Thinking on (with?) your feet: about toe cleavage

by Yule Heibel on June 16, 2003

Today’s New York Times has an article about feet, specifically naked feet nearly wholly exposed to view through binding sandal straps. Mmm, fetishism, anyone? Who cannot remember glimpsing naked feet and feeling somehow voyeuristic? Is there anyone out there — anyone female — who didn’t have an awakening at some point to the thought that her feet were (a) really ugly or (b) really beautiful? Most women I’ve talked to about feet dislike theirs, while a few said their feet were beautiful. I fall into the former category, not liking mine particularly. As a young child, I spent months walking around en pointe, without ballet slippers, desiring lessons which we couldn’t afford and which I consequently didn’t get. I read biographies of great Russian ballerinas who nursed bleeding feet at night after days of endless practice. Masochism doesn’t get any weirder than dreaming of bleeding feet. And all that en pointe traipsing on hard floors, with my head in the clouds, did something to the development of my, uh, big toe.

Georges Bataille, who single-handedly deconstructed stereotypes about librarians just by being one, made the big toe, like the anus, a theoretical jumping-off point for thinking about man’s material-sexual condition in the world. Note that the NYT article about feet mentions Judith’s feet as beguiling Holofernes, enabling her to gain his confidence, and then to chop off his head when he became distracted. She kept her head and had a plan, she saved her people. The article’s conjunction of the cephalic apex of man — the head — and the reminder of his rootedness to earth, to animal status — the big toe — would have had Bataille fidgeting with excitement.

Why should the foot, and especially the big toe, be an object of erotic fetishism in the first place? Because “it reminds man, whose feet are planted in the mud and whose head is raised toward heaven, that his life is no more than a ‘back-and-forth movement from ordure to ideal and back to ordure.'” (see big toe) And why should the foot be an object of fetishism for women? Catherine Lumby, analyzing the return to really high heels, concludes with a reference to Georges Bataille:

But surrealist writer Georges Bataille – author of the cult classic The Story of the Eye – offers a different take on the erotic significance of drawing attention to the foot. Bataille points out that toes are the things that connect us back to the animal world. The big toe is the hinge that keeps us upright. No longer prehensile, but rigid – it’s what braces us against the Earth. Without it, we return to the mud, on all fours.

If you wear high heels, mud is a big issue. You have to become a devotee of the pedicurist and the podiatrist because your feet repay the act of adornment by becoming animalistic – by developing callouses and bunions.

To be able to display a beautiful set of toes in a perfectly polished pair of pumps is a sign you have not only your body but your time and money issues absolutely under control. Now there’s a female fantasy for the 21st century.

So, while sandals are in and stilettos are out, and women feel free to flaunt a foot fetish, it’s also about status and control, and money. Some are apparently willing to spend lots of it to get the status foot, as the NYT article points out: people “are having toes shortened or plumped, feet narrowed or straightened, at costs as high as $12,000.”

Holy smokes and symptom of our post-modern condition! The fetish is subsumed to the strict regime of the economic head. It’s an upside-down world, literally.

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