I Have Foot Issues

The New York Times devoted an entire article today to women who loathe their feet. Yes, feet. Smelly, flaky, callused, un-pedicured feet. Some blogs will mock the Times’ hard-hitting piece of journalism about the ways sandal season brings out our most shameful podia-neuroses.

But I hear you, women who are ashamed of your feet. Fear not, for I am one of you. [New York Times] It all started back when I was 14-years-old and caught the hand-foot-and-mouth virus at summer camp. The hand-foot-and-mouth virus is similar to the chicken pox, except the infected person only gets the pox on the palms of their hands and feet, as well as sores in their throat. I was the only kid at camp who had it, so I was the only one everybody stared at to watch as the pox turned to blisters and the blistered turned to popped blisters with pus oozing everywhere. The largest pus-y blisters—and I mean quarter-sized—were on my feet and they’d chafe whenever I walked.

Trust me, being the girl at summer camp with pus-y blisters oozing off her feet is enough to scar you for life. Yet the situation with my feet only worsened my junior year of college, when I picked up a nasty case of athlete’s foot. I’d had athlete’s foot before, but this one was definitely some demon breed on steroids. My toes and toenails were so so itchy, painful and uncomfortable that little cracks formed on my skin, which started to bleed. My mom took me to our family doctor, who shrugged and told me there isn’t much you can do about foot fungus except put some cream on it and try keep your toes clean and dry. The doc acted like it wasn’t a big deal—in fact, he told me just to paint my toenails bright red and forget about it—but I felt just felt so dirty, like my toes were rotting.

I think this is where my OCD-ish behavior over having clean feet started. I became obsessed with not having germs on my feet. After I took a shower, I would meticulously dry the soles of my feet and between my toes with a towel, which I would then toss in the laundry basket. Putting the “dirty” towel in the laundry was really, really important. I began to wash and dry my feet definitely before bed, but sometimes after coming home from class and before bed.

I once walked around my dorm barefoot, but I began to wear socks indoors all the time. I would only go barefoot inside or on top of my bed, which I decided was a “safe” area, and I didn’t want socks or shoes which might have touched the floor and gotten germs on them, on my bed. And I threw lots of pairs of socks that might have germs on them away. Come summertime, I began to wash my feet every night before bed because I hated the idea of tracking dirt into my bed.

These days, I generally still wear socks indoors, I still wash my feet before bed if they feel “dirty,” and I still use separate towels for my feet and my face/hair. But in the past couple of years, I’ve mellowed out enough to be more lenient and realistic with my “cleanliness rules” and I’d like to think that I just have some cleanliness-related quirks, rather than full-on obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Taking Lexapro for anxiety helps keep the worrying from getting too excessive.)

Do I think my feet are ugly? I know I have such a stigma against them that it’s hard to answer that. When I paint my toenails, I think my toes actually look quite cute. But mostly I think my feet are vectors of infection and for that reason, I think they’re really personal. When I was dating, I would sooner let a man go down on me than I would let him touch my toes. My boyfriend usually gives me a foot rub before bed each night and the fact I’m letting him touch them so much is a big deal for me. The fact I let him give me foot rubs, and that I’ve gotten pedicures where strangers have touched my feet, are good signs.

And I haven’t gotten the hand-foot-and-mouth virus or athlete’s foot again, either. In fact, my feet are so clean you could eat off them.