The squeamish of foot may need to look away from that picture. Recognise those famous tootsies? They belong to Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, in that agonisingly long scene where she uses her ninja mind skills to ‘wiggle her big toe’ and recover from coma-induced paralysis. Far be it from me to judge her feet, but she does have weirdly long and wonky toes. I reckon they are about the same length as my fingers and they looked enormous when viewed on a cinema screen. Tarantino, the director, does a bit of a thing about feet, or certainly women’s, but I’d say he’s in the minority.
My point is that a lot of people are very odd about feet, including their own. Whenever conversations about feet arise, there is bound to be at least one person who physically squirms, and squeaks ‘Oh, I really just don’t like feet. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’ Personally, I don’t mind them too much, as long as they’re not stinky, or too Hobbity. Apart from women with those really long toenails that poke out of their sandals and tap-tap along the pavement. That does give me the heebie-jeebies.
Mine are okay, not exactly a foot fetishist’s wet dream, but decent enough trotters. I don’t really think about them too much, although when it gets to a certain time of the year, I’ll get out the cheese grater, nail scissors and polish, and attempt to make them a bit more aesthetically pleasing. One morning, years ago, I woke up on day five of the West Highland Way and burst into tears at the sight of them: raw, blistered, toenails missing, bitten and swollen from the midges. So I guess they mean more to me than I thought.
All this aside, feet have been on my mind recently, but not from a visual or sexual point of view. Although brief digression: Brits of a certain age will remember the political scandal in the early nineties, when the government minister David Mellor was exposed in the press for having an affair with an actress. In true kiss and tell style, it was revealed that he was partial to toe sucking, the bit of the story that the media loved most. This was the water cooler sensation for a while, and I remember being convinced by my boyfriend at the time to give it a go. I agreed under the condition that there would be NO reciprocation on my part: Scotsmen have really smelly feet. The main thing I remember is that it was ticklish rather than erotic, but each to their own.
My current interest in feet is from a balance and posture perspective. Our feet are far more important for this than we think about. Like millions of people, I am prone to backache – not pain luckily, but stiff, tight achiness – the kind that could be improved with better posture and more flexibility work. I have a tendency to slouch when sitting, which worries me, as one of my grannies had a hump.
Not only that, but I have a slight pronation when I walk, which I discovered when I went to a proper running shop to buy trainers, a few years ago. Since forever, I have been wearing down the outside of my shoe heels first, without even thinking about it. Apart from the mild interest you get when you find you have something with a name, it’s useful to diagnose it so you can work to correct it. However, being me, I mostly forgot all about it.
A few weeks ago at tango, my dance guru B pointed out that my feet were slightly unbalanced. She is always looking at people’s feet and posture, mainly because aside from being a mighty fine Tanguera, she is a teacher of the Alexander Technique. It’s not something I know much about, but essentially it’s about teaching you to correct all the bad movement and posture you’ve built up over your life, and thus help you to move more freely and comfortably. It should get rid of aches and pains and improve physical performance, for example in sport or dance.
In tango there are mvoves that involve pivots, turns and being taken off your axis. If the feet are off balance, so are you. It happens to me sometimes, and I need to rely on being caught by the leader to avoid spinning off somewhere. So what I need to do, is think about keeping my feet as evenly flat as I can and spreading my toes. Which seems ridiculous when you’re wearing high heeled sandals, but it does work. Even though my shoes are tight fitting, I can feel the increased stability of flexing my toes.
Given that I am also a bit of a clumsy clot at times, having had a number of spectacular trips and slips even whilst sober, I am carrying this practice into my normal walking. It makes sense: we have feet with toes for a reason. We are designed to walk barefoot, using them to keep us steady. And while I think I have good back posture when walking, I never think about what my feet are doing. Try it. Try walking along, keeping the soles of your feet evenly connected to the ground and your toes splayed, even if wearing pointy shoes.
Sometimes at the gym we have flexibility exercises for warm up, or ones where you have to stand on one leg, touch the ground, then raise your arm overhead. These are tricky, if you’re a wobbler like me. Our coach is always telling me to spend some time per day standing on one foot, then the other e.g. when brushing my teeth. Again, it makes sense to strengthen our balance by making the feet muscles stronger. They are the basic foundations of our movement, so if they don’t work well, it impacts on the ankles, shins, and knees eventually. And the back too, ‘dem bones are all connected. So, this is going in to my daily practice alongside the walking. When I remember.
There’s a nice article that sums this all up here, but it’s written from a yoga perspective, not medical. If you want all that evidence, google ‘foot flexibility’. What I liked about this article was the stuff about being nice to your feet, with massage and foot baths and so on. Because so many of us are a bit iffy about feet, they can get neglected, even though they work so hard for us every day. I’m not one for treatments, mainly because I can’t afford it, but a pedicure is a pretty good thing once in a while. Rather than pampering, I see it more as servicing our main method of transport.
And there’s something very comforting about getting your feet held, if you can get past the ticklishness or ick factor. It feels safe, like someone is looking after you. This reminds me of Tarantino again, and the debate between Samuel L Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, about whether a foot massage was purely sexual, or just a kind thing to do for someone.
Of course, it can be both. And if you’re lucky enough to get either, then I am a little bit jealous. Enjoy the feet.
Until next time,