Did you know the first reference to foot fetish dates back to Ancient Greece? The earliest mention is by the Greek poet Philostratus. His aptly titled collection of poems called “To a Barefoot Woman and To a Barefoot Boy” pays homage to feet.
Mention of Feet in European History
Additionally, the first historical reference to foot fetishism in the West was by a Franciscan preacher. Bertold of Regensburg (1220-1272) may have mentioned feet play primarily because of the disease scares of the 1200s. Foot-related sexual play is known to have become historically famous during the gonorrhea epidemic of 12th-century Europe.
Moreover, later events like the syphilis epidemics of the 16th and 19th centuries in Europe and the modern AIDS epidemic of the 21st may also have contributed to the inclusion of feet in sexual play. This type of practice may have been seen as a safer alternative to traditional intercourse during these periods.
Writing from the 19th century shows that foot fixations were a part of daily life. In part, it was propelled by the popularity of physiognomy. Many practitioners of this pseudo-science claimed they could diagnose character by studying feet.
Feet in Writing and Dance
Writing published in La Belle Assemblée or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine in 1825 by a writer named ‘Philopedes’ goes
”if you may know a man from the bumps on his skull, the wrinkles on his face, or the characters of his hand-writing, so you may know him from the shape and outline of his FEET.”
One of the main reasons for the prevalence of foot fetishes is that it accounts for nearly half of all fetishes associated with body parts. Moreover, one-third of all fetishists have a fetish for footwear, meaning it existed even back then.
In his work ‘Balletomania,’ dance historian Walter Sorell writes about the obsession with ballet dancers’ feet. For example, in 1845, a Russian dance enthusiast purchased shoes belonging to the famous nineteenth-century ballerina Maria Taglioni. The dancer was leaving Russia for France.
And for her farewell dinner, the main dish served was Taglioni’s own ballet slippers which, expertly cooked, were filled with a special sauce. According to scholars, the “diners engaged in a quasi-sacramental eating of the flesh-covered ballerina’s shoe.”
The ceremonial “eating” of a woman’s foot shows that feet fetishes were a part of culture even before the modern era. It is only in recent decades that this phenomenon has become more mainstream. In fact, these days, you can visit sites like Feetfinder and purchase feet pics of your choice!
Feet in Chinese Culture
Compared to the West, Asian and especially Chinese culture demonstrated a high degree of obsession with feet. In fact, in China, the famous practice of the “three-inch golden lotus” feet of women is said to have lasted more than a millennia.
According to historical evidence, there were over 58 types of foot-binding methods by the 18th century in China. The process of binding women’s feet to prevent them from growing reeks of feet fixation. Modern studies interpret this practice in several ways. However, the commentary on the social mobility of feet seems the most appropriate.
This theory explains the Chinese practice of foot binding to be linked to a desire for social movement in women. A woman with bound feet was believed to send a signal that she was aristocratic enough to be used to a sedentary lifestyle. Since this practice makes walking painful, the practitioners had to relegate themselves to low-mobility labor like looms, weaving, and more.
Whatever the reasoning, China’s lotus feet women are a sign that feet have been fetishized and exoticized for a long time.
The Effect of Footwear
Along with feet, footwear, i.e., shoes, also have a significant role in feet fetishes. The famous Cinderella fairytale archetypes, in fact, initially appeared in early Egyptian texts. Chinese works dating back to the 9th century also show a similar structure featuring a woman with tiny feet.
Because of these associations, shoes must also be considered when studying the history of feet fetishes. Footwear can be a sign of sexual preferences. For example, the shoes that Vincent Van Gogh painted in 1886, called ‘A Pair of Shoes,’ is one of the most debated pieces in the world. Martin Heidegger’s ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ even put it, ‘‘The artwork lets us know what shoes are in truth.’’
Causes of Foot Fetishes
But what exactly is the reason behind the development of foot fetishes? Based on historical evidence, the Pavlovian theory seems most appropriate. This take hinges on the effect of conditioning and reinforcement.
For example, a sexual experience during a crucial phase in a person’s life may have led them down the path of feet play. In the case of existing historical evidence, feet fetishes may have grown as more people added feet into their sexual routines. As mentioned, the outbreaks of sexually transmitted diseases forced people to seek non-conventional techniques. These practices may have caused feet fetishes to become more mainstream.
Additionally, psychoanalytical reasoning behind feet fetishes states that this phenomenon may be caused by experiences in early childhood. For example, Sigmund Freud developed a theory that children took feet for phallic symbols during their childhood stage. According to him, the foot fetish emerged because they mistook feet as a substitute for the penis.
In Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Freud made classically Freudian notes on the subject. About the development of the phenomenon in young children, he had to say that, “The foot replaces the penis which is so much missed in the woman….in conformity with infantile expectation, the female genital was hereby imagined as a male genital.”