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Photography Irving Penn for Vogue

Looking after your feet can change your life

We talk to The Foot Scraper aka London-based podiatrist Dina Gohil about going viral and treating a 106-year-old woman with the feet of a 16-year-old

From the individuals extracting earwax from your eardrum to the quiet crusaders shaving skin off your feet, in our monthly series The Professionals we meet the people taking pride in the nitty gritty side of beauty.

Feet. Love them or hate them, there’s rarely an in between. Love them, and you’re probably a foot fetishist. Hate them and you’re basically just like the rest of us, who only really get to see their feet during the summer months (buried in the sand so no-one can see them) or occasionally when mid-Downwards Facing dog (toes curled, again so no-one can see them). But it doesn't have to be this way. As Canadian-born, London-based podiatrist Dina Gohil argues, when it comes to people taking care of their feet, the biggest problem we face is that out of sight out of mind mentality. If you think about it, we spend a lot of timing taking care of our faces, our hair, our nails and our skin because they’re always on show, but are pretty negligent when it comes to our cloven hooves. Gohil wants to change this and get us looking after our feet the same way we approach the rest of our skin. She also wants to change the narrative that feet are gross. Because, yes, underneath those calluses and corns there’s a pair of beautiful trotters screaming to get out. To me, feet are not just extensions of your body, it is your body,” says Gohil.

With a focus on improving quality of life, Gohil’s work at DG Podiatrist - a practice she set up in 2014 - is far more than pampering; she does everything from relieving minor pathologies - an ingrown nail or fungal infection - to resolving chronic foot pain that can sometimes prevent people from being able to actually walk. Furthermore, she does all this through combining natural remedies, inspired by her Indian heritage and interest in traditional Ayurvedic practices, with a scientific understanding of our feet.

We chat to Gohil about going viral on YouTube (she calls herself The Foot Scraper) changing people’s lives via their feet, and treating a 106-year old person with the feet of a 16-year-old.

Where did your interest in medicine and science come from?
Dina Gohil: I’ve always had a special interest in science, for example how things work, why things are the way they are, evolution and even astronomy. I can’t say it practically came from a person or TV show as such but if I think back I’d maybe attribute it to Barbie? As odd as that sounds. When the hair used to change colour - I found it fascinating.

How did you first come across podiatry?
Dina Gohil: Funnily enough, I didn’t know what podiatry was until it was mentioned to me by a friend.

How did you get into it, professionally?
Dina Gohil: The interest professionally piqued during my volunteering time with another podiatrist before I applied to become one myself. As I was watching this podiatrist treat people during the day, every part of me wanted to move him from his seat and do it myself. I guess that’s how I found my calling.

How long have you been doing it?
Dina Gohil: The training takes three years and I graduated in 2011, making it a grand total of 12 years.

What are the kind of things you treat?
Dina Gohil:
I treat a variety of different conditions such as calluses (hard skin), corns, nail issues like ingrown toenails, splitting, thickening, fungal infections, heel pain, biomechanics and orthotics, verrucas and bunions.

Why is it that people tend not to pay as much attention to their feet as they would another body part e.g face or hair?
Dina Gohil: My personal thoughts are that they are hidden most of the time in some form of footwear and are further away from eye contact. So as the saying goes, out of sight out of mind. I feel if people were exposed to more, learned more about how to look after them easily, then I feel people would pay more attention to them.

What do you think that says about our perception of beauty today?
Dina Gohil: Beauty today is very subjective, I believe each person’s beauty has become an area they believe in showing, exposing, enjoying and exploring. What I have noticed recently, which I am so happy about, is that people are looking after their health rather than using make-up to mask things.

What qualifications does one need to become a podiatrist?
Dina Gohil: In order to become a podiatrist you must study BSc Podiatry degree that lasts for three years at university.

Where did you learn your technique? Do you have a signature technique?
Dina Gohil: Now this is an interesting question because I believe technique is truly unique to the individual, you are taught how to do something but only you can master it with time, practice and patience.

Can you remember the first time you worked on someone’s feet? What was that like?
Dina Gohil: Yes, I can recall it like it was yesterday. It was both terrifying and hilarious at the same time. The first thing we were trained to do was cut someone’s toenails. Now I know that sounds like a pretty simple task at first, but if you’ve never tried to cut someone’s toenails before you are constantly worried about trying not to hurt them. Now, why was it hilarious? I’ll tell you. The client told me she had hammer toes, meaning her toes bend in a certain way, I giggled slightly as she told me. Just then she asked why that was funny? I apologised and said how it always reminds me of a song by MC Hammer "Hammertime". To my surprise, this woman, who must have been in her late 70's, lights up in excitement and says "Oh yes, I know that one! My grandson always listens to it!" and continued humming and singing the song! My lecturer walked past, looked at us both and laughed, and walked away saying "Only you..."

When comes to feet, people are either repulsed or find them fetishistically alluring. Where do you stand?
Dina Gohil: To me feet are not just extensions of your body, it is your body. Your feet are as important as any other aspect and I see them as part of the person.

Treating one’s feet is quite intimate, do you feel desensitised looking at people’s ailments down there?
Dina Gohil: I don’t feel desensitised, I feel intrigued as every pathology tells a story about the person and their lifestyle.

What’s been some of the most memorable experiences you’ve had with people’s feet?
Dina Gohil: There were three moments that stand out to me. One was changing someone’s life, whereby the woman came in wobbling and limping, hip out, and unable to put her feet down. She had deep corns on both feet which prevented her from being able to walk and lead a normal life. After treatment, she was able to walk again and it was emotional to see her progress, and beautiful at the same time. The other time was when I had the pleasure of treating a 106-year-old woman with the feet of a 16-year-old! The third most memorable experience was the first time I filmed a corn removal for my YouTube channel, The Foot Scraper, and woke up to see five million views across over 192+ countries.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learnt from doing it?
Dina Gohil: How much I learn from my seat. The diversity of people I am exposed to on a daily basis beats any book, movie or schooling institution. I am learning about other people’s life experience and it is truly something else.

What are the biggest misconceptions about feet?
Dina Gohil: That pathologies just get better by themselves and cutting V's in the toenails stops ingrown toenails.

What are the most challenging parts of your profession?
Dina Gohil: I feel very blessed that the majority of my job is fantastic. However recently I found it can be challenging on my physical health with constant arm movement, looking down and constantly using my hands.

What are the most rewarding parts? What is it you enjoy about doing it?
Dina Gohil: Honestly, it is incredible – 8/10 times I can fix most pathologies there and then, relieve pain, make some feel better, enable a better quality of life, and change perspective and encourage a positive mindset. I love every aspect of it!.

Some people find the idea of feet quite squeamish and embarrassing, they can have a reputation as being gross, why do you think this is?
Dina Gohil: Not enough is taught at schools, the importance of feet is not passed down through generations. If people learnt about what they can do to take care of their feet they would pay more attention to them. Then they wouldn’t feel squeamish or embarrassed.

Is this something you want to challenge?
Dina Gohil: Yes absolutely, I would love for people to look at their feet more and more every day, notice the unique aspects, see how they move, look after them better and see how they feel about them after this? I feel their opinions may change.

What is the key to having beautiful feet?
Dina Gohil: Hydration is key, water is the best and yet most underrated key to beauty for your body including your feet. Also, another key is wearing footwear that fits and supports your feet, moisturising your feet with a proper foot cream and keeping your hygiene up to scratch.

You’re a fan of natural remedies, where does this interest come from?
Dina Gohil: I believe my interest in natural remedies comes from my heritage and generational roots in India and the Ayurvedic practice, whereby they use natural herbs, spices and oils to soothe, aid and help restore health. Secondly, I like the idea of these natural remedies not having side effects and causing alternative issues when trying to resolve one in the first place.

Why do you think more people are turning to natural remedies when technology has never been more advanced?
Dina Gohil: I feel this may be due to the side effects people can experience. The more processed a product is the more interactions that can be required, it might not even be healthier, it’s often more expensive and when there are so many ingredients, allergens can also become an issue.

What do you see as the future of podiatry?
Dina Gohil: My 15-year-old sister thinks that podiatry is evolving with technology: in the future, she sees podiatrists using hi-tech screens to show their results or explain in a much more detailed fashion how treatment will help resolve or maintain a condition – kind of like Tony Stark. I have to say I’d like to agree with her thoughts, it would be wonderful to think in the future that people’s perspective of their feet will change. It would be even better if fashion decided to choose health as it's new trend. It would be an accomplishment if everyone knew what podiatry is, what podiatrists do and how we can help. I see podiatry coming to the forefront and I feel podiatry will be here for many many years to come. As long as there are feet, there will be podiatrists by their sides to help at each step of the way.