In Celebration of Ugly Feet

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Photo: Ewan Loughlin

I moved to New York in August, and after the smell, the unforgiving housing market, and the confounding citywide juicing mania, the first thing I noticed was the city’s obsession with feet — not just any feet, but pretty feet. Everyone had a pedicure, and if they didn’t, they were on their way to get one. The same people bemoaning the $20 drinks at a midtown meat market were ordering pedicures with nary a blink. For a while I toed the line (sorry) and followed the masses, but after a year of tremendous self-reflection and growth, I have some personal news to share: I love my ugly feet.

My feet are short, pudgy, and for the most part, unpainted. Imagine ten pigs in a blanket and then picture those sliding into a new pair of flatforms. I fear not the oppressive sandal that taunts me to paint my nails in the season’s snazziest color. I will not give in. My toenails are like Kim Kardashian: overexposed and proud. And I love them just the way they are.

One time I interviewed a cadre of dancers for tips on how to repair rough-looking feet. One told me, “Wear shoes that are flattering to your feet. You wouldn’t wear a tube top if it didn’t favor your body, so why wear shoes that don’t favor your feet?” Well, dance instructor lady, I’ll have you know that unless Dr. Beverly Hills himself planted a fresh set of Ds and whittled your waist into nothingness, tube tops don’t favor anyone. T-strap sandals are the same. So if we all are going to walk about in shoes that make our feet look like pork hors d’oeuvres anyway, then we might as well do it with pride, I say.

You know what I hate the most about feet? That at some point, the worldwide beauty conspiracy decided that women have to prune them into oblivion. I once dated a man without a big toenail. It fell off after he played soccer, or stubbed it on a door; can’t remember. The point is, it was totally fine! I loved him and his toe that looked like a half-eaten pretzel nugget. To tend to his feet, he slapped on a fresh coat of lotion and hopped out the door without a hint of shame. As I watched him march through life with the mettle of a god, I thought, I want some of that. I want to spend $20 max on my feet and be happy about it. Grant me the air of assurance that tells people that just because my feet aren’t worthy of a Sally Hansen ad doesn’t mean my lady brain is unable to function.

After my self-realization about loving my feet, I was curious about what my dude counterparts would think. An egg on Twitter once told me that being a feminist meant doing the opposite of what men wanted, and dammit I wanted to make sure my ass was in check on this one. I polled three dudes: Nick, Michael, and Jordan (names have been changed). They were vehemently against the idea of going nail-polish-free for the summer, but being men of New York City in the year 2016, they tried their best to be polite about it.

“But don’t you find pedicures relaxing?” Nick cajoled me.

“They are so affordable,” Michael pleaded, unconvincingly.

“Whatever makes you happy,” Jordan acquiesced.

That’s not to say my feet can’t be soft. Not for vanity purposes, of course, but because if I’m going to drop $200 cash-money on the best sheets in town, I want to allow my feet to the freedom to glide with ignorant purpose in a bed fit for a queen. If you’re curious, a person who is both comfortable with the ugly beauty of her feet and diligent about their softness exfoliates every once and a while with PedEgg or Amope Pedi Perfect Foot File. Both will shower your floor in dead-skin snowflakes, the tears of despotic rough feet.

A thing that New Yorkers know especially well is that, in the summer, out feet get dirty. Deal with it. As a mere plebeian, I am relegated to the grunge hallmarks of an industrial society: the subway and its capitalist forebear, the sidewalk. Both leave specks of dirt that magically appear around the circumference of my toes by day’s end. Until De Blasio finally acknowledges my personal plea to be chauffeured around in a man-chariot, I will have dirty feet in the summer, and that’s okay, because I love my ugly, unpainted, dusty-ass feet.

Last Friday, on the heels (sorry) of Memorial Day weekend, I held court in my apartment. I turned on the TV and watched several episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I drank a glass of Prosecco. I switched into a tiny pair of pajamas to find relief from the balmy heat without frightening my roommate. I had another glass. And by episode three, I began to paint my toenails. I love my ugly feet, but you know what I love more? Changing my mind.