Perhaps no sexual proclivity seems more quintessentially fetish than an interest in feet. A professed favorite of countless questionable male celebrities, from Quentin Tarantino to Pharrell to Elvis, the foot is both literally and figuratively an extension of the sex drive—attractive yet disgusting, totally natural yet completely strange. As the Romantic Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote in the introduction to the novel Eugene Onegin, there is just something about the fleshy-yet-bony protrusions on which we walk, step, jump, and dance. "Diana's breast or Flora's cheek / Are enchanting, friends, I find! / Yet Terpsichore's foot I'd seek / Far more enchanting, to my mind."
The foot fetish is not exactly normalized, but it's no longer taboo, either. Despite the proliferation of listicles of history's many famous foot lovers and advice columns beginning "So your boyfriend has a foot fetish…" podophilia exists in a transitional area between vanilla and kink. Unlike an insatiable desire to inseminate yourself with alien eggs or fuck your dog, loving feet is not inherently dangerous. Depending on how you like them and what you like about them, they are also fairly accessible, especially in summer months, warmer climates, and the realm of strappy-sandal-wearing celebrities.
This last was the seed for wikiFeet, the most extensive online message board and photo gallery of women's feet on the Internet. Started by Eli Ozer, a 36-year-old programmer living in Tel Aviv, in 2008, the site now boasts over three million unique visitors per month, over 50,000 active users, and a robust—if politically complicated—community of foot enthusiasts who range from casual appreciators of aesthetics to hardcore masturbators living lives of constant sole searching.
In many ways, wikiFeet is like any other message board holdout of the mid-00s: The interface is Windows-esque and not really helpful; the atmosphere, in the words of one experienced user, is like a "boys 6th-grade locker room." But in others, wikiFeet, which declares itself "probably the largest celebrity feet database EVER!!," is an anomaly, a sprawling digital heel-scape ruled by a man one user called a "megalomaniac."
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The first thing you notice about wikiFeet is that there are a lot of photos, ranked on a scale of zero ("ugly feet") to five stars ("beautiful feet") but not particularly organized. All the photos come from users, and although you may wonder how it's possible that there exists a place where you can view thousands of slightly varied pictures of Jennifer Lawrence and her feet—and how people are consistently interested in looking at all of them—it is best to take this for a given. wikiFeet users, both registered and casual, derive joy from both browsing and uploading photos, and that is how the site has succeeded, steadily, for long enough that Ozer is able to earn his living from it.
But while wikiFeet is, in many ways, self-explanatory—it's a foot appreciation website—it is also governed by a logic specific to Ozer. One thing is clear from the beginning: Photos are not supposed to be sexual. On the site's homepage, a small-fonted but direct disclaimer states the three rules of wikiFeet: 1) "We only allow opening galleries for women over 17 who are listed on IMDb"; 2) "We do not allow uploading copyrighted pictures without the copyright owner's consent"; 3) "We do not allow uploading adult content of any kind. Uploading such content will get you banned!" Nittier, grittier guidelines for posting photos and comments exist, and they are enforced by the Guild, a group of elite members that anyone can join, but the basic principles are thus: Don't be creepy, don't be illegal, don't be horny.
Despite the uproarious success of the site, which persists despite the admittedly out-of-date design, users say no real competitors have popped up to take its place. "wikiFeet has a better and easier user interface," one frequent uploader, Visualizer, told me over Reddit private message. "It's got the biggest variety, and the best uploaders. Google a celeb's name followed by 'feet'—there is only really one site out there."
Ozer started the site because of such a hole in the market. "I liked female feet from a very young age and found it very difficult to locate pictures of celebrity feet online," he told me over email. "It started as a personal collection. A way for me to store and share my *finds* and potentially allow others to do the same." As these things typically go, Ozer didn't realize his little celebrity foot gallery would become a double-exclamation-marked success. While it hasn't changed that much since 2008, the site can now send you email alerts when a user uploads a new photo of a celebrity or posts on a particular wall, and in 2013, Ozer added shoe size and nationality features.
Today, there is not much inherently interesting about an online celebrity foot forum frequented primarily by men, except for the fact that it's a very large forum and explicitly non-sexual. Many users, and Ozer himself, say they aren't really "foot fetishists"—they just like feet. "My aim is to set wikiFeet apart from foot fetish sites," Ozer said. "I strongly believe that you can admire beautiful feet for their aesthetic nature, just like you do a beautiful face or beautiful hands."
Indeed, while it is certainly easy to refer to wikiFeet as a "foot fetish" site, many of its users qualify, or flat-out reject, the term. "I would say, yes, I have a foot fetish," said AbercrombieandFeet, another wikiFeet user I met on Reddit. "I enjoy looking at many types of women's feet and can appreciate a good pair, but I have never really followed up on the sexual side. I am sort of open with my girlfriend about it; I pay for her to have twice-monthly pedis so her feet are always pretty. She enjoys the frequent shoe gifts."
"I don't have a foot fetish per se," another user, BackinBlack60, told me over the phone. "I like that as part of really anything feminine. I'm just into women and everything about them, pretty much, but I get upset when I see a picture that goes down to the ankles—I want to see the whole thing. And I also am interested in fashion, so I like shoes and high heels and dresses. I love red carpet pictures."
"I find beautiful female feet a turn-on," another user, Grik, said. "I don't use feet as objects of sexual desire. I lick, kiss, suck toes, etc., but I don't wank over a pic of a foot."
The dudes that are fastidious about shoe sizes are deviates to me.
Yet despite this apparent wholesomeness, the world of wikiFeet is often calloused and rough. Although Ozer created wikiFeet's content moderation system, known as "the Guild," in February 2014 in an attempt to fight rampant "trolling"—people would write posts about using deli slicers on feet, storing disembodied feet in freezers, and breaking ankles, BackinBlack60 said—many users still complain, about persistent trolling and a lack of autonomy.
According to Caitie, a wikiFeet member of about six years who calls herself "the First Lady of the Guild," "Wikifeet's trolls are a whole other breed altogether. We have a contingent of people (lead by one user, Grik) who believe that there aren't people behind these screen names and that 'anything should go because this is just a foot fetish site and we should lighten up,' so that gives him carte blanche to say and do whatever he wants (including implying that any picture of a woman bending over is 'Ready for Grik,' a saying that has since been banned on this site)."
Indeed, while Grik is one of the site's top five uploaders from the last 30 days—he's put up 1146 photos in that time—the proportion of those photos that have been "reported" as being in violation of the site's guidelines is high—13.61 percent. Other top uploaders have report rates around one percent, though an all-time uploader, NaughtyDawg, has had 34.04 percent of his 37,834 photos reported.
"WikiFeet is a collaborative site, so picture quantity is rarely a problem," Ozer says. "Quality, however, is a whole different matter."
In 2014, Ozer developed a reporting system, based on specific guidelines, that allows any registered member to report a picture or vote for it to be removed. If you browse wikiFeet, you'll notice signs of this system; certain posts are flagged with red messages that say things like, "Reported: Duplicate. Is it justified?" Only Ozer has the power to remove a post once it is live, but Guild members are tasked with surveying and identifying potentially problematic posts before he gets to it. Posts may get reported for a number of reasons; these include, in Ozer's words, "duplicate pictures, pictures uploaded to the wrong gallery, poor quality, pics that don't show feet, pictures of underage celebs, copyrighted pictures, and adult content." A recent debate over a photo of Emma Stone's feet exemplifies the sort of unsexy arguments that might take place over a questionable post: For a picture to warrant posting on the site, Ozer says, "It has to show either toes, soles, or arches." When some users tagged a photo of Stone's feet as "NFS" ("No Feet Showing"), it was eventually removed for violating these guidelines. "I can't really blame anyone for reporting it or voting for its removal," Ozer said of the photo. "As you can see, Emma wears closed-toe shoes that barely show arches or toe cleavage."
The difference between an ideal photo and a photo that merits reporting is big, but some users don't get it. "Some guidelines aren't as intuitive as others," Ozer says, and this is where the Guild comes in. Arguments and factions break out over issues like the Emma Stone photo. AbercrombieandFeet told me he would never meet anyone from wikiFeet in real life because "there would be a bloodbath"; he also mentioned one user who was "considered the site's pervert for his love of 17yr feet." The importance of shoe size—"the dudes that are fastidious about shoe sizes are deviates to me," Grik said—is another hot topic, as is the presence of shoes at all; some users prefer the purity of barefoot.
Another problem happens when unsuspecting women find their piggies on wikiFeet. According to Ozer, any woman with an IMDb page—"the only celebrity database I knew in 2008"—can end up on wikiFeet, but that's not totally true; the spotty community moderation system, necessitated by the growth of the site, has led to some photos slipping through the cracks, as well as to confusion and embarrassment among bit-part actresses, occasional models, and normal women who happened to be off on the wrong foot at the wrong time. In early February, for example, the Daily Mail ran an article about a 21-year-old student, Alice Cachia, who found photos of her webbed toes on the site when she googled herself before a job interview. "I was only given 2.5 stars, which I was not happy about," she said.
Cachia does not have an IMDb page—a wikiFeet user discovered her photos in an essay she'd penned for her student newspaper about having webbed toes—yet she too has been subjected to the wikiFeet treatment, an often contentious mix of praise and ridicule. "Normal toe dime a dozen but web toe is unique hard for find and beautiful treasure!" writes user ToothpickTorture, a wikiFeet Guild Knight who has the third most uploads to the site of all time. "Alice," Grik replies, "I'd be investing in socks if I were you."
Ozer says he always removes photos if a woman requests that he do so. "I am always available via the site's contact-us page if anybody wants to have her entire page, or specific pictures, removed from the site." Cachia's webbed toes—and the comments about them—remain.
"A person must have an IMDb to get a gallery here," Grik, who has been a member of the site for four years, says. "Uploaders can give a non-celebrity an IMDb by saying she had a bit part in a film. It's bullshit."
Anyone—including you yourself—can join the wikiFeet Guild, but merely signing up does not confer the power to approve or reject comments and uploads. A "level one" Guild member, or "Rookie," can immediately start reading the Guild chats—and there is no other kind, which is why I found many wikiFeeters on Reddit—and get access to new features in development, but you must rack up 500 approvals or rejections of photos and uploads before you can participate yourself. At level two—"Experienced"—you can participate in the Guild chat and vote in Guild polls, which may range from hypothetical new additions for the site to voting on whether Jennifer Lawrence or Jennifer Lopez has better arches. At level three, "Devoted" members can create their own polls. At level four, which is reachable after you've reviewed over 50,000 comments, a guilder becomes a Guild Knight. Guild Knights have the most power of any member of the community; they can flag certain users, alerting other Guild members that their posts may deserve closer attention. Guild Knights can also access the Guild chat history and post announcements; up until recently, Ozer says, Knights were also given "Trusted Uploader" status, "which lets you upload into *certain* locked galleries and access pictures that had been removed."
Even once users reach "Knight" status, though, they feel they do not have much power, which they say hurts the site—and may even threaten its long-term viability. "He's a real good coder but not very experienced at business or even running a website," BackinBlack60, who is a Guild Knight and frequent commenter, said of Ozer. "He's also kind of a megalomaniac, or very arrogant; he thinks he knows everything. The problem is he seems to be a control freak, and he's afraid to share any real power with anybody."
I strongly believe that you can admire beautiful feet for their aesthetic nature, just like you do a beautiful face or beautiful hands.
Now "*intimately* familiar with the history of the site and most everything that goes on there," BackinBlack60 stumbled upon wikiFeet somewhat accidentally. In the mid-2000s, he followed a teenager's blog that would feature "mainstream celebrity women" and their shoes. When the teen stopped publishing, he went looking for another outlet; he soon found wikiFeet, where he's been a registered user since September 2010, a witness to all the "foul" and "disgusting" trolling along the way. That he contacted me after he heard about this piece in the Guild chatroom is a testament to his dedication, I think; in his initial email, he was concerned that I would get the wrong idea. "It's unfortunate that you… found the Wikifeet/u subReddit," he wrote, "because those people are pretty much the trolls and outcasts from the main site who go there to PM and plot their nefarious activities." After Ozer started the system of Guild moderation, BackinBlack60 thought wikiFeet would become a "decent place to hang out," free of mentions of deli slicing disembodied feet, but it hasn't yet lived up to his hopes.
"For awhile, [Ozer] used to come into the chat around the first of every month and spend several hours answering questions, getting requests, people reporting system bugs for him to fix, things they wanted changed or improved," BackinBlack60 said. "That went on monthly for a year or more, and then one troublesome member came in and really started ripping into him one time—that was in May of 2015, maybe—and [Ozer] just stopped coming after that. Really there for about six or eight months he wasn't answering emails or anything; I don't know if he had something personal going on in his life or if he just got tired of all the crap. Now he still drops in occasionally, like once every two or three months." The particular troll that seemed to have traumatized Ozer out of commission was one of wikiFeet's most notorious; he would get banned and then register new accounts to harass people with, something BackinBlack60 said the moderation system should be able to address.
Caitie agrees that the trolling has not disappeared in the wake of the new moderation system; even now, certain wikiFeet users make her "want to leave the Internet entirely."
"The attitude of some of the users is rather repugnant and immature, and it turns off a lot of curious people to the site," she said. "It's not uncommon to find vulgar comments on the walls, and any rational-minded person would be put off by that. If you need proof of just HOW repugnant it can get, google, 'Amy Schumer has jewy little toes.' Be sure to have Advil on hand. You'll need it."
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It may be the relative innocence of the foot that has created such a tense atmosphere on the wikiFeet message boards—if you're just hanging out looking at foot photo galleries, you might end up with time on your hands. But despite all this, members keep coming back, united by their appreciation for the foot of a good woman. While members differ on issues like shoe size and whether a photo of a foot in a closed-toe shoe constitutes worthy viewing, all are there because they love feet.
"Emma Stone has perfect-looking feet, and I mean that from the perspective of someone who spends an absurd amount of money on shoes and pedicures herself," Caitie says. "She could be a foot model; they're so pretty."
"The most popular feet are Emma Watson and Selena Gomez," says Ozer. "The most beautiful, according to wikiFeet's ranking system, are Emma Stone's. Though these lists change over time, the true beauties usually remain on top."
"It's also fun to find a pair of great mystery feet from a YouTuber [or] a foreign celeb," says AbercrombieandFeet. "That's what binds the site together so well."
Regardless of its future as a democracy or dictatorship—and Ozer says he is working on something else, a secret—the site is and probably will remain entirely about women. Looking at endless photos of Emma Stone in heels, I can see it, sort of: the arch bringing out the delicate bones, the perfect pedicure in a good color, the distinct lack of dry skin. Thinking about the hair and the clamminess, I found it difficult to imagine anyone spending time looking at a man's foot the way wikiFeet members spend countless hours pursuing women's. Indeed, when I asked Caitie if she was ever interested in male feet, her response was firm. "Only if those male feet are walking towards me with a pair of Louboutins in hand."