No one writes about toenails. Except me.

Toenails live down there somewhere, oblivious to the world above them. For some unknown reason they exist, often to give us distraction or pain because they grow. And they require regular cleaning and trimming. I have fought many battles with my toenails, but am still the victor. So far.

So what do they do for us?

Well, apparently, they are vestigial claws, used for digging or scratching by our far distant ancestors of the Homo Erectus variety. As we walk barefoot, they remind us as claws, where we have been with each step. The longer they are, the more attention they/we get, especially on public sandy beaches. Most of the time the claw function is sub-conscious and irrelevant. I have yet to see someone dig a hole with their toes, although in theory it is possible. And no one has stopped me and said something like “Your toenails are too short for clawing.”

They are status beacons. Dirty, knurled, ingrown toenails say a lot about their owner since their neglect predicts other body parts will be neglected too, i.e., hair, fingernails, teeth, etc. Really spiffy clean and manicured toenails are one important indicator then, of perhaps traits beyond hygiene, like personality. Clean toenails, well-managed person.

And they can be painted, according for some people an opportunity to display not only status but also its corollary, ‘belonging-ness’. Painted toenails signal fashion conformity or self-expressionism others also enjoy. Of course, the more people adopt a fashion the more it becomes the norm, so there is a time limit on self-expression of toenails as a personal statement. Kind of like the claim that “If we all were nude, no one would be nude.”

Toenails cost money to care for. Or they can. Clippers aren’t cheap any more. And manicures are getting very expensive. Bandages too, for those persons who happen to rip a toenail (only) from slipping while cutting the lawn barefoot. Or walking in the bush barefoot (been there).

Toenails follow us wherever we go, but are mostly an after-thought in everyday life. More likely, they remind us, rather than we remind them, they need attention. That ‘new shoe’ test is one moment in toenail time where they are victorious. Another may be while we are in bed, alone or otherwise, against the sheets or another person’s leg. Uncut toenails can be our downfall, in moments of intimacy, or while wearing open-toed sandals at a pool-side Bar-B-Q.

So where are we….do we need them? Probably not. Do they need us? Probably not. Are we stuck with them? Probably for the next 2-3 million years. They are just another in a list of self-discipline devices Mother Nature has loaded us up with, like hair and fingernails and other body parts that need regular attention. Just have to live with them, and use them to our advantage – for public status purposes, and maybe one day while in the garden when no one is looking – for digging holes.