Geoff Nicholson


I love feet. They talk to me. As I take them in my hands I feel their strengths, their weaknesses, their vitality, or their failings. A good foot, its muscles firm, its arch strong, is a delight to touch, a masterpiece of divine workmanship. A bad foot—crooked toes, ugly joints, loose ligaments moving under the skin—is an agony. As I take these feet in my hands I am consumed with anger and compassion: anger that I cannot shoe all the feet in the world, compassion for all those who walk in agony.
     Salvatore Ferragamo, Shoemaker of Dreams

Just as the fetish enables the fetishist to simultaneously recognize and deny woman’s castration, irony allows the ironist to both reject and reappropriate the discourse of reference.
     Naomi Schor, “Fetishism and its Ironies,” in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, Fall 1988

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.
     David Bowie, “Let’s Dance”

I held her feet in my hands. They were perfect, of course; as pale and pure and cold as vellum. I kissed them, let my lips move softly and dryly over their insteps, then placed them gently on the floor by the bed. I took a final long, lingering look. I wanted always to remember them this way.

Then I took a claw hammer, previously unused, all shiny burnished steel, and a rubber sheath around the handle, to give grip and absorb shock. I raised it high above my head, let it balance at the peak of its apex, and then I brought it down as hard and as precisely as I could, down onto the cold, pale, white left foot. I did it again for the right. Then several times more, again and again until the feet were no longer perfect, indeed no longer recognizable as feet, until they were smashed, disordered, pulverized, scattered to all points of the room.

White dust hung low in the air. White fragments littered the floor, and I gathered them together, crumbling them between my fingers. Of course there was no blood, no flesh, no splinters of bone, no smashed tissue. All I had done was destroy two plaster casts of Catherine’s feet. The real ones were still intact, still perfect, although they were no longer accessible to me.

I had hoped that destroying the casts might act as a kind of therapy, as a kind of voodoo. I had hoped that destroying the replicas might also destroy the hold that Catherine’s feet had over me. As I sat on the floor surrounded by plaster rubble, I knew that the magic hadn’t worked. I was as deeply in thrall as ever.

An anatomist would tell you that the foot is a terminal part of the inferior extremity, what you and I would call the leg. He would say the foot serves as a support structure and also as an instrument of locomotion. He would say that the foot is divided into three sections, the tarsus, the metatarsus, and the phalanges; that there are seven tarsal bones, five metatarsal bones, fourteen phalangeal bones, a total of twenty-six.

He would say that the foot is intricately and richly supplied with muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. Only some of these are responsible for making the foot an object of fascination to a man such as myself. For instance, on the dorsal surface of the foot you will find the extensor brevis digitorum, a thin broad muscle that subdivides to form four tendons that spread out across the foot. On any foot that I found truly beautiful these tendons would have to be clearly, tautly visible.

Also on that same surface you find the dorsalis pedis artery, a vessel which splits and forms branches, the tarsi and metatarsi which run parallel across the top of the foot, and the introsseae and dorsalis halluces which run along the foot in the direction of the toes. These too stand out in low relief on a beautiful foot.

Then there are the internal and external plantar nerves which crisscross the foot again branching and subdividing, interweaving with bone and muscle. These are not obviously visible but it is these that are responsible for making the foot so uniquely sensitive.

But an anatomist, for all his knowledge of the structure and internal workings, would not be used to making aesthetic judgments about the foot, whereas I used to spend my whole time doing precisely that.

Let me see if I can describe the perfect pair of women’s feet. Certainly they would need to be long and lean. A thick layer of fat around the foot hides its character. They should not be too small and neat in case they look too childlike and innocent—that is anything but sexy. They should look strong and active. They should have high arches and lean, narrow ankles.

Obviously, these perfect feet will be healthy, free from growths, scars, deformities, without hard or discolored or flaky skin. However, I am not averse to a foot having a lived-in look. A lifetime of wearing high heels and exotic shoes will inevitably leave a few traces, and these are not to be despised.

The flesh may be stark white or beautifully tanned, but as I say, in either case, the bones, tendons, and veins must be visible through the skin, rippling and articulating as the foot moves. Occasionally one sees a foot that looks as taut and veined as an engorged penis. Or is it the other way round? That is the kind of foot I lust over. That is the kind of foot Catherine had.

The toes need to be long, straight, and slender. They should never be plump or bulbous. Twisted or overlapping toes are hideous, and despite the examples we see in Renaissance and Greek sculpture, I like the first toe to be shorter than the big toe.

The nails are all-important. The perfectly shaped foot can be ruined by bad nails, and the prime factor here is shape. They must not be spatulate. They should be the shape of tiny television screens rather than of seashells. They should be large in relation to the size of the toe, centrally and symmetrically placed. They should be without ridges and free from cuticle debris. They should be kept long rather than cut short and, of course, they should be painted. The range of acceptable colors runs a comparatively narrow spectrum, from dark pink to deep maroon, and my personal preference is for something approaching Porsche red. White, silver, metallic, and pearl finishes are totally dreadful. I always think that black polish should deliver a certain frisson, yet I find it never quite does. Greens and purples seem merely odd and unnatural, and if it seems strange to talk about nature in this cosmetic context, I think that what we’re actually dealing with here is nature red in claw if not in tooth.

Foot jewelry has always struck me as a gilding of the lily. Likewise painting the feet with henna seems an unnecessary, and not especially sexual, complication. I can see that a small tattoo on the foot could have a certain erotic charge, but I have always felt that the perfect foot would not be tattooed, and Catherine’s certainly was not.

I realize, of course, that laying down laws for female beauty is an absurd and dangerous occupation. And if I sound dogmatic and impossibly demanding, all I can say is, sorry, but that’s how it is with fetishes. Of course, feet that do not conform to my ideal have every right to exist and to be admired. Indeed I myself have admired and been intimate with feet that were a long way from perfect. Nevertheless, a man knows what he wants. And in one sense I am being descriptive rather than prescriptive, for as I describe my idea of the perfect foot, I find that I am, of course, very precisely describing Catherine’s.

But the perfect foot is not bare. It is shod. The shoe delivers a vital aesthetic transformation. It customizes a part of the body. Whereas the perfect foot allows only one possibility, there are an infinite number of shoes that may be admired and enjoyed. Shoes can be bought, they can be specially made, but the perfect foot is a natural phenomenon like the Grand Canyon or Victoria Falls.
Of course the shoes need to be high-heeled, the higher the better, within reason. I don’t personally feel any need to psychoanalyze the high heel but undoubtedly it makes women stand and walk differently. It raises their buttocks and it makes them wiggle. It makes them look high and mighty, but at the same time it makes them quite vulnerable. It is hard for them to run away. Hence the term “fuck-me shoes,” or FMs as I prefer to call them; i.e., the woman is saying if you can catch me you can fuck me, and, of course, any damn fool can catch a woman in a pair of shoes with six-inch heels.

This does not sound politically correct, I know, indeed it can sound downright misogynistic, but hey, I didn’t invent the term or the concept. As a matter of fact, the first time I ever saw the phrase “fuck-me shoes” in print was in Shelley Winters’ autobiography, Shelley, Sometimes Known as Shirley.

She tells how, in her early career, she and Marilyn Monroe used to steal shoes from the studio to wear dancing. They were high-heeled sandals with a kind of lattice work at the toe and an ankle strap tied in a bow, and she refers to them as fuck-me shoes. She says, “They really were the sexiest shoes I’ve ever seen. Whenever we did pinup photos for the soldiers, we wore them.”

Like Shelley, I’m a great fan of the ankle strap, and even more so of the double ankle strap. I’m absolutely sure this must have something to do with bondage and restraint, and it is echoed in thongs, and even in certain kinds of laces. All of these are very welcome.

Fabrics may vary, but only within certain limits. I tend to like my women’s shoes to be made of something that was once alive: leather or suede, snake or alligator skin, tiger, antelope, or, as in Catherine’s case, zebra. But I am not too dogmatic about this. I also enjoy velvet, silk, and satin. Synthetic fabrics are not a source of pleasure for me. Perspex, plastic, Bakelite, are not on my erotic map, and neither are raffia, wood, or rubber.
Color is again important. My taste is toward strong colors, reds and blacks above all, but purples and blues are fine too. Earth tones, beiges, yellows, and grays really don’t do it, and white shoes are, of course, simply absurd.

I am something of a classicist in my choice of shoes. I like them to be bold and uncluttered. I go for the sweep rather than the telling detail. I like them to be hard-edged, smooth, streamlined. I really don’t have much time for fussiness, for buckles and bows, buttons, beadwork, rhinestones, sequins, artificial flowers. On the other hand I am very prepared to be entertained by a mule, a slingback, a strappy sandal, a fur slipper. Much as I like the straight stiletto, I am still an admirer of the comma heel and the talon choc.

There is, however, a whole category of shoe that is simply unerotic. Included here are the clog, the trainer, the flip-flop, the Dr. Scholl exercise sandal. We need not concern ourselves with these except to note that my dislike of them indicates the extent to which my fetishism is concerned with aesthetics, not with function or proximity. It’s not the idea of the foot or shoe that’s important to me, it’s the reality, the sight, the touch, the form.

I have nothing against boots, whether they run to the ankle, to the calf, the knee, or the thigh, and I’m well aware that a whole category of fetishists worships them. But they fail to work for me simply because they enclose and therefore hide the foot. They conceal the object of desire. This might be a good thing if your sexual partner had ugly feet, I suppose, but how could you live with such a partner? How could you have sex with her?

What a good shoe crucially does, must do, is reveal the foot, enhance and display it, offer a frame and a setting for it. And this is precisely the nature of my erotic obsession. I crave the intersection of art and nature, of the human body and the created object, the foot and the shoe, flesh and leather.

I am not one of those unhealthy fetishists who will curl up at night masturbating into a black silk slingback. I need a female presence to give life to the shoe. And I need a shoe to embellish and fully eroticize the foot.

I must admit that in all these calculations I find myself envisaging a white foot in a dark shoe, and I hope this doesn’t sound racist, or more precisely I suppose “skinist.” Frankly I don’t see why it should. I’m talking about preference here, not prejudice. But a black-skinned foot in a dark shoe lacks contrast and tension, and the same applies to a black foot with dark painted nails. You might then think that a dark foot in a white shoe or with white painted nails might be erotic, but for me those things don’t hit the pleasure centers at all.

There is one area where dark skin is infinitely more dramatic than white and that is in the matter of sperm. White strands and globs of semen standing out against the background of a taut black instep is an immensely powerful and moving image; however, it seems somehow peripheral to the true stuff of foot and shoe fetishism. It may involve a foot, but it is somehow not about that foot.

Rather, for me, the entire nexus of foot and shoe sexuality is emblematized by the peep-toe. Ah, the peep-toe, that most perverse and erotic element of all. The foot is partly concealed by the body of the shoe, but here at its very apex we have a small, circular, inviting orifice. The bare flesh of the big toe is indecently revealed, ready to be touched or kissed, pushing out through this hole, penis-like no doubt, mimicking penetration, glossy, vibrant, cherry red. The erotic charge of the peep-toe is more potent, exciting, and dangerous than anything I know. Catherine wore a lot of peep-toed shoes.

The question of what foot and shoe fetishists do in bed isn’t a particularly complex one. Nor is it difficult to answer. They do everything that everybody else does, but they do one or two other things as well. They (we) use all the techniques and actions and positions that everyone else does, but usually the woman is wearing high heels.

The fetishist will fondle his partner’s feet, of course. He will kiss them, perhaps lick and suck the toes. The woman will run her feet, whether shod or bare, over her partner’s body. Of course, she will concentrate on his erogenous zones, of course she will use her feet to massage his genitals, she may well press her feet into his face.

The practice of taking your partner’s toes in your mouth is known to some people as “shrimping,” and in one sense this seems like rather a good term. The toes do resemble shrimps by virtue of being pink, curled, and soft, and of about the right size. But the word shrimping sounds like a frivolous and silly activity, and when I have a woman’s toes in my mouth, the feeling is anything but frivolous. For me it is a moment of breathtaking, stomach-churning intensity.

In answer to a question Catherine asked right at the beginning, I was able to assure her that I had no desire to be walked on, trodden on, or kicked. There’s a certain undeniable element of self-abasement involved in scrabbling around at a woman’s feet, but humiliation and subjugation are no part of my own sexual profile, although I’m sure there are other foot and shoe fetishists for whom they’re essential.

I think it’s important to say right away that I perceive myself as a serious person. I read newspapers. I follow politics. I try to keep up with the new books and films, plays and exhibitions. In my interactions with the world, in my job (which is dull but responsible), in my tastes and opinions and beliefs, I would say that I’m a substantial and complete and serious person. Yet I can see that there is something profoundly unserious about being a foot and shoe fetishist.

Certain sexual obsessions, let us say an addiction to pain, either given or received, a taste for violation of the self or others, a compulsive attraction toward children or animals or feces, these things carry with them a sense of scale, of drama, of awful consequence, that a love of feet and shoes simply does not.

This is a paradox and occasionally a problem. Here I am, this serious person, seriously obsessed with something that most people are unable to take seriously. Tell people you are obsessed with bondage, and see them react. They may express surprise or shock or disapproval, and this expression may be real or feigned; it may be only an attempt to hide their real feelings, it may be some conditioned response, but either way there is a definite response. They look at you as though you’re talking about something risky and edgy and, yes, serious. But tell them you’re a foot fetishist and they giggle. For them, it’s a joke, it’s funny, it’s not serious sex. Yet for me it is. For me it is the only kind of serious sex.

For a long time I wasn’t sure whether I was a fetishist or a partialist. This is an important distinction. A partialist is someone who likes, who is attracted to, a nice pair of feet or shoes; he enjoys them and they add to his sexual pleasure, but they are not necessary for that pleasure, whereas a true fetishist needs the shoes or feet in order to derive any sexual pleasure at all. The presence of the fetish object is a necessary precondition before sexual activity can even take place.

Personally I’m quite sure that I could make love to a woman who had ordinary or even unattractive feet, or to a woman who was wearing dreary or ugly shoes (so in that sense it might be argued that I’m not a true fetishist at all); but why should I? The bottom line is I really don’t think I could be bothered to make love to a woman whose feet I didn’t find attractive. There are enough pairs of attractive feet and shoes in the world that you simply don’t need to force yourself to make love to someone who doesn’t possess them.

I didn’t always feel this way. I wasn’t always like this. It has been all slide and slippage, a slow ascent or descent, I’m not sure which, on some sexual escalator, or a rudderless drift downstream over treacherous waters, a path of least resistance, not that I would ever have wanted to resist.

I was once more or less orthodox in my relations with women. I went out on dates. I went to parties. I met women in the course of my work and my social life. I talked to them, went out with them, enjoyed their company, went to bed with them, had fun sometimes. It was okay, but it was rarely more than okay. It was usually not quite right. I never found exactly what I was looking for, because for a long time I didn’t know what I was looking for, and even when I did know, there was a time when I wasn’t prepared to admit it.

I had always known that I was attracted to women who had good feet. I knew I liked women who wore good shoes. But I tried to pretend that feet and shoes weren’t my only interests. And to some extent that wasn’t entirely a pretense. I liked women with good breasts and good legs and good minds too. These things were attractive and appealing. I could even see that they were desirable, but they were never necessary.

There was no road-to-Damascus experience about it, no crucial moment, no trauma. I simply decided to concentrate and focus. I gradually realized I’d had enough of all that relationship nonsense. I knew I couldn’t go on the way I had been doing, seeing women who didn’t quite hit the spot, so I decided to take the plunge. I decided to go to hell in a shoe box. I would stop pretending. I would stop being a partialist. I’d go the whole hog and throw myself into proper foot and shoe fetishism. I would stop looking for a woman with a good personality or a good complexion. I would not be averse to these things, but they would be only peripheral pleasures. Feet were what really mattered.

You might think that in doing this I had abandoned a part of my humanity, that being a fetishist involved some kind of demeaning bondage. Wrong. What I felt I had abandoned was all the dead wood, the window dressing. I was getting down to essentials, and for me it was a supreme liberation. When I met a woman, a prospective sexual partner, there would be no more conversations about what films we’d seen, what music we liked, what hopes and plans we had for the future, where we liked to spend our holidays. There would be no more worries about where the relationship was “going.” All I needed was a woman with a great pair of feet. She didn’t even need to have great shoes. I’d be only too happy to provide those for her.

The next step that I took is the only aspect of my obsession that ever actually made me feel ashamed. It was certainly the only thing I ever did that was even remotely illegal. I began to find ways of stealing the shoes from women’s feet. Not quite literally. I didn’t leap on women, knock them to the ground, and rob them. I never used violence; rather, I used a great deal of skill and cunning.

There are certain occasions, certain situations, when women take their shoes off in public. It happens in parks or at the beach, although women rarely wear very exciting shoes when they’re walking on sand or shingle. They also take their shoes off in restaurants or bars, at the theater or cinema. At parties and dances, foot-sore women frequently kick off their shoes and dance in their bare or stockinged feet.

I suppose my greatest advantage in all this was that I didn’t look like the sort of man who would steal women’s shoes. What would such a man look like, in any case? I would saunter past my “victim,” looking innocent but purposeful, as though I had many things on my mind other than women’s shoes. It was surprisingly easy. In parks, the women would be sunbathing with their eyes closed, or engrossed in a book or listening to a personal stereo. In restaurants and bars, they tended to be engrossed in food, drink, and conversation. In the theater or cinema, they were watching the entertainment, although the seating arrangements here often made access very difficult. At parties and dances, the women were partying or dancing. In none of these situations were they expecting to have their shoes stolen. They would be guarding their handbags, their keys, their credit cards, but they would feel quite relaxed about their shoes. And that’s when I used to pounce, swiftly, deftly, expertly. A certain amount of crawling about on the floor was often required, but that went with the territory. I stole the shoes and I was gone. Later I’d imagine the women walking home shoeless, their bare feet exposed to the common gaze, and there was a certain amount of sly pleasure in that too.

If I had taken you to my archive I would have tried to explain all this to you. Perhaps you would be looking at me a little askance by now—Catherine certainly was. But it would be time to press on. I would ask you to select a pair of shoes you liked and I would help you to put them on. You would realize that you were not the first to have worn them, that other women had been here as you were, and I would hope that the thought excited you.

We would enter the inner sanctum, the secret chamber, and I would draw the curtain closed behind us to enclose the space, the walls full of shoes, the ceiling mirrored, the floor lined with deep wool carpet. We would stand at the center and I would undress us both. Perhaps you would have chosen a pair of red leather high-heeled mules with a peep toe. I would kneel at your feet and kiss your flesh where it met the leather, then I would lay you down and fuck you long and intensely and tenderly and no doubt you would look up, look past me, up at the mirrored ceiling, at our surroundings. And undoubtedly you would look at the rows of shoes, and you might think about all the past or future perverse acts these shoes represented. And with my cock inside you, with your feet encased in shoes of your own choosing, I would hope that you would finally be coming very close to understanding me.