The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


Why do we even bother to read palms? Feet are so much more revealing. --Elizabeth Kastor (1994:30)
Most women think they have ugly feet. --Sharilyn Abbajay, general manager, Elizabeth Arden salon (Chevy Chase, Maryland; Roberts 1995:D1)

Smart parts1. The terminal end organs below the legs, used for standingwalkingdance, and display (see FOOTWEAR). 2. Those body parts which a. make direct contact with the earth and ground, b. reveal dominance and submission by toeing out or toeing in, respectively (see SHOULDER-SHRUG DISPLAYConstituents); c. link to sexual modules of the brain's sensory parietal lobe (as expressed, e.g., in foot fetishism); d. inadvertently point toward or angle away from liked or disliked individuals, respectively; and e. throughmen's and women's shoes, mark gender, identity, and status.

Usage: Like our hands, our feet are neurologically gifted. As smart parts and sensory feelers, e.g., they are well connected to diverse areas of the brain. Feet are sexually expressive and sensitive, as well, through proximity to sensory nerves of the genitalia (toes and genitals abut on the sensory homunculus [Willis 1998C; see below, Neuro-notes]). For these reasons, feet are highly expressive organs which play a major role in nonverbal communication throughout the world.

Anatomy. The oldest human footprints have the same platform-and-lever design as modern feet. Between the sturdy heel bone and little toe is a stout 5th metatarsal bone which evolved as a platform. Today, it carries the weight while the body is standing. The early 1st metatarsal, on the foot's inner side (between the heel and big toe) also thickened--for walking. Today, the 1st metatarsal enables us to push off as we step, and forms part of the foot's cushioning arch, which is accented in high heel shoes and comforted insneakers. (N.B.: 25% of all bones of the human body are in the feet.)

Anthropology. Abruptly in Africa (i.e., ca. four m.y.a.), after descending from trees to the savannah grasslands, human beings began walking upright. Hands were no longer needed for travel, and fingers were liberated to continue their (primate) evolution as super-sensitive tactile antennae. At the same time--despite their own tactile savvy and prehensile IQ--feet were sentenced to bipedal "foot duty." (N.B.: While our hands advanced, our feet were grounded.)

Anthropometry. Mean foot breadth averages 3.5" in women, and 3.9" in men; length averages 9.5" and 10.7", respectively (Kantowitz and Sorkin 1983:494-95).

Archaeology. Evidence for human feet dates back ca. 3.5 m.y.a. to the tracks of three upright ancestors (probably australopithecines) who strolled across a bed of volcanic ash on the east-African savannah, in what is now Laetoli, Tanzania. The footprints are nearly identical to those of modern humans.

Embryology. In the womb, human feet resemble the grasping feet of monkeys and apes. (N.B.: Though earthbound, our feet never outgrow their innate ability to reach out and touch.) Lagging behind hands, lower-limb buds form by the end of the 4th week of life. By week seven, digital rays appear on the buds (which resemble fleshy paddles). By week eight toes separate through a process of programmed cell death. Between the 5th and 12th weeks, muscles enter from outside the growing limbs as bones and tendons form inside them. Like creeping vines, nerves grow into the lower extremities and cable the feet to multiple sites in the brain, and at three months, a human fetus can wiggle its toes.

Media. The following movies cast feet in sexually expressive cameo roles: 1. Bull Durham (Kevin Costner, nude, paints Susan Sarandon's toenails); 2. Goodbye, Columbus (sitting on her bed, Ali MacGraw polishes her toes and talks dirty to Richard Benjamin); 3. Lolita (James Mason gives Sue Lyon a pedicure in a seedy motel); and 4. Overboard (Goldie Hawn receives a pedicure on her yacht from her butler, Roddy McDowall; Roberts 1995 [see below, Neuro-notes]).

Paleontology. Originating as pelvic fins for water travel, feet evolved into the five-digit extremities which enabled the earliest amphibians and reptiles to walk and run, and to paddle through ancient seas. By ca. 70 m.y.a., as the first primates took to the trees, feet became touch-sensitive and skilled for climbing and grasping, and, later, for handling objects, such as insects and fruit (though the hands remained superior in dexterity and manipulative skill). (N.B.: Because they were more agile and neurologically better connected, early primate feet were "smarter" than the feet of their mammalian ancestors.)

Space. A left foot was the first human body part on the Moon. On Sunday, July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong planted his left boot on the fine, powdery lunar surface, at 10:39 PM (EDT). "Still holding on [to the Lunar Module], he stretched out his toe and dragged it backward several times, furrowing the soft ground [i.e., he palpated the plain]" (Chaikin 1994:209).

E-Commentary I: "Feet position and action often correlate with how we feel, i.e., happy feet when we are excited; dangling high heel shoes when we are in a seductive or playful mood; unmoving when we want to be left alone. For example, I have noticed that when two people are talking, their feet mimic each other; when a third person arrives, if they don't wish this person to partake, they will turn at the waist and greet, but their feet remain fixed. If the third person is liked, the original two usually will move their feet and create a comfortable openness, so that they can form a triangle. I have also noticed that jurors often move their feet and point them to the door when they don't like an attorney as he is presenting." --J.N., FBI (4/20/00 7:22:29 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

E-Commentary II: "I work for a radio magazine programme called "Outlook" at the BBC World Service. I am producing a special programme about feet--their physiology, role, history, and other interesting aspects and stories about people's feet. Your organisation sounds very interesting. I'd be very grateful if you could help out with any interview/feature suggestions or get in touch with me about this as soon as possible." ?Producer, Outlook, BBC World Service (9/21/00 5:12:18 AM Pacific Daylight Time)

Neuro-notes. Fewer human beings are strongly right-footed (46%) than strongly right-handed (72%). The foot bottom has the thickest skin of any body part (ca. an eighth of an inch). Yet despite their natural padding and cushioning layer of fat, feet are extremely sensitive. They have more tactile nerves than the back, legs, arms, or shoulders, and take up more room on the sensory, parietal neocortex (the SI cortex) than the entire torso (see HOMUNCULUS; toes and genitalia are neural neighbors on the parietal sensory strip). That feet are so well connected to the brain explains why they "think" and "speak" like (and seemingly crave the attention of) hands.