Unfortunately, I am on wikiFeet. For those who do not know, wikiFeet is a photo-sharing foot-fetish site dedicated to celebrities’ feet. I found out that I was on it in 2src19, at a time when I would not have described myself as a celebrity. A friend forwarded my rating to me, insisting that I had “made it.” The idea that anyone would invest time and energy ogling my feet was beyond my comprehension, but it was true—I was featured on a Web site that averaged more than ten million visitors a month.
I do not judge the sexual proclivities of members of the wikiFeet community. But, personally, my sexual proclivity is that no one look at my feet, ever. To my horror, I learned that I had a wikiFeet rating of two stars, categorized as “okay feet.” While “okay” is technically not an insult, it is not a compliment, either. I hate my feet. Also, I hate everyone else’s feet. In my humble opinion, feet are just ugly hands, and hands are not that cute to begin with. But, though it’s fine for me to have disdain for my extremities, for strangers to rate my ten toes as anything other than “perfect,” “beautiful,” or possibly “dainty” is a hate crime that should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. This may seem like an irrational reaction, but you are wrong and stupid, and also, shut up!
I am very self-conscious about the way that I look, in part because I am a woman who happens to be conscious. Since birth, every piece of media I have encountered has socialized me to hate all of my body parts. It didn’t help that I was an ugly duckling. As a kid, my hair, which my mother insisted that I chemically straighten, was dry and brittle. Every six to eight weeks, she would slather my head in Just for Me No-Lye Conditioning Crème Relaxer, which burned my scalp. Where my natural hair would leave combs broken in its wake—there is a reason Lil Wayne rapped “tougher than Nigerian hair” in “A Milli”—my relaxed hair would break if a breeze hit it wrong. Worst of all, my hair looked nothing like that of the beaming child on the box, which makes sense—according to a recently trending topic on Twitter, the kids on the boxes did not use the product. When I used it, my hair became too flat and delicate to support hats, which might have been the best remedy for my shame.
I had severe eczema. The skin above my upper lip had darkened with scarring from a bad habit of nervously licking my lips. I looked like I had a Steve Harvey mustache that was impossible to shave. I also had discolored rings around my eyes. Years later, this discoloration would make it appear as if I always had on wispy eyeshadow, but at twelve years old I resembled King Julien, the lemur in “Madagascar.”
I had body odor. As an adult, I am known for smelling as fresh as a tropical beach after a rainstorm, because I surround myself with candles and fragrances. However, when I was a child, I was unfamiliar with the concept of deodorant. For some reason, it had never been explained to me. Not to point any fingers, but my mother refused to buy me products that acknowledged that I had hit puberty, and instead told me to scrub my armpits harder. One issue for a stinky middle schooler is that people will actually remark on your scent. The most memorable conversation about my stinkiness was when my sixth-grade teacher, Mr. [REDACTED], pulled me aside during gym class to ask me if my parents were dead. Confused, but ever cheery, I informed him that they were not. He replied, “Well, then, tell your mother to buy you deodorant.”
I guess that, in Mr. [REDACTED]’s reality, the only logical explanation for my body odor was that I was an orphan whose parents’ death in some freak accident had led to my subsequent neglect. I’m not sure that I would subject an eleven-year-old to such direct questioning about emotional trauma, but public schools are underfunded and sometimes you get what you pay for. Months later, I would get back at Mr. [REDACTED] by constantly reminding the class that he owed us a pizza party that he’d promised us if we had perfect attendance for a week, which, as an underpaid teacher, he probably couldn’t afford—my bad.
I had other insecurities. For example, my clothes. When my mother was not trying to put me in traditional geles (Nigerian head wraps), I wore high-water pants from Marshalls and unlicensed graphic tees featuring not-Disney characters that were just slightly off (e.g., “1src1 Dalmatians” sweatshirts where the dogs were missing their signature spots). When Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” ran up the Billboard charts, I did not have designer sneakers, and instead rocked orthopedic shoes. And I always wore granny panties that hiked up far above my waist, despite Manny Santos from “Degrassi: The Next Generation” empowering a generation of young millennials to wear thongs. All of this resulted in my classmates laughing at me, which, thanks to what my therapist describes as habitual dissociation, I did not process in real time.
None of these things were as difficult as being one of the only dark-skinned kids in my class, from kindergarten through high school. Before I became familiar with the liberal racism that would one day become a theme in my comedy, I learned that even marginalized people have a hierarchy of class and color. When I was in public school, I was one of the only dark people among a sea of fair-skinned Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and Colombians. This would lead to ridicule, as children are both unimaginative and astonishingly rude. Things did not get better in private school, where I was one of the few Black kids in an ocean of Kennedyesque blonds and brunets with inherited wealth.
One time in the fifth grade, Mrs. [REDACTED] prompted me to do a presentation on “my perspective.” I performed a standup routine in which I recited all the nicknames I had been given, such as Darkie and Africa. After my tight five minutes, which I absolutely slayed, my teacher quieted the class down and said, “That is sad.” She then quickly changed the subject, and never acknowledged this “perspective” again (or followed up on the harassment I’d described).
This is a theme in my life. I share funny stories only to have my audience emphatically warn me never to repeat them. Here’s a funny story that is actually sad. To celebrate Grandparents’ Day, my second-grade teacher, Mrs. [REDACTED], asked her students to draw things that we liked to do with our grandparents. All of my grandparents were already dead, information that I politely relayed to my teacher, only for her to insist that I draw an image of what I would do with my grandparents if they were still alive. I drew a picture of four angels pushing me on a swing. I find this hilarious, though it’s a story that friends tell me not to repeat. And now it’s in print forever!
But back to my feet. I thought that I was ugly for a very long time and then, suddenly, I found myself on wikiFeet, against my will, in the form of a photo of me from college, on a Lake Michigan beach, in a peach bathing suit from Forever 21. I remember posing for it and purposefully burying my toes in the sand to try to conceal them. I was not hiding my feet from the world; I was protecting the world from my feet. But the sand failed me, resulting in the one photo on social media in which I had not cropped out my feet entirely.