On Being Vain About Your Feet

When I was in middle school, a boy I liked said I had nice feet. He didn’t say it to my face; the remark came to me second- or third-hand. Possibly it was meant as an insult, but in my mind, it cemented the importance of comely feet: clearly, you never knew what someone else was going to notice about you and fixate upon. Care of my feet became an obsession.

Later, when I worked as a waitress, having nice feet was a point of pride. Sure, I worked long hours on my feet and didn’t make much money. But that was no reason to have scaly white heels with fissures in them, or flaking varnish on my toenails. Maybe I couldn’t afford a pedicure, but by God, anyone could afford a pumice stone and a tub of Vaseline! When I saw women in the supermarket with chalky, splitting heels, I quietly scorned them. There are no excuses, I’d think. As a refugee from hurricane Katrina, I lived in a tent for a month with three other people, and I maintained my feet even then — to the mystification of my tent-mates. It became something of a joke. Everything I owned was underwater, but my feet looked pretty!

But now, I have been forbidden to use my pumice stone. “No more,” said my husband. “Not until next year, not until we come back from the Camino.” I threw it in the thrash to avoid temptation.

The reason? In 2012 I walked the Camino on my pretty, baby’s-bottom-smooth feet, and in about 5 seconds they were grotesque, blisterous messes. As it turns out, those unsightly calluses I’d been keeping at bay might have been useful.

After we returned and the blisters had healed, I had major calluses. They were leprous-looking, hideous. But I was proud of them in spite of their ugliness. After all, I’d walked 500 miles and suffered untold agony for those scaly wads of flesh on my heels and toes. I left them alone for a while, and even showed them off in sandals — my gruesome badges of honor, proof that I’d done something extraordinary with my feet and one month of my life. I desperately hoped that someone would notice, like I’d noticed the ragged feet of other women in the grocery store. “Your feet look terrible,” I wanted someone to say. “Ever heard of Vaseline?” And then I’d tell them about the Camino. But it never happened.

And then vanity got the best of me. One night in the bathtub with a glass of wine, me and my pumice stone got down to it.

At the time, I didn’t know I’d be planning to do the Camino again just two years later. I wish I’d left my lovely calluses alone; I’d have less work to do now that I’m letting them re-accumulate, and less to be concerned about. One thing about the Camino is that it continues to teach you its lessons long after the physical journey is over, and this is only just sinking in: why vanity has long been considered one of the seven deadlies. The silly lengths we go to in order to preserve or improve our appearance can sometimes wind up biting us in the, um, foot.

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