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Gaining a Foothold

Provides information on the importance of feet. How to glamourize the feet; Taking care of our feet; Proper shoes for the feet.

As the light changed, I dashed gamely across Fifth Avenue. Swift andsure-footed as a gazelle, I ran to the next appointment in my overcrowded day. But no animal was ever frozen in the headlights like I was when a heel clipped off my Chanel pumps—smack in the face of oncoming traffic. Leading the pack, luckily, was a taxi, and I sped off downtown contemplating my feet.

I never liked them anyhow, but I liked them least of all at that moment. Gnarled and twisted after years of ballet-training, hammertoed and hideous from fighting silly shoes, callused and covered with a hide tough enough to rake over hot coals, and now a twisted ankle hobbling my day—what's to like?

Most of us don't even want to think about our feet. We'd like our 10 little soldiers to line up straight and even in a row, take their marching orders, and not give us any trouble. In spite of the torture we inflict on them in closed-toe shoes, our smooch, unblemished beauties should put up, shut up, and look great in sandals. Because, though few of us share war stories, we sure do hate our feet.

We try to glamourize them with pedicure and polish. We've invented a popular vernacular to eroticize them--the crack between the toes is "toe cleavage," the instep dips like a neckline, the heel swivels like a hip--but we still hate them. We try to make them go away, in fact, or at least appear dainty and small. Like the evil stepsisters in Cinderella, most women have the shared experience of squeezing a size-eight foot into a 7 1/2 shoe, or a 7 1/2 into a size six. But you can distort a foot only so much before it fights back and says, wait a minute, I have a shape of my own. And the angrier it gets, the uglier it becomes, with hammertoes, claw toes, bunions, corns, and calluses as revenge.

But it's not always about size either: A friend with pretty, tiny feet recounts a miserable, poverty-stricken childhood spent sloshing around in shoes as large as riverboats. Both her grandmothers had triple A feet. The instant she was old enough—and rich enough—she bought herself a closetful of narrow Ferragamos.

Leave it to an artist, however, to love the unlovable. "I like the way feet look," argues one friend, a painter, who obsessively draws hands and feet. "Hands and feet are the punctuation marks of the body. And feet have gesture," she says. Especially for ballet dancers, who let their shoes define their foot. They would do anything for beauty--and forcing bloody, folded toes to support and elevate the body is the least of it. (Many of us sacrifice chat way in heels.) My feet, compressed into toe shoes at too young an age, inspire my seven-year-old daughter to wait for hers. "I'll go on toe," she says, "when my feet are ready. Not like yours."

Athletes, on the other hand, pamper their feet. Their goal is to make their bodies work better, not necessarily look better—although, of course, they do look better. And for good reason; in her new book, Shoes (Workman Publishing), Linda O'Keeffe says that the average person walks two thousand miles a year.

Sometimes, baring your soul is easier than baring the soles of your feet. In time for summer, a friend underwent painful surgery to shorten a hammertoe that, with the onset of sandal season, had bothered her for years. Summer is a source of dread for women who dread exposure. But somehow it's easier to moan about thunder thighs, flabby upper arms, and cellulite, than to share misgivings about heels in slingbacks, toes in sandals, feet naked at the beach. It feels strangely. . . fetishistic.

Standing in the middle of Fifth Avenue, my feet felt vulnerable, soft, helpless. Though I felt cobbled, I came, after all, to appreciate my feet. Though they're dirty, swollen, and sweaty--without feet, who among us would have a leg to stand on? They adjust to rough terrain, they enable us to walk away, but most of all, it's our feet that take us where we want to go.

Just don't try to get there in Chanel pumps. Some shoes aren't meant for walking.

PHOTO (COLOR): Hands and feet are the punctuation marks of the body.