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 kinda 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 feet seem to be the 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 cheese); we don’t have to look at them too often in the mirror unless we’re trying on new boots; &, they’re in the perfect location for fun (& functional) accessorizing.
Feet: 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 two hind limbs, first, in the trees & then, on the ground (& maybe in boggy estuaries, too). Numerous narratives speculate about why some arboreal apes ventured down from the trees 6-8 million years ago. A common thread in these theories is that our hungry primate ancestors responded to a changing environment by [literally] walking into an unexploited environmental niche, allowing them to obtain food both in the shrinking tropical rain forests as well as along the expanding grasslands on the edges of the forests.
Bipedal walking was the “prime trigger of human evolution” [Stephen Jay Gould]: it freed up our forelimbs & paws to carry things & eventually to manipulate tools, & made precious energy available for other uses – most notably, our eventually-expanding brains. Walking also forced our early ancestors to figure out, with the help of family & friends, how to birth & survive with their smaller, helpless, ‘underdeveloped’ infants (still a common problem due to mama’s narrower hips & baby’s larger head).
By about 2 million years ago, our fully bipedal ancestors walked on highly-functional & much-modified feet, connected with their longer legs (via also-modified but, it seems to me, not-quite-so-functional ankles & knees), realigned hips, & a curved spine, which now held their head comfortably in an upright position (…all the better to talk with, somewhere down the line). The big toe (hallux), which functions & looks like a grasping thumb in our closest chimp & bonobo cousins, retains a starring role in human feet as the key mechanism of propulsion for our energy-efficient mode of locomotion. It’s what eventually allowed for evolution of the 7 billion of us alive today.
But hey, back to me! I’m thankful when my beloved feet are working properly, & agonize when they’re not. I love that there are ancient medical disciplines entirely focused on the foot (& hand). I wonder at the period in Chinese history when, in order to distinguish between social classes, Chinese culture uniquely went in the direction of binding female feet such that walking was nearly impossible. Personally, I take great strides (accompanied by many hours of putting my feet up) toward trying to maintain my balance & stay grounded.
& happily, in this moment, I’ve got new boots on & they’re (you guessed it -) made for walking.