Having worked for many years in shoe retail, I have been privy to many a foot. Battered ones, bunioned ones, corned ones, taloned ones, ones with missing toes… none of which have ever bothered me (the missing toe one threw me for a moment, but very rapidly piqued my interest). Ugliness in feet is something I seem quite impervious to. Possibly because I am myself the owner of such a horrible pair, so my empathy skills are highly attuned. But lovely feet? Lovely feet make me recoil in shame to the darkest corners of the room.
I remember once pining over a woman’s foot in the shop – so delicate, tanned, impeccably polished and utterly lacking in marks or calluses it was, that I couldn’t let the moment pass without gushing in a blend of adoration and abject loathing. Every display shoe her princess-like foot glided into, looked immaculate on her. Clearly, she found my reaction (“you have the most gorgeous feet!”) disconcerting, though I’m not entirely sure why. Obviously it was a compliment, but perhaps she assumed all women’s feet were that well-tended to. This was Marylebone after all and like many of her local compatriots, she was dripping in an expensive juxtaposition of jewels and gymwear, indicating a rigorous routine of personal training followed by a spell of designer shopping.
Feet are something that need to be cared for, it’s true. Some of us are genetically more predisposed to beautiful feet than others of course, but with a bit of care, even the more repulsive hoof can be made to look more a silken paw and less like a barnicle-bottomed shipwreck. I try to pumice regularly, I apply the appropriate lotions, and when I have the time, I try to do a foot soak and slap on a bit of varnish. The poor (wo)man’s pedicure, as it were. My feet respond positively to this sort of treatment, but without regular attention they very quickly plunge back into a dry, cracked disgrace.
A customer once told me, after I remarked on her impressive pedicure, that she did it all herself. Pedicures were great, she said, but regular ones are out of most people’s financial reach. Better to invest a little bit of money in quality products and do it yourself, the ritual of which (i.e. staying in, watching a film, and filing the shit out of your feet before applying a base coat) can be very satisfying.
I’ve done this and yes, there is an element of gratification in it, particularly if you do a good job and manage to save yourself forty quid. But if you’re anything like me – that is, the worst nail varnisher of all time – then the positive effects of this exercise in thrift can be rather sullied. So poor is my application and steadiness of hand, that my method generally involves virtually covering all my toes in colour and then scratching off the excess in the shower. The result is the sort of thing you expect on a twelve-year-old who painting her nails during class time. With tippex. Or permanent marker.
When I was heavily pregnant, I decided to get myself to the nail bar. Partly because I needed to ‘treat’ myself, as they say, to a bit of luxury and partly because I couldn’t reach my own feet. My heels were cracked and painful, my nails had begun to fray (my unborn child having sucked all the nutrients out of me) and the feet generally were looking pasty and neglected. I was embarrassed at first, when heaving my hideous trotters into the water bath in front of the obliging nail technician, but I soon overcame this and eventually fell asleep in my chair, snoring (as if the feet weren’t indignity enough).
At the end, though my feet weren’t dramatically transformed, they did look improved in a way which I knew wouldn’t have been achieved at home. A quality pedicure tends to last some time as well, chipping after a fortnight as opposed to a couple of days. More pertinently, there is something to be said for the emotional and restorative components inherent in having someone work your feet. In between the oafish microsleeps, my stomach filled delightfully with the sensation of butterflies as my pedicurist massaged my pressure points and chatted to me in her dulcet, soothing tones – something unachievable when doing at home alone.
On a recent visit to the doctor regarding an unsightly and painful ganglion on my wrist, I was informed that the NHS no longer covers the available treatment. In the past, I may have dismissed the old ‘mani-pedi’ as a facile indulgence, though really, the need to be touched is no trivial matter. On this occasion, feeling a bit sad and in need of comfort (particularly as the ganglion and I were apparently inseparable), I was tempted to ask my doctor: does the NHS cover pedicures?
Fortunately I thought better of it, lest she find me an utterly inane dolly bird.