Last year, when a tasteful nude allegedly depicting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vaping in a tub surfaced on Reddit and 4chan, an unnervingly earnest group of online foot fetishists became the hero she never knew she needed. In particular, members of wikiFeet, a massive, interactive library of celebrity foot pictures, analyzed 28 such photos that had been uploaded to the site to prove without a shadow of a doubt that those water-logged toes didn’t belong to the freshman congresswoman.
For wikiFeet, this moment was more than a happy accident or good deed; it was a rebranding opportunity the foot clan had been waiting for since the site launched in 2008. “The wikiFeet community is very aware of the fact that fetishists are seen as degenerate and abnormal,” says Ettienne, a 55-year-old lawyer from South Africa. Ettienne has only been active on wikiFeet for the past five years, but he has memories of foot attraction dating back to the age of 9. Since joining, though, he’s interacted with many foot-loving individuals who similarly crave more than feet pics — they want to prove that wikiFeet users aren’t just a bunch of creeps jerking off to golden arches. “The incident with the congresswoman wasn’t random,” he tells me.
WikiFeet’s founder and sole full-time employee, 40-year-old Eli Ozer, a computer programmer in Tel Aviv, echoes similar sentiments. “I’ve come to expect wikiFeet users to be avid about identifying mislabeled foot photos, but I didn’t expect those talents to be used outside of our circle and make such a positive impact,” Ozer explains. “Needless to say, I felt enormous pride in how our community handled the situation.”
Anywhere from 14 to 33 percent of people experience sexual feelings about feet, depending on the data cited, but judging by wikiFeet’s metrics, the number is likely much, much higher. The site averages about 5.4 million visitors a month, and skews roughly 80 percent male. It’s fair to say wikiFeet has done more to normalize foot fetishism than Quentin Tarantino, Ludacris and Elvis combined; yet Ozer doesn’t love the F-word — fetish, that is. Men like him and Ettienne prefer the term “foot appreciation,” because for them, it’s not always about sex.
Unlike an attraction to butts or breasts, which is almost always sexual, foot appreciation is connected to a deeper fascination with what feet can reveal about the women who pound the pavement with them. According to foot “appreciators,” feet are indicative of how much care a person puts into their health and appearance, their overall bone structure and if they’re carefree enough to wear sandals or go barefoot. “Society is readily okay for people to be attracted to bums and boobs in public, which often provoke arousal, but looking at feet is frowned upon,” says Pinchy69, a 44-year-old wikiFeet user. “Many of us in the foot community couldn’t care less about getting turned on. In fact, we’re put right off by the idea.” (Of course, not every user agrees with that assessment: “I’d say it’s pretty much a sexual thing for me,” says Mishu777, a 30-year-old on the East Coast who preferred to not disclose their gender.)
So why would Pinchy69 upload more than 35,000 images of feet since joining wikiFeet in 2014 if it wasn’t a sex thing? The answer seems to circle back to Ettienne and Ozer’s previous word choice — it’s not about sex, it’s about “community.” That is, there’s a level of pride and camaraderie built around the hunt for quality, publicly available photos, but also a comfort in finding like-minded people.
Ozer’s vision for wikiFeet started long before he launched the site in 2008. At the age of 13, the son of a teacher and taxi driver was watching A Nightmare on Elm Street and kept rewinding to see star Heather Langenkamp’s feet over and over again, until his younger brother made fun of him. From that point on, he wanted a safe space to talk about feet with others who shared the same passion.
By 1995, Ozer had moved onto Teri Hatcher’s feet. Hatcher was at the height of her pre-Desperate Housewives fame, starring in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and making several memorable appearances on Seinfeld as Jerry’s girlfriend, whose boobs were “real and spectacular.” After seeing so much of her on TV, Ozer wondered if her feet were similarly spectacular.
“I had dial-up internet, so everything took forever to load and there were very few photos of [her feet] online,” he remembers. At the time, Ozer didn’t realize this inconvenience was a market opportunity; he was just trying to expand his personal collection. But as the internet evolved and Ozer became a proficient computer programmer, he wondered if there were other guys amassing their own stashes of feet pics who wanted to share them in one centralized place.
By 2008, he was finally ready to see if his big foot idea had any legs. “I’d gotten better at programming and felt confident enough to start my own personal project,” Ozer tells me. He chose the name wikiFeet because he was inspired by people working together to build a knowledge database like Wikipedia, founded in 2001.
When he launched wikiFeet at the age of 28, he only had a few feet pics of popular actresses at the time (e.g., Elisha Cuthbert, Jennifer Morrison and Angelina Jolie) to upload. But within a few months of launching, Ozer’s fellow foot aficionados came through, creating hundreds of new galleries. This helped to build a community, legitimize the site and generate a steady stream of content and daily visitors. “Gradually, the site became much more than a collection of photos,” Ozer says. “It turned into a community of people who share a special interest and are free to express it without fear of judgment.”
Not that there isn’t any judgment. WikiFeet allows users to rate feet on a scale of one to five, or “ugly” to “beautiful,” similar to other appearance-based ranking websites that emerged in the early-2000s like Hot or Not. It’s based on some objective aesthetic criteria — such toes, soles and arches, as well as pedicures and how exposed the feet are. But since the site features celebrities and public figures, the rankings also reveal a lot about how the wikiFeet community feels about the subject’s work, their political preferences and their own feelings around foot appreciation. For instance, when Elizabeth Banks found out about her wikiFeet content on The Talk, she reacted favorably, taking out her bare foot and putting it on a table. She currently has a five-star rating.
In contrast, when comedian Annie Lederman started pixelating her feet on Instagram in response to the site, many offended foot fans called for her to be removed for perpetuating the stigma of “foot people.”
“People on the site try their best to rate feet objectively, solely on their features. However, that task proves to be impossible, because you cannot separate the feet from the person,” Ozer says. “That’s why photos of just feet, without knowing who they belong to, aren’t that interesting.”
As for where they find these images, at more than 35,000 photo uploads himself, Pinchy69 has become an expert in sourcing and admits social media has helped, but he mostly prefers high-quality image board sites like picturepub.com. (He also has a secret Hungarian source he wouldn’t elaborate on.) “Posters evolve from posting whatever they can find as fast as they can — this can be kind of an addiction phase where people spend way too long posting content every day — to finding a niche and being happy with waiting to find a great quality of a particular image,” Pinky69 explains.
Despite the site’s growth over the past 12 years, Ozer has been able to keep the rules to a minimum. Basically, there are two: 1) the subject of the picture must be at least 17; and 2) they must also have an IMDb page (the latter rule, however, has become challenging to enforce as influencers have muddied the definition of what it means to be a public figure). Images that are protected with a copyright are prohibited as well. The same for pornographic images (foot-licking, toe-sucking, etc.) and any sexually explicit comments. Part of this is an effort to maintain the integrity of the site, but it’s also to appeal to advertisers. Because even as wikiFeet’s only employee, Ozer isn’t able to live off of ad revenue alone and continues to work as a freelance programmer.
Prohibiting sexually explicit, perverse or violent comments, however, has proven to be difficult to enforce as the site’s user base has expanded. There have been many fake accounts specifically designed to troll users and celebrities over the years. Other borderline immature comments that slip through the cracks have made some users question their participation 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,” Caitie, a wikiFeet member, told VICE in 2016. “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.”
When trolls overran the site in 2013 and attempted to tank actress Emma Stone’s rating, Ozer finally had enough. After personally auditing the site and booting fake accounts in order to restore the integrity of the ranking process, he founded “The Guild” in 2014 — a group of veteran wikiFeet users who volunteer as moderators, which has grown to more than 700 members today. “They actively help moderate the site’s photos, guide new members on rules that aren’t straightforward and weigh in on decisions on how the site should be,” Ozer says.
Anyone who joins wikiFeet can join The Guild, too, like Pincy69 immediately did. New users start off at Level One and can read Guild chats, but they cannot participate in them until they approve or reject 500 photos based on quality, copyright, sexual content and how much of the foot is showing. At Level Two, “experienced” members can finally engage in chats and polls about site decision-making, and other important matters like which actresses have better toe cleavage. “Devoted” members at Level Three can create their own polls, and once a user has reviewed over 50,000 comments, they become a Guild Knight and “trusted uploader,” titles Pinchy69 proudly holds today. (Ettienne and Mishu777 are Level Two Guild members.)
The peace between guild members, though, can be uneasy. The tension mainly comes down to the fundamental question of whether or not foot appreciation is about sex, which varies from person to person. “The only very minor gripe I have is that I sometimes tend to be more on the side of like ‘Do we really have to remove this pic? Are we maybe being a lil’ too heavy-handed here?’” Mishu777 tells me. “Whereas some other peeps are a bit more strict with what they deem as inappropriate.”
But Ozer is steadfast on protecting the site from becoming sleazy. “The rules had to be more strict than members would expect,” he explains. “I wanted the site to be mainstream, so that celebs would feel more comfortable being featured in it.”
Plus, Ettienne says, if wikiFeet were a true democracy, it would turn into a toe-sucking nightmare: “Get into a situation of ‘too many Chiefs and too few Indians,’ and wikiFeet will quickly degenerate from the relatively classy site it is now to just another porn site.”
Sooner or later, someone has to put their foot down.