The world's best feet should step forward

July 29, 2002|By Michelle Han | Michelle Han,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

You could call Claire Noble the world's most beautiful person from the ankle down.

The Tennessee woman's attractive arch and French-manicured toes won over judges in last year's World's Most Beautiful Feet contest, earning her a free trip to Mexico and a professionally photographed portfolio of her award-winning feet.

Now it's time to crown a new king or queen of feet, and employees of the Teaneck, N.J.-based Foot.com Web site are preparing to peruse thousands of foot photographs as the contest deadline draws near.

"You have 3,000 photos sitting in front of you," said Donille Perrone, marketing manager for Apex Foot Health Industries, which launched Foot.com three years ago to spread the gospel of good foot health.

Publicists for the contest, now in its third year, readily acknowledge the curious attention their annual drive sparks about a company that deals mostly in chronic heel pain and fungus. But it's all in good fun. This is not a foot beauty contest under the intense glare of pageant lights. There is no swimsuit category, no talent competition, no sequins or tiaras. Just a batch of glossy photographs, and in some cases a few clicks of a mouse.

Judges include a podiatrist, a manicurist, a foot model and a professional shoe fitter. And, as can be expected, the judging is highly subjective.

Contest judge Suzanne Belyea, Foot.com's medical director and a podiatrist, said that when she's judging, she prefers simplicity to decorum. Photographing your feet in a bathtub or a flower garden, as some entrants do, might impress someone else - not her.

Belyea said she looks first to see no imperfections. Nails should be cut straight, there should be no calluses or fungus, the foot should be neither flat nor the arch too high, and a well-defined bone and muscle structure can be nice. "A real simple, real basic, average foot but no flaws at all," Belyea said of the entries that catch her eye.

As contest organizer, Perrone has the job of fielding phone calls from entrants with questions about what kind of photos to submit. They range from technical questions about camera angles to the slightly off-kilter inquiries - such as the person who wanted to know whether he could submit nude photos.

"You get the weirdest people out there," Perrone said.

A New York shoe store employee founded Apex Foot Health Industries in the 1940s. As the story goes, Paul Schwartz started to have heel pain that wouldn't go away. Prescribed orthopedics provided little relief, so he created his own arch supports. Today, Schwartz's son is Apex's CEO, and his two grandsons are officers.

Contestants have until Thursday to send photos. Judges then will select 10 finalists, whose photos will appear online. The public will vote on a winner via e-mail during Labor Day weekend.

For the winner, a five-day trip to Mexico awaits. For the most uncomely pair of feet, there is a consolation prize: a pedicure, courtesy of Foot.com.

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