On the Internet, nobody knows you're not a doctor. So when my friend Amanda tweeted recently about spraining her ankle, she wasn't surprised when a kindly dude wandered into her mentions and advised her to ice it and keep off of it. They had a cordial back-and-forth in which she assured him she was taking good care of her ankle. She didn't give it much thought after that.
When he followed up the next day to make sure she was taking his advice, Amanda got a bit more curious and decided to take a peek at his profile. He was following about twenty people, divided pretty equally between sports-related men and women in their twenties. It got a bit weirder when she noticed that his liked tweets dated back to December of 2012, and the bulk of them were pictures and descriptions of sprained ankles. But things didn't seem truly bizarre until she saw his timeline consisted only of half a dozen tweets. All of them to her.
Seeing these liked tweets made the whole interaction feel a lot more loaded. Had he been liking ankle-related-tweets for three years, and then finally worked up the courage to talk to a sprainee? Was she now the first interactive recipient of his ankle-related attentions? What had made him choose her? What could he possibly be finding arousing about her having to take some Tylenol and put a bag of frozen peas on her ankle?
A few days later I decided to do some digging around on her would-be ankle-suitor by pasting his username into Google. It felt like finding the lost reel of the Zapruder film. While there were no other existing tweets by Ankle Dude himself, there were dozens of replies to him. Here are some examples:
"Still sore. icing it now."
"Still swollen but the pain is going away :)"
"no bandages but I've been icing it since last night"
It turned out he was tweeting at women all the time, but he'd delete all of the correspondence on his side before he moved on to the next ankle. This took some of the pressure off for Amanda, since hers was no longer the first ankle he'd ever reached out to. But it also meant it had become pretty undeniable to her—and the little crew of people she had told about it—that she'd be chatting with a sprained ankle fetishist.
She moved on from the whole thing pretty quickly, because she is a new mom with a busy life. But I only have three cats to take care of, so I had plenty of time to obsess over how strange I found the whole thing. So I decided to reach out to her ankle fan, to see if he'd talk to me about it.
I tweeted at him asking if we could have a private conversation, and he was game. When asked why he was so interested in sprained ankles, he mused that it was "like a damsel in distress thing," adding, "I had an ex that liked pretending to sprain her ankle. Maybe kinda weird...lol." When I inquired whether he was hoping each woman thought that she was the first he was tweeting at, he clarified that he was he just deleted the tweets because he was "kinda private." And, although he said he didn't expect for anything to happen as a result of the anonymous Twitter interactions, he was very curious if I had ever pretended to sprain my ankle, and if I thought it would be a turn on if I did. He asserted again that his ex "loved it", and urged me to consider tweeting out a picture. I did not.
When asked why he was so interested in sprained ankles, the anonymous tweeter mused that it was "like a damsel in distress thing."
I was surprised that he wasn't angling for any future interaction from these women and that he seemed on some level hope that the women were faking it for attention. This would both parallel the situation that had led to his fetish in the first place, and mean that he was fulfilling something for the women in question as well
I reached out to some of the women whose replies to him were still visible, to see how they felt about their interaction with him. All the women I spoke to had the exact same reaction: none of them could remember the guy at all. "No idea," wrote one user. "Has he asked me?" Another told me she gets "random stuff all the time"; a third said she didn't "think twice about it lol."
These women might not have given it a second thought, but I could not stop thinking about it: Was this dude the only guy tweeting at women about their ankles? And, if there were others, could I find them? I decided to go with the obvious, and just search for people who had tweeted the question "how is your ankle?" Obviously it's a pretty common thing that any of us might ask an injured friend. So I had to find people who had asked it more than once, and then do a search of their mentions, to see if lots of women (always women) were giving them updates about following the accepted protocol of Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
Two weeks into my quest, I was sitting in my favorite cafe with a million browser tabs open trying variations of usernames and "ankle", when a familiar pattern revealed itself. Dozens of replies to tweets that were no longer there, all from one account. I felt a sense of accomplishment bordering on elation, and I messaged him right away and asked him if he was a sprained ankle enthusiast, too.
He let me know that his fetish began in middle school, when a classmate turned up one day in a lower leg cast.
"Lol what if I am?" he asked, before quickly saying "You look gorgeous by the way." He let me know that his fetish began in middle school, when a classmate turned up one day in a lower leg cast. He said "From that day I loved it," he said, and shared that he also enjoyed "women in heels, stockings, socks, leg warmers. Women wearing orthodontic braces."
He then became curious about my own leg situation, asking if I wore heels and stockings, and if I had ever worn a cast. I let him know that I was more of a flat shoes and black tights kind gal, and that I had a knee brace I had to wear sometimes. He got super enthusiastic, sending me four messages in rapid succession: "Wow I want to see it on you. Can you show me? Hello? Done talking to me?" I replied "Nope! I'm just not sending you any pictures!"
Reader, he blocked me.
I felt a lot more grossed out by my interaction with this sprained ankle fan than I had the first. He was pushy, and bolted as soon as I was firm about my own boundaries. The second interaction gave me a lot of appreciation for the first anonymous ankle enthusiast, appreciation echoed by my friend Amanda when I asked her how she felt about the whole thing in retrospect. "You know, while this is certainly a fetish experience for him, he kept things very respectful and never said anything sexual or uncomfortable," she said
"It was weird," she continued. "But he didn't let it get too weird or make me feel violated. He was genuinely kind and checked in on me so it was like ... the best way a person could do that."
I became very fascinated by these guys, and it took me a while to shake the habit of googling things like "sprained ankle fetish". It turned out that these dudes weren't alone: From Reddit to Yahoo Answers to somehow even Pinterest, it seemed like people who are deeply into sprained ankles had quietly taken up residence in literally every corner of the Internet. There are communities and subscription-only sites devoted to sprained ankle appreciation as well; one, sprainedherankle.com, features an image of a woman in lingerie, one high heel, and an ankle cast. "We want to show you the beauty of female sprained ankles, the homepage reads. "If you like sexy feet you'll love them bandaged. Just give us a chance and you'll see what we mean."
However, it seems like some of the sprain fans were just as confused as I was about their predilection. In 2012, for instance, one anonymous man posted desperately on a forum. "I dont know why i get erection towards Girls and crutches and theyre cast or whatever i get exited and like to look up images and videos of them," he wrote. "Is this normal in boys and do some of you guys have it?" One user suggested that he may have been "erotically attracted to a woman on crutches during your formative years." Another wondered whether "a girl looking helpless" was a turn-on because "it evokes a desire to protect her," adding, "or maybe it's for sinister reasons I won't talk about."
I quickly uncovered the sinister side of the fetish in the course my research: In a post on an marriage tips forum, a woman whose husband has a sprain fetish wrote that her partner regularly attempted to stretch out her ankle tendons to weaken them and encouraged her to wear high heels, "especially in situations where the chances of me spraining my ankle are pretty likely, like walking on uneven grassy ground, or running up and down stairs." My stomach was in knots as she described how she gave into these demands in order to keep her husband's affections. It was light years away from a dude on twitter, sending out messages so innocuous that literally no one could remember them.
Having fully immersed myself in the community, even its darker corners, I reached out to my first ankle fetishist one last time to pass a link I'd found in my Internet travels. It was a Youtube channel featuring a series of videos by a woman named Ekaterina Gipsovaya, spanning several weeks of her trying to nurse a sprained ankle back to health while wearing stockings, a tensor bandage, and high heels. He replied right away: "Obviously she is pretending there. She must like the attention."
I hope he enjoyed his harmless-for-everyone reverie with Ms. Gipsovaya. I like to think they connected, with her sending regular updates about her recuperation, and him providing chaste encouragement and concern. Talk about a twist ending.