Last Sunday, I posted a picture to Instagram. No. Big. Deal. I’d just had a pedicure and decided to share the salon-perfect results on social media. As you do.
I'm a former beauty editor, and a quick scan of my phone’s image library will reveal multiple photos of my polished toes and nails in all hues of the rainbow and against myriad backdrops. My phalanges have also made their way into print articles and on the interwebs in stories and reviews about manicures and pedicures, new products and treatments. So it’s fair to say my feet have been out and proud for a while.
Pedicures are my favorite beauty treatment. While I find it difficult to stay still during a massage or a two-hour facial (my inner monologue is already crafting the beauty review or story angle and taking notes about products used and the order of application), sitting down for around 30 minutes and reading trashy magazines without a fidgeting child on my lap is my kind of bliss.
So I took a snap of my freshly painted toes with my phone, and then promptly trashed the pic when I noticed how prominent the veins on my feet appeared in the image. After traipsing around all morning, it was not surprising that my feet were showcasing the exertion in ropey, sinewy style, but for an aspirational pedicure photo? Not so much.
Not motivated enough or willing to wait for my feet to relax, I opted for a shot of my pedicured toes from a distance, looking down on the therapist’s handiwork from above, and hoped that would minimize the veiny-ness. I uploaded the image (#nofilter), and added some hashtags about the brand of polish used, having happy feet, and being the self-deprecating gal that I am, I added a #veinyfeet. And then thought nothing of it.
Within 10 minutes I had received my first like — a hairstylist friend who owned a salon and was also spending some idle Sunday time scrolling through her Instagram feed. And in the ensuing hour, I noticed a flurry of notifications populate the screen of my smartphone but didn’t bother to investigate, even though I have a public account.
It wasn’t until later that day that I looked at the list of likes, new followers, and comments and clicked on one of my new Instagram followers. With my throwaway hashtag about the veins on my feet, I had tapped into a subset of the foot fetishists — the ones who like women’s veiny feet. Yep, it’s a thing.
My initial reaction was one of amusement. My runner’s feet in all their knocked-up, unfiltered, and veiny glory were deemed to be attractive? Even erotic? Would people offer me designer kicks a la Charlotte in Sex and the City to model? (Size 8, if you’re interested.)
My first indication that my feet were veiny was during a sleepover at a friend’s house when I was eight. My friend remarked that my feet had lots of veins and that was probably “because you are smart.” Fair enough. Being told that my feet were more taut and tight than pillowy and soft didn’t really alter my perception of them, but just made me more aware.
As I got older, I realized plenty of people have issues with feet. My husband is not a fan of other people’s feet, and he only grudgingly massaged my swollen pregnant feet. Another girl I worked with from South Africa said no one had ever seen her feet, not even her boyfriend! And in the six months we worked together in a London gym, I never saw her feet out of socks — not even once!
My sister, on the other hand, is immensely proud of her feet and considers their unblemished appearance to be her best feature. Similarly, my sister-in-law has adorned her foot with frangipanis as a tattooed memorial to her father.
So I thought nothing of my feet being appreciated, just as they are, on social media until I clicked on one of the accounts. A gallery of feet flooded my screen. Old feet, young feet, polished toes, gnarled toes, and some really stuffed-up tootsies. A pretty indiscriminate selection of female feet with one criterion — prominent veinage.
Now feeling more grossed out than special, I quickly shut the account down and put my phone away. But still the likes, comments, and followers continued, including comments of “Sexy feet” and “Nice shoes!” on an older shot of my feet in designer shoes. Knowing that strangers were trawling my Instagram account and commenting on older pictures, and scrolling through photos of my daughter, food, and street art (my usual obsessions), made me feel a bit violated — despite the fact that my account is public.
Still, I put it out of my mind. I definitely did not need to see more pictures of feet!
When yet another notification lit up my phone at 2 a.m., while I was comforting my daughter back to sleep, I was done. I deleted the offending photo and with it, all the comments and activity associated with my veiny feet. While I have no issues with the sexuality spectrum for consenting adults, my feet were no longer up for public viewing.
After the weekend download with my work colleagues (“You’ll never believe what happened to me on Instagram . . .”) and some research on the Internet, which was shut down as NSFW porn by our company firewall, my workmates were equal parts intrigued (the males) and amused/disgusted (the females).
And then I was scaremongered into making my account private by a work friend who was concerned about people seeing images of my young daughter. While I do not lump child pornography in the general deviance/fetish bag, I decided to keep some things private. But once a beauty addict, always a beauty addict; I’ll still post photos of my toes, just next time, minus the hashtag.