Normally it's all right if your feet aren't as well-groomed as the rest of you. You can hide them in shoes.

Indeed, for most people the feet are probably the most neglected part of the body, the forgotten member of the personal-health movement. We may be dimly aware that toenails and calluses are wreaking havoc on our stockings and bed partners, and diminishing our total allure, but routine foot care gets a pretty low priority in most households. Sure, some people are obsessive about the subject, washing their feet last thing at night and donning white socks to lock in lotions. Most of us are more indolent.

But with barefoot beach time upon us, all that neglect will be exposed.

Every year at this time, I engage in fantasies of professional pedicures -- finally rejecting them as frivolous, if not mortifying, and in the end a waste of money. (Rather than let some poor beautician see my ragged feet, I'd have to get them in shape first.)

No more. This year, driven less by vanity than by a need to be palpably pampered, I put my $16 on the line and spent an hour with a podocosmetologist. pThe salon I went to was discreet: Pedicures are done in a closed-off area, away from the hair-styling, so that "well-heeled" regulars are not subjected to feet that look as if they have hitchhiked over from the wrong side of the tracks.

As pampering goes, a pedicure in a beauty salon is not as sybaritic as, say, a body massage. A few notches above a haircut, certainly, but it doesn't produce the surge of total well-being often promised as the byproduct of fancy feet. Still, by the end of my pedicure, I felt my feet could come out of the closet.

A pedicure is more or less like a manicure, except that there's more rough skin to deal with. Here is what typically happens: First, they soak your feet in warm, sudsy water. (In some salons, this takes place in a vibrating tub.) Then they cut the nails -- not necessarily straight across as we have been taught -- and file them (an unnerving sensation if you aren't used to it).

Next, the beautician creams and lotions your feet and legs, and massages the feet (not enough, in my case). Most important, they remove the calluses, smoothing some surfaces with a pumice stone, and in some salons removing harder edges with a thin, sharp razor-like instrument. Finally, they buff the nails, or apply a base coat and polish.

"The feet here are in better shape than in France," observes Elodie Samanos, proprietor of France International beauty salon. "american women like comfort. In France, the women prefer esthetics, so they squeeze their feet into shoes too small for them."

Most beauty salons say they will remove calluses, but state cosmetology laws limit what they can do. In Maryland, for example, cosmetologists can "scrape" the skin, but not cut it. They aren't allowed to deal with corns at all, and can lose their license if they try.

Anyone with corns, serious calluses, or other foot problems, should, of course, get a pedicure form a podiatrist. A podiatric pedicure is more a matter of hygiene than of pampering -- a regular necessity for many elderly people who have difficulty grooming their own feet or dealing with thickedned nails and hangnails. And a podiatrist is more likely than a beautician to pinpoint the basic cause of problems like callusing.

Says Dr. Murray Politz, former president of the Maryland Podiatry Asscoiation: "Calluses exist because of friction and shearing factors; the skin is caught between the bone and another hard surface and reacts to it. Some skin is so sensitive it blisters; other skin forms calluses prolifically. sIf your shoes are sensible enough to accomodate the rolling and tilting of your foot, you are less likely to have calluses or other foot problems such as corns, bunions, and hammer toes."

But if these problems exist, a podiatrist can minimize them by prescribing small pads or more elaborate shoe forms (orthotics) that are fitted in the shoe to shift the balance of the foot and take the weight off the affected area. In serious cases, an operation to lift the metatarsal bone may be in order.

Short of all that, what can be done about calluses? To provide first aid, a pedicurist may simply trim the callus away. Some people have to have this done every two or three months; others deal with it themselves, using a pumice stone (available at drugstores) and applying cream every night.

"It doesn't matter what cream you use," says Dr. Politz. "Use Crisco. The greasier, the better. And rub it in" (This is where the white socks come in.)

A footnote: "Fungus nails," an athlete's-foot type of infection indicated by thick yellowing nails, is one common foot problem that visits to the beautician may exacerbate. Women with this condition tend to cover it up with nail polish, but polish makes it worse by cutting off air circulation. The condition is easily treated with medication, but the nail has to be thinned first, and for this you had best see a podiatrist.