Observe the hand: A quick glance can tell you so much about the person it is attached to: Age, type of profession, marital status, even the time, if it’s wearing a watch. We ball our hands up when we are angry and gnaw at our nails when we are nervous. A trembling hand can give away fear or low blood sugar. Whether it is a wave, a handshake, a wai, or a high-five, the hands are the tools we use to signal peace; to say, “I am unarmed.” If eyes are the window to the soul, then the hand is certainly its listing on AirBnB.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the foot.
A foot is a lot like a hand: The average one is an oblong appendage which tapers into five fleshy digits. Like the hand, it is useful in fighting and picking stuff up off the floor, and people are always impressed when you can put a whole one in your mouth.
Most importantly of all, the foot is a good indicator of the true nature of the person to whom it is attached. Granted, feet don’t tremble like hands do. We do not wear wedding rings on our toes or watches on our ankles, and in many cultures greeting someone with your foot is not a signal of peace at all. But I argue that the feet contain many secrets, and if you want to know the true nature of a person, cast your eyes downward.
An obsession with feet is a recognised fetish, and I’ve known more than a few people who have had severe foot phobias. There is a lot of cultural significance to the foot as well: In many Asian countries, it is customary to remove your shoes when entering a house. In South Africa, it is quite normal for children to walk to school barefoot. In Chile, asking a person to remove their shoes is comparable to asking them to remove their pants.
While I enjoy flaunting my feet, a foot is still an intimate part of a person’s body. It’s rare to see a stranger’s naked foot in public. Sure, they might be visible through sandals or flip flops, but most of the time they are hidden away inside shoes and socks, blocked from roving eyes. When it comes to foot beauty, only so much can be done. We can wax our toes, paint our nails, and scrub our heels, but at the end of the day the foot is the part of the body that does the dirty work. It’s the part that is always in contact with the ground, and the section of our body that has to put up with our weight. Our feet are the secretaries of the body. They put up with a lot, but they also know all of our secrets. If the hands are the AirBnB listing of the soul, then the feet are the reviews on the AirBnB listing of the soul. They are the person laid bare, and the first thing I look at when I’m trying to drum up empathy for a fellow human being.
The world is full of beautiful people, and beautiful women catch my eye a lot. I see legs, and cleavage, and hair, and lips, and I find these things pleasant to look at. So much so, in fact, that I sometimes forget that there’s a person joining all of those attributes together. In order to remind myself that I’m looking at a living soul, and not a set of sensuous specifics, I look at their feet. This is where the person’s secrets are revealed. Of course, I’m often not really looking at their feet, but rather at their shoes. But the shoes can be just as telling. For the most part, shoes don’t get cleaned very often, or replaced very regularly. Oftentimes they have scuff marks, or their glimmer has become dulled. When I see tarnished shoes I see a person who works hard, but who prioritizes other necessities above footwear. Sullied shoes show me a person just trying to get by. When people are nervous or shy, they sometimes stand with their feet turned inwards. When shoes wear out asymmetrically they indicate a defect in a person’s stride, and our defects are where our humanity shines forth. Suddenly I don’t see just legs and cleavage and hair and lips. Now I see a person in a chair, stooped over, pulling their foot into a shoe. I see fingers hooping laces around each other, or fastening the buckle on a wedge, or pulling the back of a pump over a heel. I can visualize that person in a bedroom that contains an unmade bed, dirty clothes, and a few scattered pairs of footwear. I see a room that contains clutter and vulnerability. This is the space in which the person is their purest – before they put on the face that they show to the world. And when that image reveals itself to me, so does their humanity.
I think that we all leave our houses wanting to look our bravest and best. With our clothes and our grooming and our smiles and our language, we present a mask to the world. But our feet are the part of us that reveals what is behind the mask. A banner waving to the world, shouting, “This is the real me!”