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I've Stopped Painting My Toes, And It's Weirdly Liberating

02/03/2017 23:32 SAST | Updated 03/03/2017 22:36 SAST

For Glamour, by Beth Shapouri.

Beth Shapouri

Recently I did something that felt like my feet’s equivalent to burning a bra: I stopped painting my toes.

Call it an offshoot of the #nomakeup selfie movement, an attempt to take the “go bare” thing to another body part in an act of self-acceptance. Because, while it may not sound like a big thing to some of you, until recently my toes were always painted. We’re talking every day since high school; for roughly two decades, there has been something on my nails down there. Red, pink, taupe, beige, purple — I mixed up the colors, but I never went for a break in between. When my nails grew out enough to see a significant gap below the color line, I’d either grab nail polish remover and a new shade or head to the salon for a pedi.

In retrospect, my constant polishing was a product of years of thinking my toes needed to be primped and preened. Chances are you know someone (or you are someone) who’s easily grossed out by feet. So many of us treat them like they’re disgusting, like they’re something we have to endure. I got that message loud and clear when the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, and suddenly the biggest insult you could hurl at a girl in school was to say she had “Hobbit feet.” In fact, when I told a friend I was writing this essay, her first response was “Ew, I hate my feet!” like a reflex.

Then there’s the gender part of the equation I suddenly couldn’t ignore. Men, for the most part, get a pass on the way their feet look, outside the occasional shaming for wearing open-toed sandals. But women? There’s an undeniable pressure — at least for me and my friends I’ve talked with — to groom our feet in order to make them suitable for existence, lest we risk that “Hobbit foot” label. (Because, God forbid, a woman gets a random hair or patch of them somewhere.) So I am QUESTIONING this, in big ol’ uppercase letters: Why does my body need to be altered to be fit for human eyes? Makeup — and nail polish — should be for fun, a simple confidence boost or way to express ourselves when we choose to go for it. I accept this for my face, why not for my toes?

Makeup — and nail polish — should be for fun, a simple confidence boost or way to express ourselves when we choose to go for it. I accept this for my face, why not for my toes?

So with all this quietly swimming in my head, a couple months ago, I thought, What if I just let them go bare? The world certainly wouldn’t stop. Hell, unless they happen to be with me at home and sockless, no one will even know. And so, with the safety net of having my toes hidden for the foreseeable future, I broke my polish habit.

The adjustment was quick. By day three I was no longer startled when I looked down to see my naked (but still pumiced and moisturized) toes, and I didn’t think my feet looked bad at all, just less “done up.” But, again, I was dancing like no one was watching because no one was — all this was happening in the privacy of my own apartment. Would I be so bold as to show off the new state of my feet in public?

I got the chance at a work event where foot massages were involved (I know, don’t ask). I was going to be surrounded by other beauty writers — the kind like my “Ew, feet!” friend. Would they make me feel self-conscious? I wondered. Only one way to find out — I stripped my socks off and debuted my unadorned dogs. And, then, something crazy happened: absolutely nothing. No one said a word or even took a second glance. It turns out no one cared as much as I did about the state of my toes. I was their worst critic, and I had been silenced. My toes were free.

Two months into my streak, looking down at my bare feet still makes me feel like I’m leading a one-woman protest. It’s a little rebellion that also happens to streamline my routine. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably go back to wearing color here and there when the weather heats up. (Turquoise is my favorite.) But I’m looking forward to occasionally letting them go bare in public too, no longer a slave to the 24/7 polish lifestyle. A colorful pedicure is a choice, not a necessity, and everyone, including me, can just back the eff off about it.

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