Monday, February 3, 2014

Smell My Feet

This winter has posed a particular stinker of a problem for me: how do I keep my feet warm, but still pleasant?

The world is full of real problems, and a cold winter compounds them: homelessness, hunger, and human suffering all move from horrible to crisis when the weather turns frigid. I'm not going to pretend that I am not extremely lucky to have a warm place to live, food to eat, and access to everything I need to be healthy and functional when the cold hits. Yes, I am extremely, extremely fortunate.

I will disclose, though, in a way that women are never, ever supposed to disclose unpleasant things, like chin-hair plucking or using the bathroom in any way, that my feet do not smell like roses, and this bitter winter is making the problem particularly tricky to solve.

When puberty hit, and every kid took their turn discovering that deodorant was their new best friend, a strange thing happened to me: I never needed it. I started using it primarily because I felt like I was supposed to do this "adult thing"—the gym locker room is a great hotbed of peer pressure and self-judgement—and because I got used to the wonderful effects of antiperspirant, especially in schools that a) did not have air conditioning and b) had a ban on wearing shorts, so we were always sweating like maniacs. I've never stopped using deodorant, but I really could—I promise I am not fooling you when I say that my armpits do not stink.

Now, this should just be a given, because as we know, ladies always smell like roses and dreams and soft spring breezes, just naturally. Why else would the leading brand of ladies' deodorant be called. "Secret," as in "it's our little secret that this chemical paste is what really smells powder fresh."

With millions of dollars spent on advertising, the cat is out of the bag on underarm sweat: we can all gracefully admit that body odor exists across gender lines. Personally, I find the fact that I am not one of the vast majority on this front kind of freaky.

Here's my little secret, one that has no commercials featuring ladies gracefully cruising across a finish line, or piloting a plane without a bead of sweat crossing their brow, or looking fabulous at a fancy dinner: some ladies have feet that stink. This lady foot-stink is not the least bit tempered by feminine virtue: it is like something that is being cultured in a bioweapon-development lab, or like a whole NFL locker-room right after the Superbowl. I own a pair of these feet, for I have the genetic gift of podiatric swamp stench.

Where's my special girly foot deodorant, with a lotus flower and the promise of becoming a feminine super-heroine on the package?

Over the years I have learned about how to make this problem less onerous, mostly through trial and error (read: embarrassment and humiliation), but also by talking to other relatives gifted with this trait. Natural fibers for socks only. Rotate shoes often—never wear a pair more than two days in a row. Look for foot deodorizing powders that don't cake or stain. Wear crocs as slippers, as they aren't as toasty (read: sweaty) as fuzzy varieties. Look for words like "wicking" in all foot-related purchases. Think like a man, because the girly stuff is pretty, but it meets none of the critical hygiene requirements.

Because my feet run hot like the engine of a sports car, they are sweaty quickly. You'd think that getting my feet even more wet, with precipitation, for example, would make things better, not worse, as it would wash some of the sweat away. Nope. I've learned I must never, under any circumstance, get my feet wet inside my shoes (yes, my feet are a bit like gremlins,) lest I want my shoes to become tiny steam engines billowing death-spray. Back in the nineties, when I was at my first real job, and wearing the clunky, chunky leather shoes that were as popular as the "Rachel" haircut, I learned what can happen when my prone-to-stink feet get wet in my shoes during an outing with my coworkers. We were running on Connecticut Avenue to get to the car, the appointment, the meeting—I don't remember—but my big leather shoes were submerged in a puddle. On the ride home, with five people crammed in a colleague's cramped Toyota, people started to wonder WHO HAD DIED in the car. Was there a rodent decomposing in the vents? A corpse hidden in the trunk? I was too young and embarrassed to admit it was just my feet, but I could join them in opening windows and breathing as little as possible.

Winter is always tricky for me, as I don't have three pairs of boots to swap around, and boots, in general, are too warm for my feet. Boots with really good treads, so that I don't spend the entire season falling on my keister, can often have polyester nightmare fillings, turning swamp feet into tiny kilns. (Need to fire that mug you've been working on in pottery class? Stick it in my boot!) Winter is also the season of constantly battling wetness in the shoes, either by getting snow inside my boots outside (rare), or getting slush on my socks while taking off my boots once inside, thus activating my least glamorous scent. Everywhere you go in the winter, taking off your shoes is a must, and I have to admit, whenever I show up at someone's house and I must take my boots off before going inside, I gulp and pray that I won't be in for a smelly surprise to share with the crowd.

This winter has presented a new kind of challenge. It has been so cold, with no break, for so long, that for the first time in a very long time, my feet are getting cold. Really cold. Cold enough to take out the fuzzy slippers that I was given as a Christmas present years ago, but never wear because they make my ankles and arches boil within five minutes. I am now in uncharted territory, trying to constantly swap between foot-gear that keeps me from smelling like a monster, and cozier items that keep my toes from falling off.

So, friends, if I show up at your place this February, and you suspect that the stench may be rising (mixed with lavender to dampen the blow), I apologize in advance. I'm fighting it the best I can, I promise. If I make it through the winter without frostbite on my extremities, I promise to wear breezy no-smell sandals without socks for as long as I possibly can.

Hang in there, stinkers. The groundhog says you have to work overtime.


  1. I was reminded during our visit this Christmas that having constantly wet feet is the WORST thing about winter. My boots, which I thought were perfectly good in California, turned out to be totally leaky, and my feet quickly got all shrively and painful and gross. That Midwest winter thing is not for the dainty, I'll tell you what.

  2. If you ever lose electrical energy in a thunderstorm light a candlestick in order to perk up your house, california scents though the very same simply just can't be completed with the air flow freshener.