Morton's Toe: The History Of Humanity's Weirdest Symbol Of Beauty
Is your second toe longer than your first? Well, so is the Statue of Liberty's, Venus de Milo's, The Vitruvian Man's, and heaps of other famous orthopedic representations all throughout art history. You may have what is known as Morton's toe, considered by many ancient artists and cultures a high mark of beauty, dominance, and intelligence.
The Morton's toe was named after Dr. Dudley Morton, who studied this curiosity during a career spent arguing that most foot issues come from one's toes rather than weak or fallen arches. According to Dr. Morton, if you had anything weird going on with the metatarsals, then you could blame that for corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, or pretty much anything else wrong with your feet. He became a household name after writing Oh Doctor, My Feet!, which was written in layman terms for the average blue-collar civilian returning to work after the Great Depression and toiling for long hours on their feet in crappy shoes and clunky high heels. He often referenced the second toe in his books, and eventually, that long toe was named after him.
However, before Mr. Morton came around bashing this toe in the '30s, it was known widely as the "Greek toe" because of its prevalence in Greek culture and art, specifically sculpture. But why? Who proclaimed it a beauty symbol, and why did it become so prevalent?
Basically, the Greeks had a major thing for the "Golden Ratio," which is found throughout nature and thought to represent perfect harmony in aesthetics. The Golden Ratio was created by Euclid, who basically invented geometry in Greece sometime around 300 B.C. The Morton's toe represented this mathematical nuance for them. It was an easy way to portray an interesting quirk of human anatomy while acknowledging this geometric relationship, which could be recognized as a nod to mathematicians and appreciated by art enthusiasts for its intentional balance. The Greeks found it to be beautiful, and its place in their art was very intentional. It set them apart from the Egyptians, who focused more on scale and accuracy than aesthetics.
Egyptian artists, in contrast, used what we call "The Canon of Proportion." When everything in an image aligns so deliberately, we can draw a perfect line straight down the center of it, the Canon of Proportion is at work. When Egyptian artists depicted humans, they were upright and perfectly straight, with their heads, arms, legs, and feet precisely aligned. The toes sloped at a steady downward angle from the big toe to the outside of the foot. Then the Greeks came in with this weird focus on innovation, romance, and beauty. They shook up the game, basing their art on what the human mind finds interesting rather than what is most accurate, and the Greek toe was born in visual art.
After the Greeks, the trend of Morton's toe caught on. Once the Golden Ratio became more prevalent, the study and understanding of its purpose grew and began showing up in Roman, French, Italian, and Celtic art as well. This is why our beloved Statue of Liberty has Morton's toe.
That's how and why Morton's toe became associated with beauty, but what about the personality traits associated with this rare foot structure?
It actually turns out that way before the Greeks took ownership over this particular toe, areas of the world like India and China had been practicing "foot reading" since about 3000 B.C. There's even a term for it---in English, we call it podomancy. Much like palmistry, podomancy is the study of the lines of the feet, bone structure, toe length, etc. Today, we associate podomancy with fortune-telling and divination, and it's fallen somewhat out of fashion. However, cultures throughout history took it very seriously. What did these ancient cultures believe about people who were born with Morton's toe? Almost nothing negative.
The Indians believed that those who possess Morton's toe value peace and happiness more than success or money. Such people are believed to have superior leadership skills, while people who have ordinary toes fall into more of a "loyal employee" category. Similarly, the Chinese believed that if your second toe is longer, you were born to lead and seen as a role model for many people. If your first toe is longer, you are very submissive and tend to blend in. In modern reflexology, celebrity foot reader Jane Sheehan (yes, that's a real job) says that those with a Morton's toe are active, creative, energetic, and again, ideal candidates for leadership roles.
In other words, if you are part of the >25% of the population with Morton's toe, consider yourself special. Assume a leadership position, flaunt your newfound sense of beauty, and embrace your rarity. Nevermind the back pain, shoe discomfort, or the fact that some people think it's a direct trait of Neanderthals. The Greeks, Chinese, Indians, and just about everyone else throughout history thought you were unique, and so do we. If you don't care what we think, there's probably a corner of the internet that's just begging to pay for pictures of your feet, so either way, enjoy the weird, niche compliment.
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