I just finished Nora Ephron‘s book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, a.k.a. “I Hate My Neck”. Omg, I hate my neck too: “You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is, but you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck.” (p.5) I actually used to feel kind of proud of my long neck, but be forewarned – a long neck is a definite disadvantage as one puts on the years. Can’t say I’m exactly fond of my other, gravity-responsive body parts either.
But, I love my feet. Pedicures & foot massages, aahh… have you noticed that they’re also a body’s main temperature control organ? Feet don’t sag (or at least we’re too far above them to observe that very often); they don’t seem to have fat cells that (unlike the belly) become noticeable anytime we eat a sinfully delicious food (i.e., bucheron goat cheese); we don’t have to look at them too often in the mirror unless we’re trying on new shoes; &, they’re in the perfect location for fun (& of course utilitarian) accessorizing (i.e. new shoes).
AND – they’re our special human primate bipedal walking paws. One of the big mysteries of human evolution is what aspects of natural selection were at work when our ancestors started moving around upright more often, on their two hind limbs, in the trees & then, on the ground (& maybe in boggy water too). Because bipedalism is what eventually allowed for so many of the features that are hallmarks of the human primate we are today: use of our other two limbs to carry food & babies & to manipulate tools; symbolic language; ‘underdeveloped’ neonates & the necessity of assisted birthing, etc etc.
There are numerous narratives about why our ancestors moved out of the trees. A common thread in most of these theories is that our primate ancestors were responding to a changing environment by literally moving into an unexploited environmental niche where they could take advantage of resources both in the (shrinking) forests as well as on the edges of the forests.
Eventually, over the course of about 4 million years of evolution, our fully bipedal ancestors of about 2 million years ago walked on highly functional & much modified feet linked (via correspondingly but it seems to me not-quite-so-advanced ankles & knees) with their longer legs, realigned hips, & a curved spine which now held the head comfortably in an upright position. The big toe (hallux), which functioned & looked like a grasping thumb in our common ancestor with chimpanzees, now held a key role as an organ of propulsion for this significantly more energy-efficient mode of primate locomotion. Our ancestors’ feet & legs were apparently already pretty much like they are today by the time their evolution took the leap toward larger brains & eventually, toward language & symbolic reasoning.
So where does this leave our beloved feet, in this precious moment? Speaking for myself, I’m thankful when they’re working properly, & agonize when they’re not. There are ancient medical disciplines entirely focused on the foot (& hand). In order to distinguish between classes, Chinese culture for a while uniquely went in the direction of binding female feet such that walking was nearly impossible. In the marketplace, we vote with our feet (although now increasingly with computer-aided forelimb digits), &, speaking again for myself, I take great strides (accompanied by many naps) toward trying to maintain balance & stay grounded in difficult times.
Right now, I’ve got my new boots on & they’re (you guessed it) – made for walking.