A fetish is, according to one definition, an object or body part that elicits adoration or sexual arousal, and may in extreme cases be necessary for complete sexual gratification. It involves usually a man’s idea of what is beautiful or sexy about a woman’s foot, foot fetishism by far outnumbering other kind of fetishes.
Most desirable are medium-sized feet. On a large one, toes look like ridiculous, petty appendages; on a small one, they appear ready to devour the entire foot. The main types are the Egyptian foot, with toes of decreasing length from big to little toe; the Roman foot, with the first three toes of more or less the same length, the other two decreasingly smaller; and the Greek or model foot, wit the toes from big to small forming a sort of semicircle. But what constitutes the basic prettiness of a foot?
It is the narrowness, the arch, the coloring and the pliability, what might be covered by the term grace. It constitutes a fine, worthy pedestal for the legs, and so for the entire woman. And it has to belong to a beautiful woman; on an unsightly one, it is merely wasted. Becoming sexualized, it does not transmit social diseases, and does not impregnate, even as it takes over much of the role of the penis under manual stimulation. This is especially useful at a time when social diseases like AIDS are rampant.
Ultimately, the preferred foot constitutes something delicate and well-proportioned, but definitely not brittle and frangible. And there is also the mystery, that unlike, say, the hand, it is not permanently exposed. What is it like then, hidden under a long skirt or encased in a shoe or boot? How exciting is its revelation when it does become bared. What does induce its being kissed, its toes licked or sucked? Or even, as Freud has emphasized, how attracting by its smell? Moreover, it may be indulged without incurring the onus of profligacy, adultery, or mere unchastity, let alone undesired impregnation.
But finally, it is a special tribute that may signify accepted submission, i.e., satisfy a masochistic trend in the male and a corresponding ascendance of the dominant female. Or, damn it, is it just a tribute to sheer beauty? Otherwise would it be there in so many paintings, particularly in the Renaissance, when beauty was truly appreciated? And beauty does depend on the sensibility of the beholder. Otherwise there would not have been qua ideal the Junoesque, as in Rubens, or the corpulent, as in the Hottentot Venus. Is today’s obeisance to a beautiful foot based on more recent Western aesthetics?
Like it or not, slenderness is a large part of shapeliness, and the foot is where it originates. It is also the locus of ticklishness, which, practiced in moderation, can be aphrodisiac. This is where the reaction of the idol may become relevant. Does the owner of the worshipped foot enjoy it, or merely accept it, or even dislike it? As for the performer, it is what elicits complete though perverse sexual gratification, even if it cannot be rationally explained. But then, can any perversion?
For the performer toying with, or expressing obeisance to, the toes, those five minipenises can guarantee kinky sexual satisfaction. But the woman may enjoy it too as possessor of an additional, adstititious sexual
attractiveness. Let us not forget the more passive, platonic form of sexual fetishism, consisting merely of pleasurable looking at bare female feet. Speaking for myself, I remember sitting next to one of my most beautiful girlfriends as she was driving us to a summer Long Island lease. She was barefoot, and the black pedal provided her very white foot with an enhancing frame. I commented on the beauty of her foot and she was both surprised and, dare I say, tickled pink.
Other girlfriends did not particularly like their feet, and did not especially care about any involvement with them. I may have played with their toes, but certainly went no further with that sort of thing. And I definitely did not share Francois Villon’s seeming attraction to, among other beauties melted away like yesteryear’s snows, “Berte au grant pié,” i.e., Berta Bigfoot. Which brings me to actual or possible foot fetishism in literature.
Let’s start with Sir Thomas Wyatt (1603-1642), Anne Boleyn’s lover, and his most famous quasi-sonnet, beginning “They flee from me that sometime did me seek/ With naked foot stalking in my chamber.” In the plural where the singular would be expected, suggests frequent and casual sex, reinforced by that “stalking.” Is it not interesting that these amorous women are described not by, say, their bared breasts, but by their naked feet, where “naked” is clearly sexier than “bare.” Whatever else this may indicate, it suggests the sexualized feet, otherwise why point to them, “stalking” yet, on plural occasions?
On now a couple of centuries, to Oscar Wilde’s play “Salome.” Later turned into Richard Strauss’s celebrated opera. Wilde wrote the play in French, which his lover, Alfred Douglas, translated into English. We read of Herod, lecherously doting on his stepdaughter Salome,about to dance for him. He exclaims, “Ah, thou art to dance with naked feet. ‘Tis well! ‘Tis well. Thy little feet will be like little white doves. They will be like little white flowers that dance upon the trees . . .” This, coming from the randy tetrarch, surely indicates sexualization of the feet. Not too much can be made of the “naked,” since the French must have “pieds nus,” there being no other word for bare. But still . . .
Let us skip now to 1894 and Gerald du Maurier’s celebrated novel “Trilby.” The eponymous heroine is a young Irish artist’s model in Paris, Trilby O’ Ferrall, introduced wearing a petticoat, “beneath which were visible her bare white ankles and insteps, and slim, straight, rosy heals, clean cut and smooth as the back of a razor; her toes lost in a huge pair of male slippers. She poses in the altogether . . . “head, hands and feet—everything—especially feet. As she kicks off her heavy masculine slipper, she proclaims, “That’s my foot . . . the handsomest foot in all Paris. There is only one in all Paris to mach it, and here it is.” Whereupon “she laughed heartily . . . and stuck out the other.”
Du Maurier continues. “And in truth they were astonishingly beautiful feet, such as one only sees in pictures and statues—a true inspiration of shape and color, all made up of delicate lengths and subtly-modulated curves and noble straightnesses and happy little dimpled arrangements in innocent young pink and white.”
The hero of the novel, Little Billee, is “quite bewildered to find that a real, bare, live human foot could be such a charming object to look at, and felt that such a base or pedestal lent quite an antique and Olympian dignity to a figure” etc. Further: “The shape of those lovely slender feet (that were neither large nor small) facsimiled in dusty pale plaster of Paris, survives on the shelves and walls of many a studio throughout the world, and many a sculptor yet unborn has yet to marvel at their strange perfection, in studious despair.” And still further, being covered in leather footwear, the foot “is hidden away in disgrace. A thing to be thrust out of sight and forgotten. It can sometimes be very ugly indeed—the ugliest thing there is, even in the fairest and highest and most gifted of her sex, and then it is of an ugliness to chill and kill romance, and scatter love’s young dream and almost break the heart.” I had that feeling when I saw backstage the bared ungainly foot of one of my favorite British actresses.
“Conversely, when Mother Nature has taken extra pains in the building of [the foot], and proper care and happy chance have kept it free of lamentable deformations, indurations, and discolorations—all those gruesome, boot-begotten abominations which have made it so generally unpopular—the sudden sight of it, uncovered, comes as a very rare and singularly pleasing surprise to the eye that has learned how to see!
Nothing else that Mother Nature has to show, not even the human face divine, has more power to suggest high physical distinction, happy evolution, and supreme development, the lordship of man over beast, the lordship of man over man, the lordship of woman over all!
Trilby had respected Mother Nature’s special gift to herself—had never worn a leather boot or shoe, had always taken as much care of her feet as many a fine lady takes of her hands.” To be sure, du Maurier does not write about actual fetishist sex play, nothing about fingering, licking, smelling, and whatever that can be very disturbing to the nonfetishist. It should decidedly pose no problem in a world that has accepted as normal much of what had previously been considered otherwise.
I myself have never become a true foot fetishist, beyond enjoying a beautiful female foot when I see one. This may have originated when I was a boy in Belgrade, gazing at the way maidservants there cleaned floors. They would use a brush attached by a metallic strap to their bare foot and rub away. I had no sense that my interested gaze was somehow sexual, still less that it would generate an adult proclivity. But there, with due restraint, it is.
Above all, there is nothing destructive about foot fetishism; no one is hurt by it, which is more than one can say for some other kinks. As for me, I watch “Dancing with the Stars” on TV, and especially enjoy it when a woman dances barefoot. I never even call it naked feet.