Beauty is in the toes: Why you need all of them

YOU NEED IT: The making of leg nails (pedicure), its healthy and makes a person comfortable .photo Elkana Jacob
YOU NEED IT: The making of leg nails (pedicure), its healthy and makes a person comfortable .photo Elkana Jacob

Men react with feigned non-interest whenever woman start talking about buying shoes. Yet the female foot is very important for men as it obviously is for women. Studies suggest that men rate women with smaller feet as having prettier faces.

One hypothesis is that smaller feet, in proportion to size that is, are markers for good health especially during childhood and into puberty. Stress and poor nutrition, that is poverty, are thought to affect the levels of sex hormones leading to early maturation.

Such women would then be short and dumpy, rather than more slender and feminine, the shape, men seem to define as beautiful. That may explain why cupboard space for shoes is more than that of healthy food. But there is more to feet than just beauty, because other than signalling beauty they are needed for movement.

Our distant relatives, the apes use their feet to grab and climb up and down trees. We humans, as the saying goes, ‘have moved on’; we use our feet to walk, jump and run. Our feet have evolved with shorter toes compared to the more finger-like toes of apes.

Further, the basic structure of the foot is a triangle; engineering-wise the triangle is one of the strongest shapes possible. Unlike say a square shape, which can be deformed into a parallelogram, a triangle remains rigid unless one of its components breaks, it cannot be deformed into another shape. The triangle of the foot is made up of the heel, the big toe and the fifth toe knuckle.

The arch of the foot makes another triangle together with the anklebones, so that the foot despite being small, without very big muscles, ends up being able to absorb a lot of weight and force as we move around. The triangles are needed for two distinct movements.

When taking a step you first plant your foot into the ground, with the foot acting as a shock absorber adapting to the surface; then at toe-off, it transmits the force from the leg into the ground to create the desired movement. Some women confuse matters by adding a further triangle in the shape of very high heels, giving rise to the phrase ‘my feet are killing me’. But do they? Can your feet kill you?

Certainly in terms of pain they can. The big toe is the most important member bearing close to 40% of the weight. The rest is spread across the other toes. Despite its’ relative importance you can lose the big toe and not suffer too much disability.

In poorly controlled diabetes, a diabetic foot injury, infection leading to amputation of the foot is quite common. Often the person suffering from diabetic foot has so many issues that they end up not walking. But the foot injury in itself should not prevent rehabilitation and re-learning to walk, since the basic structure of the foot is still present. On the far side of the big toe is the little toe, which is the weakest and as the name suggest the smallest toe.

It spends much of its time as a support character like that weak singing in an audience that you are not sure is really adding value.

So it should come as no surprise when the small toe tries to find other roles it can play in the body. One it does in a clumsy way is try and arrange furniture, but without eyes it does it in a very painful way.

Unlike a big toe which if you drop something or you stub against something the damage is likely to be substantial, the small toe manages to make a lot of pain out of very little. Since it will allow you to walk before full recovery chances of re-injuring the small toe are high and it can be weeks into months before it resumes its main job of being a support character rather than being a significant part of the conversation.

Immediately after the injury, applying some ice wrapped in a towel, will reduce the swelling and if the pain is moderate a painkiller will help. If after a few days the pain and swelling do not reduce then a visit to the health centre may be necessary to make sure that there is no fracture.

Prevention of further injury requires buying sensible shoes that protect the toes. Sensible shoes that provide adequate room for the toes and protect against injury are vital for anyone with diabetes or indeed someone carrying more weight than they should. Exercise such as walking to maintain the leg muscles benefits the feet too.

Modern living means that we often have to fake many things in order to pass muster. On thing that would lead to many questions is wearing a fake toe.

The oldest known prosthetic toe dates to 1069 to 664 B.C, sits in Cairo Museum and is believed to belong to a 50- to 60-year-old, woman, who may have had diabetes. Given the slow rise in the number of cases of diabetes could we see a return to such? Men might have to revisit their perception of beauty.