Jennifer 8. Lee: My Ugly Feet
Growing up, I was embarrassed by my feet. They were ugly: wide and flat. They had no arch; my footprints in the sand resemble caveman tracks. They bulged out every which way, refusing to be contained, refusing to look slender or elegant. There were rough patches on the heels and sharp calluses on the fourth toes. (Can calluses be sharp? On my feet they were.) Pedicures were the podal equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. I couldn’t wear Manolo Blahniks or anything with stilettos or straps.
So when I started dating, I thought of my seriously unsexy feet as a liability. I was reluctant to take off the clunky shoes I wore, which, in turn, gave guys the impression I was ready to bolt for the door. On the rare occasion I took off my shoes, I would tuck my feet under my body when I sat down, so that my thick, knobby toes would be safely out of sight.
What makes this more tricky is that I am descended from a culture that obsessively prizes dainty feet, in which small feet are equated with femininity. My mom wears size 5 shoes, and my grandmother’s feet are so small that I once thought her slippers belonged to a child.
Me, I wear size 8: a Chinese-scale girl with American-scale feet. It was not until I was an adult and paid a visit to my father’s mom in Taiwan that my feet’s provenance became clear. I had her feet! I felt a brief flash of resentment upon the realization.
But my boyfriend turned my relationship with my feet around. He loved my feet and found it amusing that I hated them. They had character, he said. Their nooks and ridges gave them interest: a diversity of texture and shape. So I would put them in his lap while we were on the couch or even having dinner. He rubbed my flat arch. He played with each of my toes. He fingered the craggy corners. Their imperfection, to him, was the source of their beauty.
And after some time, I had this thought: Although I had always prized my other eccentricities, I had never embraced my feet―which were, inarguably, unique. So one day, not that long ago, I took a deep breath and dug out a pair of delicate flip-flops from the bottom of my closet; I had bought them on impulse and never allowed myself to wear them in public. I slipped them on and walked down the street with feet uncovered and unadorned. Padding down the sidewalk, I felt euphoric―less from the breeze and the sunlight on my toes than from being, finally, unashamed.
Jennifer 8. Lee is a reporter for the New York Times and the author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.