Ugh! Too Many Toes! Note to New Yorkers: Please Cover Your Feet

I hate feet. I hate them in theory and in practice. Feet get the short end of the stick in the whole anatomy draw, and they probably deserve it. Apart from having to walk everywhere, they are beset by fungi (champignon in French), verrucas, warts, corns, bunions, calluses, hammertoes and ingrown nails with the sort of frequency that borders on permanence. Unlike other afflictions, these do not, in fact, sound worse than they are. More to the point: I have never been asked to wash, let alone disinfect, my hands before and after swimming in a public swimming pool. Nor have I been refused entrance to a restaurant because I wasn’t wearing guantes.

In New York, where the sidewalks are mottled with chewing gum, spit, falafel crumbs, congealed ice cream, fur, melting ice cubes, green straws and a relentless number of transparent tooth-whitening molds, its inhabitants insist on exposing their feet en masse the moment the weather exceeds 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, there are still at least two, if not four, months of undue foot exposure left in this city. It must stop.

My smutty gym instructor, Mark—who also makes a habit of wearing short shorts without knickers—instructs an hour, sometimes two, in bare feet. The other day, I noticed that one of his students—an elderly woman, rather too zealous for my taste—had taken his lead. She too was unshod! Standing behind her, I was granted the sort of view of her dirty heel that I would not wish upon anyone. It is true that I have seen exposed toes and heels (often, but not exclusively, attached to a woman’s legs) braving far colder temperatures. It is said that employees of a certain fashion publication are nearly forced into such sartorial choices.

But if one absolutely must have feet, it is best to hide them from view. The trouble is that one can only hide them from personal view for so long. When, after a long day of confining my feet in their unforgiving vessels, I must unleash them unto the world—shoe- and sock-seam stencils, blisters both opened and closed, chipped nail varnish, marks and scars and marks and scars—there is nothing I can do. I hate my feet. They aren’t merely an extension of everything else I hate about myself, they are the very basis of my self-loathing. They are too wide, and too bony; the toes are too short and crooked (especially the last one, pinched and sluglike); the nails are too small, the skin too thick on the bottom and too thin on the top. I get blisters if I even think of not “test-driving” my shoes—even in espadrilles. I have scars from wearing espadrilles.

When I had my feet done by a surgeon several years ago, I complained about bunions and pain. Now I get my feet done—as it were—by a matronly Colombian lady around the corner from work. I do this not because I can watch my colleagues across the air shaft doing the sort of things I like to do when I think I’m not being watched, or because I get to stick my feet into a mixing bowl of perfumed spring water, but because there is a conceptual rivulet filled with fat Koi set into the floor beside me. Koi don’t have feet. The Colombian lady’s name is Christina, and she likes to shake her head at me and say: “No, mamí! When you learn to love your feet, it will show.” I want to make her my mamí. But this is not about loving my feet.

The ugly foot runs in the family. Although we like to euphemize it as a “dancer’s foot,” it looks like a peasant foot. As far as I can tell, it is a peasant foot. I have been reminded countless times that the exaggerated hands and feet of Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais denote their working-class stock—the sort of people born equipped with the necessary instruments of manual labor. Quite clearly I was designed to till the soil then. With my feet. So far, only my sister—sinewy and delicate of foot—has managed to avoid this plight. Hers were meant for skipping along moss and silk and moonstone, or to be wrapped in feathers and petals at rest. She complains about wearing heels, but it doesn’t matter because the rest of her is just as sinewy and delicate—she doesn’t need height and complicated design to distract. Occasionally, I hate her for it.

One of my best friends, whose feet are second only to my sister’s in their aristocratic decorum, recently confessed to me that as a teenager, she had had 53 verruca warts on one foot. It was so painful, she told me, that she had to walk on the side of her foot for six months. When she was finally prescribed treatment cream, they fell off—inside her sock. I don’t believe her, only because her feet are so narrow that they do not actually have sides to walk on. At any rate, her feet remain mostly covered. I have yet to see her wearing a flip-flop or sandal.

New York women, who have generally discarded the idea of wearing cross-training sneakers to work before they change into a “sensible heel,” tend to wear their expensive stilts with reckless abandon. They don’t often get verrucas like my friend (those are the result of English boarding-school showers), but they are seemingly unaware of how they offend with the rest of their disorders. We cannot blame the styling department at HBO for this—as many have in the past—for Sarah Jessica Parker’s feet are probably so small as to be invisible. We could blame the ubiquitous pedicurist for spreading foot pride where it isn’t due, or therapists for encouraging self-acceptance, but really New York women are all alone to blame for this. They should take a cue from my friend and slip into an acceptable pair of flats.

A few weekends ago, I packed my bags for a weekend near the sea: sun block, swimming costumes, a few items of clothing in unseemly colors, the egregious espadrilles and a pair of flip-flops. Although I wore them to the beach and back, I had quite managed to lose the flip-flops before the weekend was through. I have finally discarded my last excuse for exposure, and I won’t look back.