To fully appreciate feet, you have to look at them. Unfortunately, that can make you nauseous, because feet are ugly.
Don’t believe me?
Try this: Take off your shoes and look down at your feet. What do you see? Bones? Tendons? Veins? Little tufts of curly hobbit-hair waving in the breeze? Cracked, yellowed toenails? Unexplained lumps and divots? Greasy wads of multicolored lint and toe-jam stuck between wrinkled folds of skin?
Feet are mostly practical things--designed for walking, kicking and making podiatrists rich.
It’s enough to make you heave, and I didn’t even mention seriously nasty problems like warts, fungal infections, callouses, corns, chilblains, bunions, gout, fallen arches and cracked skin, let alone crooked toes, hammer toes, ingrown toenails and those weirdly elongated toes that look like skinny, overdone breakfast sausages rolling around on an empty dinner plate.
Still, feet are pretty amazing, even if they’re amazingly ugly.
Take Usain Bolt’s feet, for example. Bolt is the 6-foot, 5-inch-tall sprinter from Jamaica who set world records this month in the 100- and 200-meter races. He runs so fast, his size-14 feet look like they’re barely touching the ground. But, in fact, they’re absorbing more than 1,000 pounds of force with each powerful stride. In effect, Bolt’s a human stock car, and his feet are the tires. That makes him the Dale Earnhardt of track and field, if NASCAR—the Deep South’s favorite sport—had any African-American drivers, of course.
Even regular people’s feet are interesting, though.
A pair of human feet normally contains about 56 bones, or about one-fourth of all dem bones in the human body. They’re connected by 214 tenacious ligaments and 38 hard-working muscles, as you learn the hard way the first time your car runs out of gas on the interstate and you have to walk 20 miles to the nearest gas station in your dress shoes.
Something else you often learn after a vigorous hike is that feet can reek. That’s because they each house about 250,000 sweat glands and can excrete up to a pint of moisture—basically sweat—a day. Bacteria belly up to this nutrient-rich sweat bar for a refreshing beverage like construction workers go for cold beer on Friday afternoons, and often with the same result: They get drunk and piss themselves, creating a stinky mess in their shoes.
Not that Madeline Albrecht minded the stench. Albrecht lived in Cincinatti, Ohio, and for 15 years she made a comfortable living testing foot-care products for Dr. Scholl’s. It’s estimated she sniffed 5,600 feet during her career, earning her a not-so-coveted spot in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Usain Bolt's feet are like powerful engines propelling him to victory.
Another world record holder in the foot category is Matthew McGrory. He was 7-feet, 4-inches tall and stood on size 29-1/2 feet until his death at 32 in 2005. McGrory lived in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and was an actor, appearing as a giant in films like Bubble Boy, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects in addition to television shows like Malcolm in the Middle, Charmed and Carnivale. He was also featured in Marilyn Manson’s music video for Coma White and in Blondie’s video for their 2003 hit Good Boys. I don’t know anybody in the latter band who could verify this, but I suspect lead singer Debbie Harry, a former Playboy Bunny, appreciates tall men with big feet. You know what they say about men like that and women like her.
McGrory reportedly enjoyed being famous, and was amused by some of the correspondence he received. Once, he was contacted by the Center for Bigfoot Studies, which asked for a photograph and the measurements of his record-breaking feet. Another time, he received a letter—addressed to “the man with huge feet”— from the Dutch Leather and Shoe Museum, requesting one of his old, custom-made shoes for its collection.
Big or small, feet and shoes go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Or, in some households, like feet and peanut butter. Or feet and chocolate. Or feet and strawberries, feet and schnapps, feet and massage oil, feet and other feet, and, well, feet and–trust me here–just about anything and everything you can imagine pairing with a pair of feet. As ugly as feet are, they seem to be powerful aphrodisiacs for some people. So powerful, in fact, I’d bet cash money that 2 to 5 percent of you stopped reading this column the second I mentioned feet and shoes, slipping into an imaginary happy place filled with $1,000 Manolo Blahniks or 6-inch stripper heels.
For those of you slightly less ”adventurous” readers who are still with me, let me say that I’m perpetually astonished by what people do in the privacy of their homes. Even more flabbergasted by what they’ll do in front of God and everybody on YouTube. I searched YouTube for videos related to feet, and I can confirm it’s got more than 365,000 foot-related videos available to the home viewer 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Not surprisingly, you have to bypass a lot of very sketchy-looking footage before you get to a video about feet that’s also family friendly, such as a clip called “Boogie Wonderland” from the 2006 movie Happy Feet. It’s about cute dancing penguins.
Penguins don’t wear shoes—they can’t afford them on a fisherman’s salary—but humans have been wearing shoes for at least 5,000 years. The reason is simple: It’s estimated the average person walks about 10,000 steps a day, or more than 115,000 miles in a lifetime—enough to circle the globe more than four times and make thousands of trips from the couch to the refrigerator and back in failed searches for decent snacks.
Actor Matthew McGrory had size 29 1/2 feet. Actor Danny DeVito did not.
All that walking could be done without shoes if the earth was covered in shag carpet. But most of the planet’s surface is littered with stone, sticks, broken beer bottles, discarded hypodermic syringes, shattered vinyl Dan Folgelberg albums and other useless debris. Try walking around with bare feet on all that razor-sharp junk for very long, and you’ll end up staggering into the doctor’s office on bloody stumps instead of sweatin’ to the oldies in your Nikes with Richard Simmons.
But I believe there’s another reason people wear shoes: Feet are ugly and shoes pretty ‘em up a little.
If you disagree, try going to work, church or school in your bare feet. Just be prepared for people to nervously avert their eyes when they pass you in the hallway. Some of them might gag. Except for one or two people (probably computer nerds or humor bloggers) who rarely said a word to you before they saw your bare feet. They’ll be downright chatty, and may seem overly enthusiastic, excited or even agitated. Enjoy the attention, but don’t expect much eye contact, because their heads will be tilted down the whole time.
And it won’t be the floor they’re staring at.