The arrival of summer also brings about sandal season, when millions don flip-flops and expose their long-hidden feet during beach trips, pool parties, and picnics. While some see this as a welcome relief from months of foot-cramping shoes, others become suddenly self-conscious of the shape and width of their toes seen in broad daylight. To remedy this situation, popularly referred to as “toe-besity,” an increasing number of Americans are turning to cosmetic toe surgeries. But although toe surgery can boost confidence and even foot comfort, the procedure, like most plastic surgery, is a serious undertaking.
Cosmetic toe surgery takes as many forms as shapes as, well, toes themselves. There are combinations of toe shortening, toe reshaping, and toe liposuction procedures available from a range of around $2,000 or less per toe, dependent on the complexity of the treatment. But such toe-molding operations weren’t always offered in such a variety.
"When people first started asking [about toe reshaping], I said 'What?'" related Dr. Oliver Zong, a surgical director at NYC FootCare, to Daily Mail. “We were mostly doing toe shortenings in the beginning.” Over the last few years Dr. Zong has witnessed increasing numbers of men and women visitors to his clinic seeking cosmetic toe modifications, and the trend shows little sign of slowing down.
For the majority of patients, the big toe is the culprit, seeming crooked or out of proportion to the rest of the foot. Dr. Zong’s methods of big toe width reduction include removing fat via scalpel or liposuction and then shaving down bone, all while keeping the toe itself proportional and the nail secure. Toe-shortening procedures typically require a more involved process of dislocating the toe, sawing a few millimeters off the bone, and then inserting a titanium rod through bone segments for healing and stability.
When factored in with procedures such as dermal filler injections to the footpad for extended high heel use, foot modification accounts for well over 45 million dollars worth of cosmetic procedures in a given year. While this is a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated 10 billion dollars spent on cosmetic procedures each year, many are left puzzled as to why people endure complex procedures to treat a rarely visible flaw.
“I think it’s the same as if you would ask for any kind of cosmetic surgery,” Dr. Zong speculated on his patients’ motivations for toe modification. “They’re very embarrassed by the situation and afterward, they gain self-esteem and feel more confident. Some people have said they’re so embarrassed that their boyfriends have never seen their feet.”
But while the surgery can grant patients extra confidence, many cosmetic surgeons want to stress the surgical liabilities of unnecessary foot operations. “You're undergoing risks—there's the risk of anesthesia, infection, deformity of the toe if the surgery is not done right, a risk of re-occurrence, and the risk of surgery in general,” said Dr. Hillary Brenner, a New York foot surgeon and a representative of the American Podiatric Medical Association, commented to Daily Mail reporters. Literature from the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society also warns that toe shortening and toe shaving procedures come with the added risks of permanent nerve damage, an altered gait, and chronic pain while wearing shoes.
Whether or not you think toe surgery is worth it, people continue to pursue the treatment and enjoy their aesthetic results. "I already see improvement, and I feel so much more confident now," said one of Dr. Zong’s patients after a recent operation on his big toe and an adjacent hammertoe.