Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hippies & OCD: Bizarre Social Stereotypes OR Don't Be Afraid Because I'm Barefoot

In case you didn't know from Facebook or Twitter, I have become quite fond of going barefoot. I'm not talking about just around the house or -- gasp! -- driving barefoot, but going out in public to businesses, retailers and other places without footwear. For more info as to why, see my previous blog post.

For me, one thing that keeps coming back to the fore when addressing the issue of going barefoot is the whole idea of foot protection. Someone usually says or asks one of three things.

"I don't go barefoot very much since I (somehow injured my foot) as a kid."
"But what if you step on a nail or some broken glass?"

Yes, that's only two things. Just a moment. To those, my reply is always this: "I stepped on a nail and got stung on the sole of my foot as a child. That isn't going to make me wear protective gloves for the rest of my life, though. The same goes for feet and shoes."

The other protection issue is diseases. "You never know what kind of diseases you could pick up off the floor into the bottom of your foot."

So then THAT got me thinking even more:

Each time some sort of flu outbreak makes the news, medical folks always say the same thing. I work in a hospital and they drive it into our minds almost every day. "Washing your hands," they say, "is the best way to prevent the spread of disease.

They DON'T say, "Wear gloves all the time."

But what if someone DID wear gloves all the time? Wouldn't that help prevent the spread of disease? After all, medical people do it all the time when they draw blood, perform surgeries or take part in any number of other medical procedures.

But that doesn't make sense, right? I mean, come on. What would happen if we saw someone walking around the mall or Walmart, touching everything with gloves on?

We'd say they have OCD.

Maybe they're just being extra careful and don't care what everybody else thinks.

What if they came up to us and asked, "Why aren't you wearing gloves?" "Aren't you afraid of getting diseases?" "What if something cuts your hand?"

Seems pretty silly doesn't it?

So like I said earlier, I like to go barefoot in public. I wonder what would happen if you saw me or another barefooter walking unshod around the mall or Walmart, touching everything with bare hands.

You might say we're hippies.

Maybe I'm trying to give the 52 bones and dozens of ligaments, tendons and muscles in my feet a chance to move the way they were intended. Maybe I don't want my feet to get sweaty confined in shoes. Maybe I like feeling the slight variations of temperature and texture on the ground below me.

Never mind the fact that I'm touching merchandise with my unwashed-since-this-morning hands. Now bare feet (that only touch the floor): that's gross!

So when we probably should wear gloves more often because of how many people don't wash their hands and more people should go barefoot because it's better for our feet, our society has somehow evolved our thinking to be completely opposite.

Do you know why we don't wear gloves all the time? Because we're not that worried.

Do you know why I don't wear shoes most of the time? Because I'm not that worried.

And you needn't be either. I wash my feet.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Barefoot Q&A

As a person who prefers to go barefoot outside my home to many various public places, I'd like to go over some of the comments/questions that we "barefooters" often hear from those who are more comfortable shod. Hopefully this will clear up some misconceptions and help others understand why I, and many others, find great comfort in walking on the feet that the good Lord gave us.

Is this some kind of foot fetish thing?
Hah, no. In fact, while researching about bare feet and their benefits, I've found all kinds of interesting sites and videos about bare feet, dirty feet, foot fetishes, etc. that I really wouldn't want my kids to see. While I do find everything about women attractive, including their feet, there's nothing about feet that "turn me on" in a sexual way. This is about health and comfort. Read on for more.

Isn't it against health codes and/or illegal to go barefoot in public places?
Actually, no public agency has enacted any health or safety regulations that require customers to don footwear in public. Many retailers and other businesses certainly have the right to restrict unshod customers from conducting business and may even ask a barefooter to leave. In those situations, barefooters like myself must decide if we want to put on shoes or take our business elsewhere. You'll find that many times we choose the latter. For the record, food service workers and other various kinds of job categories are regulated by health agencies and OSHA and are often required to wear protective footwear for safety.

Okay, but it IS unhealthy to go barefoot in public places. There's all kinds of nasty things on the floor!
How so? Sure, your feet could get dirty, but dirt is only that. The idea that there are numerous diseases spread out all over the floors of businesses is unfounded at best. Even if there are, the likelihood of actually catching a disease from briefly stepping on one is low. As you continue to walk it'd be wiped off your sole very quickly, rendering little harm to you. Incidentally, many larger retailers like Wal-mart clean their floors thoroughly every day.

But let's look one step further at the issue of cleanliness. On any given day, how clean would you say someone's bare foot is compared to their shoe? Remember that most people wash their feet in the shower every day. How often do people wash their shoes or clean the soles of them? Additionally, I've got to believe that our hands are typically more "dirty" than our bare feet that haven't been inside shoes. Think about it: after walking around barefoot in a retailer like Wal-mart, the bottoms of my feet may have collected a fair amount of dirt on them. Otherwise, what else could have made them unclean? On the flip side, how many people before you have touched the handle on the freezer door? How many employees and customers have touched the hanger of that dress you're admiring? How clean were their hands when they did it?

Aren't you concerned about diseases?
No, I'm not overly concerned about getting my feet dirty or even stepping on floors that have microparticles of who knows what. I figure I'm just as likely to get a disease from the floor through the soles of my feet as I am from a toilet seat through the skin of my rear end. I am only slightly more concerned about who all has touched the shopping cart handle before me and if the milk I'm buying is within its proper sell date. Our bodies are made to learn how to resist bad things, and that applies from head to toe. All things considered, what my toes are walking on is the least of my worries.

What about sharp objects? What if you step on some broken glass, a nail, tack or something similar?
This question gets asked a lot, and the fact of the matter is that there's not
nearly as many of these hazards as people would like to believe. For the ground to regularly be such a risk to walk on, people would literally have to break glass objects all the time all over the place, drop lots of nails and lose a lot of thumb tacks.

So what if I were actually to step on one of these? First, a piece of glass would likely be fairly small if not cleaned up after an accident. From personal experience stepping on lots of rocks, I can tell you that our feet are pretty tough. They're also very good at instantaneously compensating for sharp pressures on the soles. A piece of glass, if stepped on, would likely be compensated for by the feet and not penetrate the skin. As for a nail, most nails do not lay point up. The same sort of compensation would occur with them. If a nail was face up and did penetrate the skin, my tetanus booster is up to date. Such a piercing wound would hurt, but it would also heal pretty quickly and could be safely covered. Tacks? They're just smaller, shorter nails.

I should note that when I was a kid, I once stepped on a nail at home that pierced my feet and a bee stung the bottom of my foot at the pool. Both hurt, but I recovered.

I would think businesses would often not allow barefooters due to liability reasons. What if you get hurt and sue?
First, I would only sue if the business was so negligent that, barefoot or shod, I would have been injured anyway. Secondly, most barefooters agree that bringing suit against a business for injuries sustained as a result of being barefoot would get that suit thrown out of court. When I go barefoot, I realize that I take on some risks, and those are risks I'm willing to take.

All that said, it just seems like our bare feet are just so vulnerable without footwear.
And I would argue that's because we've pushed aside our sensation and awareness by wrapping our feet in shoes all the time. Why bother caring what's going on around your body at floor level if you have those man-made barriers in place? Our bare feet are really only slightly more vulnerable than our hands without gloves on. Sure, we are a lot more likely to stub our toes than jam our fingers, but once you begin going barefoot enough, you become more and more aware of your surroundings. You subconsciously survey the walking surfaces ahead of and around you for potential danger. As mentioned before, your feet instantly compensate for sharp objects underfoot, rendering them harmless. In the end, going barefoot makes you operate just as finely with your feet as with your hands. Sure, accidents and injuries happen. But just like I wouldn't start wearing gloves all the time because I cut my finger, I don't have to wear shoes all the time because I stepped on a nail as a child. You deal with such things and move on. The benefits outweigh the concerns by a large ratio.

I hope you don't drive barefoot. That's illegal, you know.
Actually, it's not in any of the 50 United States, unless you drive a motorcycle in Alabama. Then it's illegal. All that said, many public safety agencies will recommend that you wear footwear for "safety" purposes. I suppose that in an accident my foot would be somewhat more protected if wearing shoes, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.

But don't you have less less control/force on the pedals barefoot?
I feel more confident pressing on the pedals with bare feet than any other way. Flip flops feel too flimsy and slide around. Shoes don't allow me to use all of the muscles in my feet to sense the pedals and depress them as efficiently. Barefoot driving is the way to go!

Going barefoot too long isn't good for our bodies. It can mess up your back and cause your arches to fall.
Hah! So you're saying that the very feet we were born with are bad for us? I will tell you that I've read numerous stories of people who had back problems disappear after kicking off their prescription shoes and orthotic inserts to go barefoot.

Let's remember here that God made our feet to work a certain way. If you don't subscribe to theism, one could argue that our feet have evolved for millions of years to be the way they are. It's been only in the last few
hundred years that we've bound them up in shoes. Looking at the entire history of humanity, shoes are not the norm.

You see, our feet are designed not only to connect ourselves to the world beneath us, but to act as our very first shock absorbers. From what I understand, there are 26 bones in each of our feet and a total of 206 bones in entire human body. That means 25% of our bones are below our ankles! Not only that, but there are 33 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in each foot. They are made to move, shift and bend. Our arches don't need to be held up by shoes because they're designed to be held up by our own strong feet.

But most of the time our feet are not that strong. Each day millions of people wrap their feet in shoes that are inflexible and confining. It's like putting casts on our feet each morning. What's more, those shoes are often thick around the soles, causing us to rely on the shoes' cushioning to dampen our steps. All of this weakens our feet and throws off our gait.

Almost anyone will agree that babies learning to walk should learn barefooted. "It helps their feet develop," you might say. "They can balance better that way," one might continue. I agree. What I don't understand is why so many people think that those same principles wouldn't work for adults. Go barefoot! You were born that way for a reason!

Now, there is one caveat to this: I have read that diabetics must be very careful about going barefoot due to poor circulation in their feet. Many of them don't have good sensation in the soles of their feet due to this and can injure their feet by stepping on something dangerous that they can't feel. If you are diabetic and have circulation problems in your feet, consult with your doctor about whether it's wise to go barefoot.

Well, you may have a lot of answers, but I don't care what you say. Bare feet are just unsanitary and gross!
First of all, I'm sorry that you feel that way. Hopefully I can put your mind at ease about some concerns about how sanitary our bare feet really are, or can be.

The first thing you have to ask yourself, though, is
why do you think bare feet are gross? Is it because they are often sweaty? The irony here is that feet are usually sweaty because of shoes. If left to their own devices, bare feet sweat no more than bare hands. Confined in shoes, feet are unable to ventilate and become overly warm. As a reaction, feet sweat causing a moist, warm environment for your feet (and other interesting things) to fester. Unshod, feet can breathe and stay cool enough to sweat far less. It removes an environment capable of growing nasty things like athlete's foot and the like. So what if your feet get dirty. They can be washed.

One question I have for those who think bare feet are gross is, "Are bare feet more gross than those wearing flip flops? If so, why?"

But Michael, even Jesus wore sandals.
Even if you want to argue that, I would retort that times were different back then. Sewage ran through gutters alongside the streets. Diseases and illnesses were far more prevalent. Even the surfaces on which those people walked were more littered with debris, animal feces and other really gross stuff.

If you think about it, bare feet have it made here in the 21st century! We have modern infrastructure to eliminate our waste, our streets and sidwalks are fairly free of debris, and our homes and businesses have high-quality flooring (compared to days of old).

What's more, there really is no better feeling that walking through a grassy lawn barefoot. If you give it a chance and take a moment to really feel the earth beneath you, you begin to feel connected to all of nature. You begin to feel like a part of the earth instead of a being living
on it. It's even such a stress reliever. I've found it hard to be upset when I'm barefoot. When I do get upset, usually with the kids, it is always lesser than I would be wearing shoes.

Okay, fine, maybe feet aren't gross. But going barefoot in public just isn't proper. It's uncivilized and makes you look like a poor hippie.
Well, I can't say that I have the pot, cut-off clothing, dreadlocks or other stereotypes to qualify as a "hippie," but if that's what you think, so be it. Just consider this: Do you feel it isn't proper for women to wear anything but a skirt? Do you feel that black people should go to separate schools? How about children being "seen but not heard?"

Our society has blown away so many stereotypes of what's "proper" or "civilized" and have come to embrace our humanity more and more each time. I see bare feet in the same way. Okay, so maybe there's a lot of people that think it's improper to go barefoot in public. It just makes me want to open their minds to other possibilities, not change who I want to be.

And back to the hippie thing: Which would you prefer in a public place with your family? A well-groomed young man with nicely-cut hair and clean contemporary clothing walking barefoot OR an un-groomed young man with tattered, dirty and holey clothing who smells like he hasn't showered in weeks but has nasty old shoes on? Which person is "healthier?" Which person is more "appropriately" groomed to be in public? This isn't a judgment call on how good each person is, but our perception of what's appropriate in public places.

I welcome whatever other questions/comments you have.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Barefoot in Public? You're Grounded!

Spring has sprung, the grass is green and flowers are budding! If you've paid any attention to my status updates the last couple of weeks, you've seen me make mention several times to going barefoot. I thought I'd take just a moment to explain myself a bit more and share why I am becoming a bigger fan of "barefooting."

We all have had moments of our feet hurting after a long day at work, walking around Santa-Cali-Gon Days or another activity where our feet are used a lot. When we finally get to kick off our shoes, we curl up our toes and stretch our ankles. What a relaxing feeling, right?

Over the past few years, I've become increasingly interested in having those relaxing, free feelings in my feet. The more that I wear shoes, the more my feet feel confined in them. I have begun to notice the little pressure points that eventually leave red marks on my toes or the top of my feet. It's not fun.

On the flip side, I've discovered how amazing it can be to go barefoot beyond the confines of my own home. When I go barefoot, I feel more connected to every environment in which I am.

The ground beneath our feet feels amazing, friends. Different kinds of carpet have different textures. The concrete and asphalt outside can feel different temperatures depending on where the sun is shining and where it is shaded. Even the pedals in my car have texture to them and I find that I can feel the vibrations of the road and tiny minutiae of the car's operation.

What's more, my feet have enjoyed being free of unwelcome pressure points and from being essentially locked in limited positions while inside shoes.

Try this: If you are wearing shoes, take one off and any sock you may be wearing on that foot. Now move your ankle, foot and toes around. Really get a sense for how your foot can curl and move. Try the same exercise with your shod foot. How much can you move your toes around? What range of motion do you have with your ankle? See what I mean?

I've done a bunch of researching in the last couple of years about the benefits of going barefoot and how unnatural it is for our feet to be trapped inside of shoes. Through this research and reading (linked later) I've found that going barefoot is a good thing!

All of that said, I know what you're thinking.

There's all kinds of reasons we have developed as a society as to why we feel it's necessary and socially appropriate to wear some kind of footwear, especially in public. I assert that it only takes a moment of reflection to begin shedding ideas about bare feet and the necessity to wear shoes in our society.

Consider the following questions:

Why do many people feel that feet are gross?
From what does footwear protect our feet?
What are the differences between how our hands touch the world and how our feet touch the world?
At any given moment, how "clean" are the soles and insides of the shoes you're wearing?

I understand that many people think only "hippies" and southerners go barefoot all the time. I get it that many people feel that going barefoot is gross. And I'm definitely not stupid. I realize that there are situations in which we are placed that shoes are necessary.

It's just that I've come to the realization that feet are NOT gross if taken care of. What's more, there's really very little from which we need to protect our feet with footwear. And when I read the research that going barefoot is better for our bodies than shoes, I'm pretty much sold.

But what really drives it home for me is how being barefoot feels. If you give yourself a chance to do it long enough, you'll find it starting to feel "right" and natural. As time goes on I have become a little more bold with my own comfort level.

If, even now, all of this is hogwash to you and you think I've lost my frikkin' mind, so be it. If you are intrigued, I DO NOT think you should throw off all footwear and go shopping barefoot at the mall to start.

My challenge to you is this: Try going barefoot one "step" more than you're used to. I know someone that doesn't even like to walk around without socks on. To that person or others I say, "take off those socks and walk around your house barefoot!" If you'll go barefoot in your home, walk around outside. Feel the texture of the concrete vs. the grass. Sense the difference in temperature between sunlight and shade. If you go out shopping wearing flip flops, try kicking them off for a little while. If you drive while wearing your flip flops, take them off and drive barefoot (It's not illegal, contrary to popular belief).

The links below offer up a lot of answers to questions you might have and give a lot of good information about safety and health concerns of barefooting.

The Society for Barefoot Living
These people are HARDCORE. While I'm not necessarily to the place they are, their site provides a lot of good information about health, safety and legal concerns.

Living Barefoot
While not as hardcore, this site offers a lot of good information as well. In addition, it lists a number of footwear alternatives to give you that barefoot feel without many of the typical concerns.

"You Walk Wrong," New York Magazine, April 21, 2008
A GREAT article addressing the problems with modern footwear and explaining why it's so good to go barefoot. It's a bit New York-centric, but still good info.

"The Definitive Guide for Going Barefoot," Real World Strength Training
A good, simple article about the benefits of running barefoot. It includes one researcher's video that shows side-by-side comparisons of the mechanics of barefoot running versus shod running.

So there you have it...for now. This was pretty wordy and it didn't address nearly all of my thoughts on going barefoot. But expect to see my bare feet more often. I hope to see yours too.

I welcome your comments and/or questions.

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