Feet can be a touchy topic. Some people are immediately grossed out - the feet averse. Some are neutral. Some, like we here at FitMyFoot, are fantastically fond of feet -- their beauty and their function. In some cultures, feet have inherent significance, in others, they are a status symbol. Regardless of your perceived notion about the feet, your feet are essential to your life. They allow you to inhabit this earth through movement.
So why do so many people hate feet? In this article we take a look at some of the cultural beliefs about feet and the results of FitMyFoot research to understand the importance of feet, and why they so often split public opinion.
The significance of feet
The significance of feet is obvious - we all have them, and they allow us to walk around the earth. It’s a key part of what makes us human! But the significance of feet goes beyond this, culturally.
For example, there is a Hindu tradition that involves bowing down and touching the feet of your elders. In return, you are believed to be blessed with their wisdom and knowledge. And, according to The Culture Trip, it’s also considered as a way to suppress the ego of the younger Hindu generation1. When you touch the elders’ feet, you are respecting their age and achievements.
In China, for millennia, the feet were considered a status symbol and a mark of beauty. This belief was the reason for the tradition of female foot binding. This ancient Chinese tradition no longer exists in the modern day, but the act of binding the feet was very common. Small feet were considered beautiful and elegant, so the aim of foot binding was to reduce the size of the feet to only three inches!2
There’s also the practice of reflexology, that came from traditional Chinese medicine but has now made its way into the mainstream. Reflexology is a type of massage that focuses on the feet. The belief is that by massaging certain reflex or pressure points in the feet, it can heal conditions in other parts of the body.
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Interestingly, in eastern countries, showing the sole of your foot to another person is considered offensive. This is believed to be because the sole of your foot comes into direct contact with the dirt of the ground, and therefore it is an act of disrespect.
Aside from some of the cultural and religious traditions surrounding the feet, the feet are important in their own right. They allow us to move, absorbing the impact of our bodies hitting the earth with each step we take. As a result, our feet can get pretty beat up! Seventy-five percent of Americans will experience foot problems at least once during their life.
Why do so many people hate feet?
A key characteristic of human evolution is bipedalism - walking upright on two feet. As such, many anthropologists believe this influenced how society views feet. A study by Tim Ingold considered this, concluding that the aversion to feet may be because "civilized man has attempted to ‘leave the ground’... and, therefore any use of the feet, is something belonging to only the common man.”
Becoming evolved meant using your hands and head, not your feet. As articulated by a researcher at Brown University, “the use of foot becomes deeply intertwined with class and identity.” This is one way to explain the genesis of people’s feet aversion.
Podophobia is a fear of feet, affecting one in 1,000 people. This condition involves feeling anxious, fearful or disgusted by feet, and making a concerted effort to avoid being exposed to them. Even if you wouldn’t go this far, you may still be in the group that dislikes feet.
Why people lie about their shoe size
The data scientists at FitMyFoot drew insights from our database of tens of thousands of foot profiles. Here are some of the things we found:
- More than two thirds of males overstate their shoe size, while 40 percent of females understate their shoe size. The average male overstates his shoe size by 0.7 sizes, while the average female understates her shoe size by 0.1 sizes.
- Individuals with small feet overstate their shoe size to a greater extent than individuals with large feet – and males do this by ~1.5 sizes more than females.
Pretty interesting right! So why do so many people lie about their shoe size? It may be due to the cultural biases we discussed earlier. The feet are somewhat of a status symbol. Men want to be big: tall in stature with big hands and big feet. That is the cultural ideal in the west. For women, the stereotypical cultural ideal is to be small, feminine and delicate; which means small hands and feet. We’re not saying this is entirely accurate, but this is a stereotypical generalization.
A study to support this found that men are consistently more attracted to women with small feet. Another study found similar results, also finding that men with smaller feet were considered less attractive.
So, to answer the question why so many people hate feet - the answer is perhaps rooted in the cultural beliefs that have been created around the feet, their closeness to the ground, and their connection to unevolved primates. This would explain why people lie about their shoe size, and why smaller or larger feet (depending on the gender) are idealized.
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Ultimately, our feet do have inherent importance. They allow us to navigate the world and move freely throughout our daily lives. Maybe it’s time we’re all a little kinder to our feet.