It's summer, it's hot as hell, and feet are out on full display. While some people pride themselves in their perfect pedal specimens, for the rest of us, baring these nethermost regions brings a certain self-consciousness.
Why do pinky toes look so gnarled and angry? Do we even need them? We posed these burning questions to Michael Schumacher, a podiatrist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Here's what we learned.
We don't technically need our pinky toes
Remember that craze a few years ago when women were surgically removing their pinky toes so they could fit into narrow shoes? (Wide feet, the worst!) While taking your toe to the butcher shop is extreme, in reality, you don't actually need the pinky toe, Schumacher says.
When we looked more like primates and used our hands and feet in similar ways (tree climbing and running on all fours and the like) the pinky toe had a purpose. But now that we walk on two legs, the major weight baring joint of our feet is just the big toe. That toe, along with the ankle, is essential for balance—but the pinky? No.
"So can I lob mine off?" I asked Schumacher. He wouldn't recommend it. But, should you be the victim of a Big Lebowski-esque kidnapping scheme and lose your pinky toe? Don't worry. You're fine!
So, really, why do pinky toes look so jacked up?
Simple. The pinky toe is prone to physical trauma, because—unlike the three small toes to its right or left—it's completely unprotected on one side. This can lead to a spectrum of deformities.
Schumacher says the most common pinky ailments he sees are physical trauma (broken bones), hammer toe syndrome (deformities often caused by ill-fitting footwear), and nail problems (like fungus or ingrown babies).
Pinky toenail problems can be exacerbated if you've developed a funky curvature, because the shape puts undue pressure on the nail bed. In other words, walking while hammer toed can cause inflammation and swelling that leads to toenail problems. Life is not pretty for your pinky toe.
What kind of pinky toe do YOU have?
After extensive research and clinical trials (i.e., me creeping on strangers' feet while riding public transit), we've identified three totally scientific categories of pinky toes. Which one do you have?
You know the one—riding up on its neighbor like it has no backbone?
Can't wait to leave the mothership. "Beam me up, Scotty!"
Somehow, it has avoided looking like chewed up puppy toy.
We want to know: What kind of pinky toe do you have?
Cleo Stiller is a digital producer covering the intersections of sex, tech and culture. Words to live by: get your money's worth.