Ugly feet, bruised knees and other badges of honor

There is no getting around it – I have gross feet.

I don’t mean that my feet are gross in that vague way that most feet are gross – because seriously, even the cleanest feet are very gross – but in very specific ways.  I have had a pedicurist refuse to work on my feet.  She took one look at my second toenail, all black and purple and puffy, and said, “Maybe we can slot you in for a haircut instead?”  My dermatologist, during my annual skin check, ran his fingers along the tops of my toes and said, “You’ve got a lot of callouses here…are you a runner?”

The grossness first made itself known when I started training for my first half-marathon.  Suddenly I noticed blisters forming on the inside of my foot, and that blisters formed on top of those blisters, which then formed on top of those blisters, sort of like a Russian nesting doll, except with skin and pus.  (Which I guess is not at all like a Russian nesting doll, but anyway.)  As my mileage increased, more callouses formed on the outside of my feet and beneath the balls of my feet.  No amount of apricot scrub or fancy foot-soak salts could cut through the coral reef of dead skin that had formed around my feet.

And of course, I have lost toenails.  Three of them, to be exact.  It’s always a slightly alarming then when you realize you can lift up a nail and see the virgin skin beneath – always makes me think of those horrifying nail-fungus commercials, where the animated fungi lift up the disgusting toenail like a grotesque trap door.  That ad makes me want to puke every time I see it, so you can imagine how I feel when I see my feet re-enacting the commercial.  I’ve become really good at pulling on my big girl panties and trimming them back without whimpering (too much).

I like to say my feet are my Dorian Gray situation – my feet get uglier as the rest of me gets fitter.  My calves look amazing; my feet, not so much.

Yet I would never, ever get rid of my callouses, nor would I go out of my way to avoid losing more toenails.  The callouses – as ugly and rough as they are – protect my feet from further blistering, which is essential when I’m trying to push my mileage up into the 25+ mile per week range.  The lost toenails…well, I wear appropriately sized shoes and good socks, but there are some things you can’t avoid when you run marathon distances, and lost toenails are one of those things.

Would I trade having run a marathon if it meant getting my toenail back?  Fuck no!

Those lost toenails and all of my callouses are my badges of honor, the proof that I have put in the miles and the sweat equity necessary to call myself a runner.  They are physical evidence of psychological toughness.  You look at my feet and you know you are talking to a lady who straps on a pair of running shoes and hits the road several times a week.  You may be able to buy the gear of a runner, but you can’t buy the feet.

I feel this way about the callouses on my hands, which I’ve developed over the course of five years of weight training, and I used to feel this way about the bruises that bloomed like Impressionist paintings on my knees and thighs when I’d dive and roll for digs as a high school volleyball player.

I’m sure most athletes feel this way.  Basketball players have court burns, skateboarders have road rash, roller derby players get all bruised up.  Even my best friend Brandi, who pole-dances, has bruises on her thighs and feet.  Our willingness to get hurt in pursuit of our chosen sport belies a deeper truth, which is that we are tough and we play hard and we’ll do it at the cost of our superficial femininity.

Ladies aren’t supposed to have rough feet and hands, and they aren’t supposed to have scabbed knees and bruised elbows.  We are supposed to keep ourselves soft and blemish-free, to keep ourselves pleasing to the eyes of others.   But we athletic ladies say, I’m not some flower to decorate your world.  We say, screw your desire to look at something pretty. We are going to do what makes us feel good and what makes us feel alive.

We may not look pretty, but damn if we aren’t awesome.

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5 responses to “Ugly feet, bruised knees and other badges of honor

  1. Right on… who wants a sissy girl that you always have to look out for anyway. I will take a gal with cuts, bruises and ugly feet over a doll I have to wait an hour for to go to the grocery store any day of the week!

  2. Ithink your “ugly”feet are plain beautiful。。。

  3. I’m not very athletic (although I started biking recently, and sincerely enjoy that, but I’m more of a sit-inside-and-read-or-obssessively-watch-Doctor-Who-or-kick-butt-at-Mario-Kart kind of girl) but this article helped me in a different way. I’m 16 years old and inherited cystic acne from both parents, who each inherited it from both of their parents, all of whom inherited it from their parents. My acne is genetic, it is deep, it is inflamed, it is ALL over, and though it is MUCH MUCH clearer than it was even a year ago, it is still very bad. And while I love almost every other aspect of my body, from my pouchy belly to my rotund thighs and rear to my size A breasts, I have always despised my skin. Less so now (I am currently two months away from completing my year without makeup, a personal mission I set myself in order to help myself begin to like my skin again; it worked, but I still find it hard to look in the mirror a lot of the time), but I still pass my reflection in a window and feel embarassed and ashamed, even though I know how ridiculous it is to be ashamed of something I have no control over, even though I know that it is nobody else’s business what my skin looks like, and they have know right to decide how it should look, I still can’t stop myself from smearing on some foundation whenever I feel it looks particularly bad, cringing at my reflection when I wake up in the morning, refusing to wear tank tops or low-backed swimsuits without a t-shirt on top because my acne covers not only my face and neck, but my shoulders, back, and chest as well. Some days I don’t mind it. Some days I even like it. But those days are few and far between, and I’ll be honest: most days I hate it.

    But your post helped me realize something. I’m still halfway through puberty. My body is working hard to take a long, lanky, bony child and shape her into a beautiful, fully-formed woman. Hormones are raging, oils are being produced. A few years from now, I’ll look at myself and realize that puberty is over. I know I’ll still get breakouts (my parents still do, my grandparents do, and my great-grandmother did until the day she died), but the hormones will slow down, my skin will clear up. And I’ll have scars. And they’ll probably be pretty embarassing. But they’ll also be proof that I’m a woman; that I got through puberty, that I managed to struggle through years of shame and embarassment and social awkwardness and wondering what woman I’d turn out to be. And right now they’re proof that I still am that person, that for me the struggle is still going on. They’re proof of my genetic attachment to my parents; they’re proof of the late nights studying and reading with my flashlight under they covers. They’re proof of the fun I’m having: the cheeseburgers I’m eating, the sodas I’m drinking, the mounds of makeup I slather on when I’m getting ready to perform a play or am putting on some sort of ridiculous costume. They’re a part of who I am, and they always will be, and reading your post helped me be a little bit more okay with that.

    I know this comment is sort of a blog in and of itself, but I really wanted to let you know that you’ve helped me, because even though I don’t think your original intention was to speak to hormonal teenagers with bad acne, you did. I consider myself a feminist, and among my friends I am the body image warrior. But I have my struggles, and it’s posts like these that are helping me get through them. Thank you so, so much.

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