, perhaps, some harsh poolside comment. Suprisingly, he felt no need at all to justify his repulsion. He had no stories; hating feet was simply a part of his life.

"Do you wish you didn't have feet - would you rather have been born footless?" I asked. "Of course not, but I don't want to have to look at them," he retorted. "They're dirty, you know," he added ominously.

During the six months we dated, this man's foot "issues" were aggravated by his training as a doctor. On one of his rotations, he had a patient in the hospital with untreated diabetes. Every morning he had to soak, bathe, and bandage the patient's swollen, abscessed feet. He spent the whole day and evening reeling from the horror of that experiences. Now that he had seen feet in their worst stages of decay and disrepair he was convinced that his repulsion was justified. I was asked to wear socks in bed; I complied.

It could have been different. He could have returned to me after a day of diseased foot-tending and valued my healthy feet for what they were: perfect specimens. I have high arches, minimal bunions, a few wispy hairs on my toes. Aside from a broken baby toe (car accident) and chipped metatarsal (walking accident) and some dead skin left over from wearing sandals in South America, they are great feet, as feet go. But he was not a man particularly open to challenges. Instead he got angry with me once for letting my feet touch some of his books and papers, and another time when I provoked him by touching my feet while doing some stretches after running. We continued our inane discussions about feet until they broke down one evening into an actual fight, which he later characterized enigmatically as "having too much feet in it."

By the time we broke up, I had lost all perspective on the issue. Though I would never have admitted it, I had started to hate my feet too. Though I couldn't pinpoint why, this man's foot revulsion disturbed me more than any other aspect of our relationship. How was I vulnerable to this type of judgment in the first place, especially when I couldn't honestly say that I loved my feet myself? I thought of a foot fetish as the bizarre, fringe preoccupation of a few unbalanced individuals.

My naiveté was revealed when I researched the fetish and found that the sexualization of feet is vast and varied. Embodying sensual curves, contours, and "toe cleavage," the foot is highly sensitive to touch and is one of the most innervated parts of the body with thousands of tiny sensitive receptors. During outbreaks of STDs in the 13th century, sexualization of the feet was recognized as a safe alternative to intercourse. The syphilis epidemics of the 16th and 19th centuries led to a revived focus on the foot as a sexual object, and in brothels, clothed prostitutes presented themselves before customers wearing all of their clothes but exposing their feet. Perhaps because of the AIDS epidemic, the global foot fetish industry, including magazines, websites, and movies, has flourished; it is currently estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

I have no way of knowing the precise reasons behind my ex-boyfriend's hatred of feet, but it seems no coincidence that among our myriad problems was an unsuccessful sex life. It feels now as if our conflicts had more to do with sexuality and physical display than with feet per se. Hating feet is not like hating elbows or kneecaps or ears. He interpreted my casual attitude toward feet as indecent, while I felt that he had no right to censor the way I used my body. The argument is really the same one that men and women have been having for eons - who is entitled to do what with their body - but as our disagreements played out on a metaphoric level, they were hard to interpret. We each had strong opinions, but neither of us understood why our feelings ran so deep, or that we were expressing our clash of values using the symbolic, though physically humble, battleground of our feet.

© Katherine Jamieson

Katherine Jamieson is a poet and essayist who has been published on the Peace Corps Writers' website, in the TallGrass writers' anthology, and in Sposa magazine.

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