Overt indulgence or an essential part of personal grooming? Tanya Gold steps into the world of pedicures
I am very fond of my feet. They take me on all sorts of adventures – part paw, part hoof, they have 26 bones, 33 joints and they bear every pound of my weight. Their only drawback is that they do not have retractable claws; how I long for retractable claws to use while negotiating pay rises. They are not particularly attractive, it is true – they are fiercely rectangular, like a shoe box with small growths (the toes) peeking hopefully out of one end, and a tiny dusting of hair, which I do not know what to do with – please write in if you have any suggestions. I love that they look like little hands – feet can hold hands, you know – and that when deprived of shoes, feet actually become shoes, growing a sole of their own, which I think is rather imaginative.
Because I can afford footwear, I do try to stop my feet from turning into shoes. I go to a local salon full of noisy girls, where they rip the dry skin off with what looks like a potato peeler, and paint my toes bright red. I do this because I am learning that the older you get, the more you have to do to your body, so people don’t throw up when they look at you. I am not for maximum grooming – because women who do nothing but groom go mad and then end up having their nostrils waxed – but I do not want to actively disgust people with my callouses and I do not want them to disgust me with theirs. I have spent many hours on the bus in summer judging other people’s feet. Anyway, people are wrong when they say the foot is the ugliest part of the body. The ugliest part of the body is the mind.
I don’t want to disgust people with my callouses and I don’t want to be disgusted by theirs
Even so, I have noticed the rise in late capitalist foot fetishism. Now people drive everywhere, the foot has stopped being merely a mode of transport and has reinvented itself as a sex toy. You are supposed to buff it up and stick it in a Manolo or a Louboutin or a Choo or something so people think you are taller than you really are. I am not really the person to ask about these things, preferring to wear FitFlops or, ideally, ride on men; I am also afraid of pointed shoes because I do not want people to think my feet are filed into points. But apparently feet can be very sexy, even if I sincerely hope no one has ever dated anyone because they had nice feet. So, how to achieve sexy (and healthy) feet to match your sex toy shoes?
The Medi Pedi
I pay a visit to the Margaret Dabbs salon in Marylebone, London. Raved about by beauty journalists, it’s at the centre of the medical district in London, which is useful because consultants refer their patients here. I am not sure if a consultant usually sends patients to a beauty salon, but this is not an ordinary beauty salon, although at first glance – a peaceful room, a slight hum of contentment – it feels awfully like one. In the menu of treatments out pops the reason I am here – the medical pedicure, which is carried out by a qualified podiatrist who then hands you over to someone else to paint your toenails – slightly like a dentist applying your lipstick after a check up. In an era where science sells more than sex, this is very clever indeed and Dabbs is very much in vogue (she already has salons in Liberty and Harrods).
There are men having their feet done. They look strangely out of place in a foot palace, even if they do look happy. But then I think of the men’s feet I have known – planks of smelly wood, with bits falling off and occasional bubbling growths and I am glad they are here. A pedicure is a kind act from a man, and at my age, consideration is the new filthy sex.
My podiatrist is called Tamara. When I ask, “why podiatry?” she replies, simply, “I love feet”. Tamara is much too discreet to discuss her other client’s feet – does Gwyneth have corns? – so she puts me in a large chair and tilts me backwards. She wears a green face mask, of the kind worn by people in horror comedies when they are examining bodies. They do not stick your feet in water here, which I have always believed is simply to spare the beauty therapist the terrible smell of strange foot. Dabbs, who has designed everything, thinks that wet pedicures inflame the skin before you cut away and cause infection. Tamara files the nails with a crystal file and then uses a small drill to remove the hard skin that has grown around the big toe on my left food. In truth it hurts, but it will make me weigh less.
My feet feel sexy and loved and I’m tempted to put them in people’s mouths
Meanwhile, a manicurist enters, looks at my bloodied writer’s stumps for fingers, and gasps. I have, she tells me, risked infection. I break the skin with my teeth and then touch things which may be dirty – bus doors, table tops, my boyfriend. She has a go at the stumps anyway, for which I applaud her, and sternly tells me to return in three weeks for further stump work.
Next, Tamara rubs the dry skin off my feet, with a specially designed Margaret Dabbs foot file. It is double sided and lined with “compressed crystal technology” pads. Even here there is a trick; you must file towards the midpoint of the foot and, in the manner of Gremlins – “never get them wet”. She applies some Exfoliating Foot Mousse which is made of ground tea tree leaf and pumice and smells divine. Then she slaps on a pile of Emu Oil, which Dabbs discovered in Australia. It’s made of emu, which sounds gross, but lesser creatures have been hurt in the cause of beauty – though maybe not mine. Finally comes the polish.
At the end, my feet feel very sexy and loved, and I am tempted to stick them in people’s mouths. How to keep such lovely feet, without paying £80 a time? I talk to Margaret, who says, “You can achieve amazing results on your own. It’s so liberating having feet you can show off”. She says she shows them to her children and says, “Look at Mummy’s feet. Look how young they look.” The British, she thinks, “feel guilty about spending money on themselves,” which is true, but I think foot care is not a vanity too far, even for your trusty correspondent. They are sex toys now, you know.”
Picture credit: Rex Features