Additional reporting: Charlotte Vossen. Follow Kirsty at Instagram @kirstyelwoodbodymind
From your emotional state to what you got up to at the weekend, they can reveal a lot – or so foot readers claim. Lucy Holden dips her toe in weird waters…
Holistic practitioners love a metaphor, and Kirsty Elwood has some good ones: apparently I’m both an alsatian straining on its lead in a park and a snowball rolling down a hill. And Kirsty can tell this just from my feet.
Foot reading, an extension of reflexology, claims to analyse our emotional lives and personality traits from the toes, skin and feet. It’s possibly the most popular new form of self-discovery you didn’t know existed.
Kirsty, 38, a trained reflexologist with 18 years’ experience, first started using her unusual analysis as a party trick. Since then she’s been gathering queues of fascinated people at wellness conventions, and her appointments sell out within 24 hours of going online. ‘I always keep a box of tissues close at hand because people often don’t realise how emotional it can be,’ she tells me via email. ‘But if it gets too weird, or too personal, we stop,’ she adds.
The fact the readings involve a body part people are self-conscious about lends an intimacy to the sessions. Kirsty, who trained as a foot reader eight years ago, asks for a photo of the top of my feet and another of the soles, assuring me not to worry about their appearance. I take that to mean that a pedicure would destroy valuable evidence.
‘Everything tells me a story of your journey, mentally and emotionally – from the skin to colours, lines, markings and shapes,’ she says. I’m intrigued as to what my feet will reveal about my life so far. The aim, she explains, is for me to better understand and appreciate myself, but at this point I feel like I’m in a podiatric Line of Duty and Kirsty is AC12.
In the phone consultation that follows (which lasts an hour at a cost of £35), Kirsty explains that she was once a sceptic herself. She grew up in Northern Ireland – where she still lives with her husband and two small children – and was excelling on a post-school media studies course when her family was hit by what she describes as ‘the black year’. A cancer diagnosis, that resulted in death, made 18-year-old Kirsty want to help people rather than become a radio producer. ‘I remember having reflexology when I was about 18 and I laughed for the first 15 minutes,’ she admits. ‘Exposing that part of my body to a stranger felt so bizarre. But after that, the thought of how it could be used to help people heal themselves became very exciting to me.’
Predominantly used to ease stress, reflexology focuses on ‘lines’ that connect different parts of the body to the feet. Converts believe that massaging the corresponding locations on the feet can help issues with organs and limbs. Foot reading, though more under the radar, has been practised in the UK for 20 years and is studied via a day course (around £100) or book. What intrigued Kirsty was the similarity to reflexology and the ‘extra sensitivity’ she found herself with after ‘the black year’.
Through training and her ‘sixth sense’, Kirsty feels she can understand a client’s issue from the moment they walk into her room, and claims to know where people have had incisions for open-heart surgery, or can ‘feel’ their hip problem. ‘For years, whenever I was asked how I knew, I lied and said I’d observed them and saw it in the way they walked, because I was worried people would think I was a witch,’ she laughs. Her foot-reading sense works just as well with pictures, she says, and has meant she has been able to read the feet of clients in New York and Los Angeles.
If you can suspend your disbelief, the stories of how she turned this deep empathy into a successful art are countless. She tells me that at a wellness meeting she noticed one woman’s twisted ‘James Bond toe’, which to Kirsty meant she had a side that she expressed secretly. Instead of MI6, Kirsty guessed that the woman was a nursery-school teacher who pole-danced at the weekend. After she laughed with embarrassment, the woman admitted she was a primary-school assistant who loved pole-dancing at weekends. ‘There are so many stories in the toes,’ Kirsty says with the air of someone who loves their job.
After I had my face ‘read’ by an expert last year, I’m curious to see whether foot reading will match up. According to my face reader, Priya Sher, I would be married and settled by 35 (I’m now 31), and one day would present a political satire show on television.
Having spent a day ‘observing’ and annotating images of my callused crystal balls, Kirsty says she can tell that people remember me, but doesn’t mention my future TV career, so I guess I’ve not got the feet for primetime.
Instead, Kirsty mentions a ‘carving’ of a heart in lighter skin on the sole of my ‘male’ foot (the male right foot depicts our working life while the left foot is female and indicates our emotions). According to reflexology it’s in the exact place corresponding to my real heart. ‘Can you see it?’ she asks. Once I know where to look, I admit that I can. ‘I once saw a cat’s face in that place on a woman,’ she adds. ‘And it turned out she’d bought a cat to mend her heart when her only child, a son, left home.’ Kirsty can also ‘see’ anger in my feet. ‘It’s like someone’s ripped the Aladdin’s carpet from beneath your feet. You’re in limbo – which I know sounds silly in a pandemic – but I feel you’re going through a shift, like winter into spring. There’s a lot of processing going on.’
Having had my heart broken at the start of last year by my ex-boyfriend and also having to leave London to move back in with my parents in Bath, I did feel like the rug had been ripped from beneath me. And it’s true, I feel like I’m waiting for something.
We start on the top of the foot and I’m told I have very symmetrical feet, which means I’m torn between two personalities: ‘Lucy at home’ – who desires domesticity – and ‘Lucy the cavewoman’, the go-getting, earning side. Kirsty reads from the ‘big head’ of my big toe that I’m a thinker with a lot of mental energy; from my ‘TV antenna’ toes that I’m happy when learning, and from the space between them that I’m curious; always learning and growing.
‘You juggle a lot at once,’ she tells me. At my nails, we hit a problem because their small size, apparently, leaves me vulnerable. ‘That vulnerability is beautiful,’ Kirsty says. ‘People may not see your sensitivity – they think you’re strong enough to handle anything. But you do what you do so well because you feel everything.’
The soles rather than the top of the feet are more revealing, she adds, and from mine gleans that I’m burnt-out. Could I argue with that? Probably not, given I’m in the last stages of a book due out this summer and have recently written a second. In my heels, Kirsty sees ‘scaffolding that only I can pull down’, meaning that she thinks I’ve built a defence against past pain which shows in harder skin.
From the colour of my heels (a bruised, ‘painful’ shade), she can tell I need emotional nourishment. ‘It’s like you’re an ice-cream man who’s given away his last scoops and has none left for himself,’ she tells me sadly. The width shows her I’m making pathways, even if I have run out of ice cream.
Weirdest perhaps is the underneath of my toes. On the second ‘emotional’ toe of my male foot, Kirsty sees three small scars and asks me if there have ever been three difficult times at work, or three traumas involving men that have scarred me. ‘Er,’ I stall, knowing the latter is a central theme in my book. Then she asks if one of the situations was a love triangle (which it was) because there’s a very faint fourth scar next to one of the three. ‘I don’t know how this works,’ she says, when I tell her the story, ‘but isn’t that funny? I just have so much respect for the body and how much it holds.’
I go downstairs afterwards and ask my dad if we’ve got ice cream. ‘Why?’ He asks. ‘I need to nourish myself,’ I explain.
How to start sole searching
Discover toe-curling truths with Kirsty’s quick guide
1 Your right foot is your professional side and your left your emotional side. If one foot is bigger than the other, you’re more confident in that side of yourself.
2 A vertical line between the padding of the ball of your foot indicates low self-esteem.
3 Crisscrossing can indicate indecisiveness.
4 Peeling skin is a good thing – it means you’re releasing an emotion, such as finalising a divorce.
5 Hardening skin means you’re putting up a protective barrier due to changes in your life such as ending a relationship, a miscarriage or a job change.
6 If you have a narrow heel, you’re someone who needs more security and is dependent on others.
7 A long line from north to south of the foot means you put pressure on yourself to be perfect.
8 The lengths of your toes relate to the areas in which your strengths lie. The big toe links to thoughts, the second to emotions and passions, the middle to career, the fourth to relationships and the little toe to a sense of security.