When Did Everyone Get So Weird About Feet?

Gen Z hates having their dogs out.
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You are not allowed to post pictures of your feet. I don’t mean close-ups or photos where your feet are the primary focus—I mean any picture where your feet are shown at all. Fit pic in the mirror while barefoot? Better crop it. Bikini pic by the pool? Go ahead and show off your body, but you’re gonna wanna censor out those toes. Even wearing sandals in public is increasingly precarious. It’s not foot fetishists and perverts who are forcing us into this prohibition with their creepy behavior, though. Instead, the banning is led by Gen Z, who just seem to hate feet.


It might have started as a joke. In the last few years, I noticed friends posting selfies with their feet blurred or pixelated out, sometimes with the message that they wouldn’t post their toes without compensation. Whenever I’ve posted a picture where my feet were out of focus in the shot, like in an Instagram story of a book I just finished that’s lying on my lap, I’ve received more than one “for free???” reply. 

Obviously, a little weirdness toward feet isn’t anything new. They’re a body part most of us keep covered the majority of the time, a part that can easily become gross or produce smells or otherwise appear unsightly. I recall a time in middle school when “feet” was a word I wouldn’t even want to say in front of the boys I had crushes on. Nevertheless, I wasn’t afraid I would be made fun of simply for wearing sandals in the warmer months, and, anyway, my years of dance classes after school required I often be barefoot around other people my age. Now, as a zillenial, it’s not like I’m posting straight-up sole shots, but if my toes are in the picture, so be it. 

This is decidedly uncool of me, according to younger people. “How did a whole younger generation make it really bad to show your feet? What’s with the ‘dogs out’ comments?” a February TikTok from @ajcoastal with 650,000 likes asks. In another video, an athletic trainer says that every time she deals with a member of Gen Z who needs to have their foot out, they uncomfortably point out something about their “dogs being out.” 


Much of this attitude seems to have originated around the time that allegations around former Nickelodeon producer Dan Schneider emerged in 2018. Throughout the 2000s, several Nickelodeon shows employed foot humor—scenes in iCarly, for example, involved the cast drawing faces on the bottoms of their toes and putting them right in front of the camera. After Schneider left the company, many began to suggest that Schneider had intentionally incorporated these feet scenes as part of a fetish. Schneider has denied this, but the idea has stuck in young people’s heads: Whether you realize it or not, someone might be fetishizing your feet. 

In a TikTok from a teacher explaining Gen Z’s discomfort with feet in connection to Schneider, several people in the comments back this narrative up. “Thanks to him I have a fear of getting sexualized because of my feet. I love my Crocs and flip-flops and I want to wear them without feeling ashamed,” one person wrote. 

Elsewhere on TikTok, several thinly-veiled ads for online feet pic marketplaces have gone viral, implying that people can make thousands of dollars simply by selling pictures of their feet. Whether these ads are realistic or not, much of TikTok’s user base has been inundated with the idea that feet have so much erotic potential people are charging their credit cards just to see them from non-famous complete strangers. 


There’s reason to suspect, though, that some of this increased weirdness is linked to an increased fetishization of feet by Gen Z themselves. According to Pornhub’s 2023 Year in Review report, Gen Z is searching for feet-related content on the site more than any other generation. Relative to other age groups, feet are 68 percent more popular. Several interpretations can be gleaned from this: For starters, part of Gen Z’s feet-avoidance seems to be centered around the concern that foot fetishists are going to eroticize their feet, especially online—and the fact that more people in their generation are fetishizing feet supports that theory. However, it’s also possible that this avoidance creates more foot fetishes. After all, by making feet something weird or hidden, the mystery and taboo surrounding them is only heightened. 

Yet still, there’s plenty of contradictory evidence. According to Grindr, for example, Gen Z is the least likely to have the “feet” tag on their profile, despite it otherwise being a popular tag on the app. “However, this doesn’t necessarily mean Gen-Z is the least interested in feet,” a representative from Grindr tells me. “The lower numbers could be based on any number of factors, including the possibility that older users are more comfortable sharing their kinks on their public profiles or that younger users have yet to discover this kink/preference.” Meanwhile, according to Fun with Feet, a feet pic-selling app, the 18-30 demographic represents the vast majority of their seller base, regardless of gender. They say 63 percent of their users are between 18 and 26. Per their data, “foot fetishes are growing exponentially year after year,” currently representing ten percent of the US population.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with a consensual foot fetish. But perhaps, as the Schneider narrative suggests, Gen Z is right to want a bit more privacy. Everything has the potential to be sexualized and, in turn, monetized. For the adults, though, both Gen Z and Millennials have already normalized a culture of oversharing, of making most of our private lives entirely public. Moreover, we all should have the right to feel comfortable with a non-sexual body part without pressure from our peers to be shamed into hiding them. To draw the line at feet—to the point where we’re afraid to even wear sandals—feels like a bizarrely specific paranoia. People probably aren’t that excited about seeing you in flip-flops. And for the most part, foot fetishists aren’t interested in any feet they catch sight of, but those of a specific person. But as that PornHub data suggests, maybe that’s changing. Maybe people are becoming more and more interested in random feet. If that’s true, though, it’s probably Gen Z’s own doing.