Yet Another Word About Toes (and Introducing “SDTs”)

Darlings, PeaceBang feels she must inform you of this, although she has struggled with how to delicately put the matter.
Well, let me just say it right out:

Foot fetishism is not uncommon.

And so, while you are considering the importance of modesty in the bosom and derriere and thighs and so on, please just trust Auntie PB when she tells you that the foot is a highly sexualized part of the body for many.

This is not to problematize yet another female body part. Our bodies are not a problem and I never want to suggest that they are. What I am suggesting is that you understand what I am now dubbing “Serious Distraction Triggers” and how to be smart about avoiding them. Your lovely curves are not a problem, nor is the admiration of them. However, a dripping neckline that creates a zoom line for your cleavage: that’s a problem. It’s a Serious Distraction Trigger. Your round tush, not a problem. However, a pair of thin fabric trousers with a snug fit that, when you turn around and walk, displays a bouncing bootie? SDT.

And SDT isn’t necessarily about – oh my god – lust. A Serious Distraction Trigger is any item of attire that causes worshipers to go, “Oh my gosh, does he KNOW how tight those pants are? I really don’t want to know that much about my pastor!!!” Or, “Our Father, who are in …. OH MY GOD, what in the HELL does that priest have on her toes? Is that GREEN NAIL POLISH? How very hideous!”

I have not insisted on covered feet during worship for the simple fact that I wear dressy sandals in church myself and I like the way it looks with my robe. I committed an SDT one morning when I wore purple Burberry plaid pumps in the pulpit. It was a bad idea and the shoes were entirely adorable and distracting and I gave them away soon thereafter, as I felt like my feet were upstaging me every time I wore them. My dark red toenails don’t seem to be a big distraction, and I feel that worn with dressy and classic wedge sandals, they are appropriate for my ministry setting. I do not wear sandals to a funeral. There is that boundary I set for myself.

But in general, closed toe shoes are the best choice for worship.

19 Replies to “Yet Another Word About Toes (and Introducing “SDTs”)”

  1. Way to understand your own style, your own ministry context, and what might or might not be distracting for your particular congregation. It would be spiffy if you could extend the same ability to contextualize to your ministerial peers and drop a bit of the condescension. [Oh, Stacey, it’s always nice to hear from readers who lack a sense of humor and hyperbole. Thanks for dropping by and contributing absolutely nothing to the conversation. I hope that helps you feel better, and contributes to your strong sense of self- righteousness. I’ll go back to helping thousands of people who appreciate this blog now- PB]

  2. When I served a congregation in Phoenix, it would have been distracting if I’d worn closed-toed shoes. I don’t think most of the women in that congregation even *owned* closed-toed shoes. I do remember a lovely pair of sandals I wore on Christmas morning one year. [Okay, how about MEN? I am forever terrified of innocent people being subjected to clergymen’s gross toes. – PB]

  3. Is it possible, PeaceBang, for someone to not agree with you here, and not be lashed out at and be called self-righteous? It would be so much more interesting to read this blog if it could give rise to respectful discussion regarding clergy men’s and women’s appearance and how different contexts have different rules. As it is now, I find your answers not only unhelpful, but also downright unpleasant. [So don’t read this blog. Simple as that. If you read the hundreds of comments that come into this blog, you’ll see that people disagree with me on a daily basis, and when they have something to contribute, I am happy to engage with them about their perspective. Whining and attacking are not constructive, and I can see a mile away that they often come from women who are frustrated by being treated like second-class citizens in their ministry and feel that they can take that frustration out on me. I call them on it, and I always will. I may stick up for my original strong opinion on a garment or look, I may change my mind, I may say, “That sounds interesting, tell me more about it.” But those who malign my greater purpose, suggest that my feminist credentials are not up to par, or harp on about my limited perspective are quite welcome to get their needs for this kind of conversation met elsewhere. I work incredibly hard on behalf of the clergy and field hundreds of e-mails in a welcoming, generous and supportive manner. If you don’t find what I write helpful or relevant, don’t pick at me in a petty manner and ruin it for the many others who benefit from my ministry. Did it ever occur to you that I’m under no obligation to be helpful to you? And that your comment is thoroughly unpleasant? Some of you seem to think that I’m your employee, rather than a woman called by God to speak to these complicated issues in a funny, irreverent and engaging way. I have been doing this for six years and have moderated a huge number of fantastic and respectful discussions about the various contexts of ministry. What I find is that there are certain readers who, unless I capitulate to their point of view, insist that I’m being a bad blogger. Perhaps you’re simply uncomfortable being told, “Sorry, I think you’re wrong.” – PB]

  4. One of my wisest professor’s in seminary reminded us that we are NOT in control of others. Neither are we responsible for their reactions to us. Try to manage and control every reaction someone might have about you and you’ll drive yourself insane. Or discover you’ve entirely changed yourself just to avoid something someone MIGHT think.

    I think it is entirely possible to go overboard with our dress and comportment. Heavens I’ve seen hard rock t-shirts showing through the robes of acolytes, and my old Episcopal bones really don’t prefer that. But I’d rather those dear punk kids be there carrying that cross and hearing that God loves them, then not.

    When I lived in the North I’d have never considered wearing anything but classy close toed black shoes to lead worship. It just wasn’t DONE. But I’m working in the heart of Texas now, where it’s often 110 in the shade. And the lovely Southern ladies down here (and they ARE ladies, many of whom were debutantes and could teach just about everyone something about style) proudly sport perfectly done toes in fabulous sandals. They’re quite pleased the Yankee has learned a bit of style (and good sense) and begun wearing bright colors, light fabrics, and sandals! Because frankly, to do otherwise is just silly in this context.

    No matter WHAT I wear someone might be distracted. Because I’m a woman, because they have OCD and the toe of my shoe has a scuff, because my robe needs straightening, or my stole isn’t hanging quite equally. Or because they think I look pale (not enough makeup) or too done up. Or because my toe nails are painted, or because they aren’t (a HUGE no-no around here, even if they are nicely trimmed).

    So I shall be me. I shall be professional, but still joyful. I will strive to be honest to who I am, and where I am, and to the people I serve and love. And I will leave their reactions to who I am where they belong, with them. And if they need to talk to me about it we’ll try to get to the bottom of what’s REALLY going on. [I’m right with you on all of this. My job is to get you to think about such things, to be aware, and to set boundaries. – PB]

  5. PB, you really are normalizing and imposing your northeastern values to meteorologically and geographically diverse and distinct communities. It is important to be contextually appropriate. When priesting in Philadelphia even when it was 103 I was never sleeveless, in Hawaii I was regularly sleeveless and in sandals. In India I was barefoot (as I was visiting the Maronite – Indian Orthodox – Cathedral in Philadelphia). For formal liturgies, weddings and funerals, I do wear closed toed-shoes; I am mindful of the many wedding photos with female clergy wearing the only pair of open toes that can be seen, the bride’s being covered by her dress. [Wil, if it was my full-time job to give advice, I’d make it a point to research every geographic setting for ministry and the sartorial norms therein. Please don’t throw shade when you are one of the many ministers who regularly contact me off-line for advice and support for your clothing choices. I impose nothing: it is you and other readers who give me any authority I seem to have. If you think I’m wrong, by all means disagree and offer an alternative point of view. But leave off attacking my approach and my limitations, as I make no apologies for them. This is a volunteer effort and you need not benefit from it– I am getting sick and tired of repeating myself on this point. – PB]

  6. I wade into this conversation aware that it may generate a flurry of conversation…and again it may not.

    I am an Anglican Priest in a small southwestern Ontario town. When I was at Seminary I had decided not to wear shoes in sacred spaces. I always, ALWAYS made sure my feet were clean, groomed and presentable. I wrote papers on my decision, that is IS scripturally based (both Moses and Joshua were told to remove their sandals for the ground where they stood was holy, and they did so).

    In respect and in reference to my First Nations brothers and sisters, I also feel more connected to the earth when my bare feet touch it. I get my feet “done” once a month, as a part of clergy self-care. I do a lot of teaching about why I do it, but in ways that don’t make other people feel they have to. I do a lot of teaching about self-awareness and being a genuine presence in God’s house.

    My acolytes are of all ages. Most of them in the summer months don’t wear shoes, but they do have clean, presentable feet. The congregation was aware, even before I interviewed, that I was barefoot and there wasn’t a problem.

    I have had conversation with my bishops, with my colleagues, and with the congregation. Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think my being barefoot has caused any concerns…at least, none that have caused parishioners to leave. When new families join us, I usually tell them about the bare feet at our first meeting (after they’ve worshipped with us) and again, I’ve not yet had a problem.

    I know there are folks with foot issues. A former bishop of mine was one of them. And we came to an understanding with prayer and respectful conversation. I wholeheartedly agree with the “don’t” green toes…I just can’t get over the image of gangrene. Mostly my toes are neutral, and do venture into different shades of red, or metallic tones in the summer. Never garish, always clean and well groomed.

    It is worth nothing that I wear an alb which is floor length, so unless someone is staring directly at my feet, they don’t notice they are bare. My stoles are the colours of the liturgical season. My toes may, but likely don’t, match in colour. About once a year I bring the barefoot discussion into a homily, sometimes during the children’s focus, and usually the children then take off their shoes so they can be comfy.

    My opinion, for whatever it’s worth, is that if you do something with intentionality and do it with respect; if you’re willing to engage in conversation and teaching, then it shouldn’t be a problem. I don’t force my opinion on anyone and if someone did have an issue with my bare feet, I would hope we could talk about it and reach a compromise.

    One of the things I love about this blog is the ability to read about different faiths, traditions, and styles. The overarching theme to embrace who we are, to treat each other with respect and to be sure we welcome all, are central. Yes, we learn about fashion, how to dress for body types, etc., but our outward appearance is nurtured by our inward spirituality and love for the One who created us.

    Thanks for the opportunity to throw my hat into the proverbial ring…and my apologies for such a loooong post.

    Kiss of peace,

    [REALLY!? That’s why you have that screen name!! Are you barefoot in winter, too? I think this is really interesting and a good case study in knowing who you are, communicating it with maturity and self-awareness (ie, not referring to it constantly, just quietly going about doing your thing) and living out an eccentric spiritual commitment within one’s ministry. Maturity and a sense of proportion seem to me to be key here: you have a commitment that comes from Scripture, you’ve made it clear to folks where you stand and why (forgive the pun), you’ve not asked for anyone’s permission, you’ve not been neurotic and insecure about it (a dead giveaway for less grounded and mature clergy — the ones who make attention-getting choices in some aspect of their attire, ask for approval, and then strike out defensively when they don’t get it), and you’re not being a rebel about your decision by making your feet this Huge, Obvious Thing in your priestly attire. I knew I liked you, but this further confirms it. Going barefoot is something you’ll be remembered for.. but it’s not going to be all you’re remembered for, and that is the confirmation that you’re much more than The Barefoot Priest. – PB]

  7. Really good point about fetishes. There’s a kink for everything under the sun, so there’s only so much we can do to avoid SDTs, but it’s good to be aware that naked toes are no different for some people than deep cleavage.

    Re: your response to comment #2:

    You seem to be saying that male clergy should not have visible toes under any circumstances. Why is that? Men can take care of their toenails the same as women can, with minimal time and trouble. No professional pedicure is needed, guys. Clean and trim your toenails, file them if they’re rough, and if you’re having a fungus problem, keep them to yourself until it’s cleared up. [Absolutely. I’ve just been traumatized by too many gnarly fungus toes and I know that many guys think that pedicures (whether they get one or do some toe grooming themselves) are too girly or indulge in. – PB]

  8. Sorry I can’t think of much more to contribute now other than what I will call the “slow clap of peace” to all of Peacebang’s italicized comments above. You go, girl. This reader is thankful for your thoughts and efforts. They may be imperfect, but they are offered with care, humor, and sincerity – I appreciate that very much. [JEEPERS. THANK YOU! – PB]

  9. Dear PB, it looks like I and some others have really pushed a nerve here. I am so sorry that you are upset. I’m sorry that my remarks came across as an attack on you and your ministry. I was not throwing shade. I was disagreeing with someone whom I respect. I can see how my use of the word in closing was really problematic. And I regret that choice. And I was certainly not denigrating your cultural context. It would’ve been better to say that I see how much that shapes you and that it doesn’t work the same in other places which I know you know. I hope you will accept my apology. I wanted to make it public because I feel that there’s been a public misunderstanding. And I will certainly think twice about how I disagree with you in public. And PS, my Wi-Fi is out I am dictating this into a phone so it may be completely incomprehensible.

  10. Please, please, please write a piece about nasophilia! I have somebody in my congregation who keeps eyeing my nose in what seems like a lascivious manner.

    And a word, too, about the fetish for bald heads. (Is it alopeciaphilia?) A number of my colleagues and I regularly regale each other with stories of leering ladies with blue hair who just can’t seem to get enough. Should we wear toupees, in order to lead them not into temptation? Do you maybe suggest the Hair Club for Clergy? And what about guys who INTENTIONALLY (!) cut their own hair right down to the cueball? Do you think maybe they are acting out sexually?

    It’s very troubling to me. I would like to hear your thoughts on these matters. Peace. [Listen, Wisenheimer, I’m not in the mood. You’ve obviously never had to deal with the uncomfortable situation of trying to sensitively and delicately deal with a parishioner who is obsessed with your feet. May a dozen leering ladies with blue hair try to rub your bald spot at coffee hour, and may you feel as creeped out as the young woman who is dealing with the foot fetishest feels right now. Or as Han Solo famously said, “Laugh it up, Fuzzball.” – PB]

  11. Dangit, did my comment get posted? [Yea, yea, yea, and you got the Snarky McSnarkerson Comedy Award for the night, too, are ya happy? – PB]

  12. As a frequent past winner of the Prestigious Snarky McSnarkerson award, I extend my congratulations.

    And as a frumpy east coaster who wouldn’t think of wearing sandals to work, I’d like to marvel at how I generally think of barefoot folks as being relaxed and groovy, yet judging by the comments here. I clearly have you people all wrong. You barefoot people need to calm down. Did y’all collectively step on something sharp?

  13. What is up, people? Why do you come here if not to read Peacebang’s opinion on matters of clergy dress and appearance? Are you required to agree with or put into practice everything she says? Take what is useful, and ignore what you feel is not. It’s damn hard work writing and maintaining a blog. Don’t be so disrespectful.

  14. I’ve been known to be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, but did I miss some part of this post that other people read? Didn’t Mmse. Peacebang say:
    I have not insisted on covered feet during worship for the simple fact that I wear dressy
    sandals in church myself and I like the way it looks with my robe.


    What part of this statement or any statement in this post sounded like Mmse. Peacebang was giving an absolute? Shoe styles are much more fluid than other things that are talked about on this blog, and from the way I’ve read it Mmse. Peacebang knows and understands that. For those of you who were somehow offended by this post, you might want to examine why this one set something off in you. Maybe you’re wondering if you’re slacking and saw this post as holding a mirror in front of you and you didn’t like what you saw. That, my dear friends, is NOT Mmse. Peacebang’s problem; it’s yours. Deal with it and stop trying to shot the messenger (or mirror-holder in this case).

  15. Your comments to Maria hit the proverbial nail on the head. Once again, you have mentored my uujeff avatar with bloggery wisdom. In my monthly conversation with my mentor recently, he asked me why I blog. He honestly was curious because he couldn’t imagine why a minister would want to. I had never actually articulated an answer before, as it was always obvious to me – I want to be PB when I grow up!

    Seriously, though, I see blogging as such a vital ministry capable of touching people in ways that preaching, pastoral care, and prophetic witness cannot. Blogging gives me one more avenue to imagination, artistic expression, and mental stimulation. Actually, this conversation gave me an idea for a Sunday morning that I don’t honestly know whether I would ever have to courage to try. Imagine if all men ministers had a cross-dressing Sunday, with a complete makeover so that they could have just the smallest taste of the fashion burdens faced by our female colleagues on a daily basis. Imagine if men had to pay attention to your beauty tips and couldn’t simply rely on the privilege of their birth gender for their authority. Do they make open-toed shoes in 4E width? [Baby, you know they must somewhere! Love the idea, and this letter. xoxox- PB]

  16. Peacebang, I was with you and supportive on your other posts, until I read your snarky comments here.

    You’re a blogger. Readers often disagree with bloggers they read, and as long as they post their comments respectfully and in a thoughtful way, their disagreements can deepen the discussion.

    You’ve claimed a big, bold, beautiful voice for your ministry. Other reader/colleagues have done the same for their ministries of helping mostly white clergy understand other cultural contexts, deepening the discussion about cultural responses to other women’s bodies, and other topics. I value their contributions-a reflection on clergy image and fashion that doesn’t have room for vigorous conversation about cultural differences or exactly where the line is between awareness of your impact on others and being hampered by trying to control the response others will have to you is of little use to me.

    Reading this thread, I see your reader/colleagues disagreeing with you in reasonably strong but respectful ways. And, in all honesty, your voice in these comments has become less respectful than theirs.

    I’m sad about this. But this conversation is no longer helpful to me. Perhaps if I hear this dynamic changes I’ll return, but I’m afraid I’m a former pigeon.

  17. So…for the heck of it:
    I started wearing wilder (for me) toenail polish this summer after I saw a dear friend and polished (ha!) therapist wearing a beautiful blue polish on her toes. I was with my husband, and he commented on the color. She said, “They make me laugh every time I look at them.” Me too.

    I have learned a lot from this blog, not least of which is to Pay Attention to how I am presenting my own incarnation, even when I am working from my home office. And if a little thing like blue nail polish can bring a smile to my heart, that’s a pretty cheap laugh. If someone asks me, I will respond like my friend.

    I figure when we choose with care the rest of what we are wearing, there is a bit of wiggle room for something that is a little iffy. It’s all in the whole package. Act professional, with grace and warmth, dress and groom with care and there’s room for variety and of course, context.

    I don’t usually wear open-toed sandals when I am presiding at a service, though I do wear them to church on Sundays when I am not. I have some great orange strappy platform sandals that get comments every time I wear them, so they are definitely SDT if I am on duty. Nice to have a title for it.

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