Friday, July 24, 2009

Weak, Misshapen Thinking

I always get a kick out of it when I hear some podiatrist talk about how our feet need arch supports or that some shoe is going help with pronation, supination or some other nation. The general message is that our feet are weak. Who cares that we were born without shoes? We cannot live effectively without our feet being supported, right?

Well that got me thinking about newborn babies, neck braces and these women:


Now what do you suppose would happen if this woman suddenly removed all of the metal rings from around her neck? I'm guessing her head would flop over uncontrollably, possibly breaking her neck and paralyzing her. She might be able to hold up her head, but her control over it would be pretty terrible.

But why would that happen? After all, you and I can hold our heads up just fine, right? Shouldn't she be able to?

Oh, but wait, there ARE perfectly good people who don't have rings around their necks that can't hold their heads up. They generally look like this:

(This is my baby girl Katherine, less than a day old in this pic)

So what's the difference? The first has a strong neck and weakens it over time by restricting its movement. The second has a weak neck and strengthens it over time by allowing it to move freely.

We never say that babies need neck braces or metal rings for the rest of their lives. We know that over time they will become strong enough, that their necks will do what they were born to do.

But there are times that we injure ourselves. Sometimes, then, doctors even put a part of our body in a cast or brace to facilitate healing. We've all seen someone's leg after they've had a cast or brace removed. It's usually smaller than the other leg, atrophied from lack of use. In those cases, doctors either recommend physical therapy to restrengthen the leg or reassure the patient that the leg will get back to normal over time.

We essentially place a cast on our feet every time we put on shoes. While not as restrictive as a cast, shoes greatly limit the amount of flexion in our feet. Our feet may not atrophy like they do when placed in a cast, but it's reasonable to assume that when placed in shoes on a regular basis they are not as strong as they could be. But let's take it to the extreme.

For approximately 1,000 years, some women in China were subjected to the practice of foot binding. It was believed that a small foot on a woman is a beautiful foot. In an attempt for women's feet to be more "attractive," their arches would be broken, tightly bound and crammed into shoes that were way too small for any normal foot. Over the course of their lifetimes, these women would develop permanent disabling deformities, leaving their feet looking like anything but something human:


The gap in her foot is where her arch used to be. More disturbingly, I think, are her toes. Do you see them? They're curled up underneath the foot, just in front of the arch.

"But Michael," you may say, "our society isn't like that. We don't torture anyone to make their feet look better. Our shoes certainly don't cause deformities like that." Oh don't they?

The very blog entry from which I got that photo is about high heels: what to wear and what to avoid. These shoes are listed as what to wear. Now imagine wearing shoes like this 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for a roughly 45-year career. While not as extreme, I've got to think they'd do something to your foot.

We've all seen them. They're the older ladies with the orthopedic sandals. If you dare look down at their feet, you might see something like this:


That sure is attractive, isn't it? While men's shoes don't typically restrict the toes as badly, we have it pretty bad too, guys.

Folks, we're killing our feet with every stupid good-looking, malformed shoe that we put on! Whether it's making our feet weaker or flat out deforming them, we have trained ourselves to be unkind to the southern end of our bodies. Even athletic shoes and non-pointed dress shoes restrict our feet.

"It's good for toddlers to go barefoot because it helps their feet develop," many people say. I've heard it a lot when I've shared my barefooting story with them. But then those same people will say that we adults shouldn't go barefoot everywhere. If bare feet are good for toddlers, why aren't they good for adults? If we believe that shoes can be bad for a kiddo's foot, why do we adults insist on wearing them when we really don't have to? Protection?

Obviously there are instances in our society where shoes are necessary. Whether it be for protection or other means, some footwear is good once and a while. And fortunately, there are companies that make "minimalist" footwear such as the Vibram FiveFingers or VivoBarefoot shoes. This footwear has been designed to let our feet be as flexible and free as possible while still adding a layer of protection. I heavily promote this stuff as a good go-between if someone is unwilling or unable to go unshod.

But our feet are meant to be bare. We were born that way and our feet should stay that way as much as possible. It builds strength, flexibility and avoids deformity. Sure, cute shoes are fun. Sure, many find feet unattractive. But feet can be fun, too. Our feet can remain attractive if well maintained.

In the end, are we really willing to sacrifice a part of our bodies because we're concerned about fashion or even a little dirt, or are we willing to embrace a neglected part of our bodies and enjoy even more of our world by living barefoot whenever possible?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Review: Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Shoes - "Dharma"

I’ve had the opportunity to start wearing my first two pair of “minimalist footwear” shoes nearly simultaneously. The shoes in this review, the Dharma style of Vivo Barefoot shoes from Terra Plana, arrived a few days before my Aqua-style shoes (Quick Review here). Whenever possible I’ll try to compare the Dharmas to bare feet, “normal” shoes, and the Aqua shoes in an attempt to accommodate each reader wherever they’re at.


First off, the Dharmas I received for review were the green color. It pleasantly reminds me both of a pine tree and guacamole. It’s not at all muted, but also doesn’t demand attention.

The design of these shoes is very simple. They look like basic loafers with a seam down the top of the shoe. They even have the typical elastic sections at the sides like most loafers do to ease slipping the shoe on and off.

Overall, the Dharmas look like any other loafer out there with a slight impression of higher quality.


Speaking of quality, it’s easy to tell that greater care went into making these shoes than your run-of-the-mill loafers. From the sturdy materials, to the hand stitching, to the focus on impacting the environment as little as possible, these shoes are very nice.

Compared to standard shoes, the Dharmas and Aquas are much higher quality.


For what you get out of these shoes, the price is pretty steep. I would expect that these shoes would be more expensive than your average pair of canvas loafers because of their build quality, however $140 USD seems really high. I could possibly see a justification for the leather version of this shoe reaching that price point, but I believe it’s asking too much for a canvas shoe.

I’ve got to think that you could find a high-quality loafer for less. Granted, they may not have as much of a “barefoot” feel or be as kind to the environment, but your wallet would thank you.


Let’s be clear: These shoes are very comfortable. The first time I wore them to work I tweeted, “Walking the office shouldn’t be this comfy. Feels like house slippers!” And they do. It almost felt wrong for my feet to not be confined in some tight shoe while working. While putting them on, I did wish that I had a shoehorn, as they don’t flex at the opening very freely. This certainly isn’t a big deal, though.

Hands down, Vivo Barefoot Dharmas win over regular shoes. The Dharmas feel like a soft glove wrapped around my feet compared to even the most comfortable sneakers. Comparing them to the Aquas, the Dharmas are slightly more comfortable around the foot. While the Aquas are still incredibly comfortable, I found that I needed to be careful how tightly I tied the laces. If they were too tight my feet didn’t feel as able to flex, move and breathe the way I wanted. Each and every time I wore the Dharmas, however, they never felt confining.

Barefoot Sensation/Movement

I must say that going barefoot so much before wearing these shoes spoiled me. Nothing can replace the feeling of bare sole on the ground below, so I have to take a mental step back and review these on their merits: a flexible shoe with an ultra-thin, puncture-resistant sole.

First off, the toe box on the Dharmas was adequate enough to prevent my toes from feeling “confined.” While I would have liked a little more space to wriggle my toes up and down, the space provided wasn’t a problem and was certainly more than 99% of regular shoes out there. Compared to the flexible suede of the Aquas, the Dharmas provided my toes with far less vertical space. Where the Aquas have so much space that I could almost make “fists with my toes” wearing them (ala Bruce Willis in the movie Die Hard), the Dharmas afford no such luxury. As for toe box width, my foot seemed to fit perfectly from side to side. In Aquas of the same size, my foot actually felt a little narrow for the toe box.

Wearing the Dharmas without the removable insole does help the foot feel as if it’s walking on the ground with bare feet. While the ultra-fine sensations of texture and temperature are not there – and never will be – the Vivo Barefoot shoes certainly remove the problem that many other shoes cause for our feet. There is no thick heel sole. There is no cushioning. They force the wearer to adjust his/her gait in order to avoid a hard heel strike, which can only relieve the amount of pressure going up through a person’s legs and into the rest of the body.

Interestingly enough, the removable insole in the Dharmas feels firmer than the Aquas’. The latter’s insole seems made of either different materials or in a different manufacturing process, thereby making it feel almost like memory foam. While the Dharmas feel pretty firm with or without the insole, the Aquas feel much softer while using the “cushiony” insole. This might all be best explained with equations:


  • Shoe – Insole = Firm
  • Shoe + Insole = Less Firm


  • Shoe – Insole = Firmer
  • Shoe + Insole = Least Firm

What I like best about both the Dharmas and Aquas is that my arches always felt much more free to flex compared to normal shoes. I was impressed at how much more movement the Vivo Barefoot shoes gave my feet overall. That makes me believe that these shoes are far healthier for my feet and I look forward to wearing them more.

While both styles are Vivo Barefoot shoes, I didn’t feel like my feet were quite as flexible in the Dharmas. I get the impression that the Dharmas are a “version 1.0” style in the line and that the Aquas are “version 2.0” or greater. Not only are the Dharmas a bit less flexible, but I felt like the materials between my feet and the floor were a little thicker. I got less of a sensation of the ground below wearing the Dharmas. The difference is slight, but I felt less shod overall wearing the Aquas. Don't get me wrong, though. Compared to regular footwear, the Dharmas are still far more flexible and give much more of a barefoot feel.

The Final Words

When shoes are necessary, I like the Terra Plana line of Vivo Barefoot shoes very much. The Dharma style feels very comfortable around the foot, provides a thin sole to help our feet take over with a more natural gait, and is made of quality materials to boot. While I prefer the Aqua style because of its increased flexibility and barefoot feel, I would pick the Dharmas over regular shoes any day. The sticking point about them, however, is their price. In the end, if you are not concerned about the cost and/or you find that the high quality of materials and workmanship warrant it, the Dharma line of Vivo Barefoot shoes from Terra Plana is certainly worth a look and feel.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Home Depot Requires "Shoes" in Stores

The Home Depot has signage at the entrances to their stores indicating that customers are required to wear "shoes." Wording clearly states "SHIRT AND SHOES REQUIRED," and an icon depicts a bare foot with the "no" symbol over it with a caption reading "SHOES REQUIRED." Along with prohibiting bare feet, the chain of stores also prohibits smoking, food and drink, and pets (excluding service animals).

While barefooters would likely be disappointed to learn that they are not to shop at The Home Depot unshod, the company is certainly within its rights to make such a limitation. This blogger can also understand why a store that sells hammers, saws, drill bits, nails, screws, razor blades and other incredibly barefoot-unfriendly objects would implement such a policy.

This information is shared for the sole purpose of assisting "Barefoot and Grounded" readers in making their own decisions about where to take their business. The author makes no claim to the quality of products or services of The Home Depot and neither encourages nor discourages the reader to shop at this establishment. For more information about policies of The Home Depot, the author recommends the reader contact their local store or corporate headquarters.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walmart Has No Policy Prohibiting Bare Feet in Stores

I just received notice from a manager at my local Walmart that the company has no policy prohibiting bare feet in their stores nationwide. They also have no signage indicating that bare feet are prohibited.

After entering the same Walmart store last weekend and being asked by an employee to put on "shoes," I contacted Walmart corporate headquarters earlier this week via the company Web site. The message requested clarification of the company's official policy concerning their customers going barefoot in stores nationwide.

This morning I received a call from Sharon, a manager at the Blue Springs, Missouri, Walmart. She informed me that management was "unable to find" a policy prohibiting bare feet in hers or any other store.

This information is shared for the sole purpose of assisting "Barefoot and Grounded" readers in making their own decisions about where to take their business. The author makes no claim to the quality of products or services of Walmart and neither encourages nor discourages the reader to shop at this establishment. For more information about Walmart's policies, the author recommends the reader contact their local store or corporate headquarters.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Art of Denial: Bare Feet May Be Offensive to Some People

Throughout my barefooting adventures, I've had a very pleasant experience overall. I've visited numerous retailers unshod without issue and have attended gatherings with family and friends without too many snarky remarks in good fun.

But this last weekend that changed. I was approached by staff at two different establishments and instructed that I needed to wear "shoes."

The first was at my local Walmart. This surprised me because I'd gone in there probably two dozen times totally barefoot and never had an issue. The greeters never said anything to me and no employees ever approached me requesting that I put on footwear. Then I entered the Garden Center entrance. I didn't make it past the bank of registers when a cashier there said I needed shoes. After I asked why, she tried to tell me that it was a "policy" of Walmart's. I told her that I'd been in there more than a dozen times barefoot and that nothing was posted prohibiting bare feet. She said to me that it's posted at the store's main entrances, but I quickly retorted that it's not -- I've looked. To move on past her, and because we had some quick shopping to do, I put on my emergency flip flops (which, oddly enough, I carried in with me for only the first time). After leaving the Garden Center and getting to the section of store in which we needed to shop, I removed my flops and carried on the rest of the trip without incident.

Later on in the weekend we visited the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City with my brother and his family, who were visiting from out of town. After making it past the "Visitor Services" person (i.e. security guard) at the door, we made our way into the contemporary section of the museum. In the first room another guard approached me and said I'd have to put "shoes" on if I was going to keep looking around. I asked why and was told that it was a "health" issue. I kindly informed the guard that no such health regulations exist. He quickly said he was going to fetch a "supervisor" and walked away. I put my flip flops on and we moved onto the next room of the exhibit. Shortly after that I saw the previous guard with another man who I could only assume was the "supervisor." I motioned him over to me and we had a conversation.

To keep a long story a bit shorter, he informed me that he wouldn't be able to show me before I left their written policy that bare feet aren't allowed but he'd be happy to send it to me later. I asked him why it wasn't posted at the entrance and he informed me that not every policy can be posted. He shared with me that pets aren't allowed but that I didn't see that posted either. I quickly pointed out to him that pets are addressed on the museum Web site, however -- bare feet weren't. I had checked. In the end he tried to tell me that he didn't want to take the risk that other museum goers might be "offended" by me. I held out my hand and asked, "so can someone be offended by that, too?" He said that my claim doesn't follow social "norms." Finally, I reminded him that an art museum's job is often to challenge norms with diverse artwork and that I found it perplexing that their guests weren't allowed to be so diverse. Honestly, if a statue can show its bare feet AND penis (an actual piece at the museum, pictured here), why can't I walk around barefoot?

I'm in the process of writing a letter to the museum sharing my history as a barefooter and asking them to question their policy (or lack thereof). If they choose to reject visitors in bare feet that's certainly their prerogative, but something should be posted.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Had My Bare Foot Fourth

Since I haven't posted in a few days, I wanted to put up a quick blog entry about my splendid weekend of going barefoot.

Friday evening was, what I consider, my first really big "primetime" barefoot outing since earnestly starting this unshod gig a few months ago: The Kansas City Royals game. Sure, I'd been to various retailers where a few hundred people were shopping (and maybe a few dozen actually saw me barefoot). I'd been to parties at family and friends' houses, but a Major League Baseball game? This was HUGE. Like 35,000-plus-in-attendance huge.

I'll be honest: I had a few concerns about barefooting at the game. How many broken bottles would I have to avoid stepping on while walking in and out of the stadium? Would I even get past the gate unshod or be forced by security to wear my "emergency" flip flops that were in the diaper bag? Would my feet get stepped on while mingling through crowds of people over the course of the evening? And just how would my feet hold up being barefoot on concrete and asphalt for such a long period?

It turns out, barefooting at the ball game was great! The parking lot was pretty litter-free on the way in, security let me through with no problem and my toes never got stepped on (even in the crush of people to get out after the game).

My feet held up really well. I was surprised. I actually did walk around a lot because my kids and I went on an excursion to Kauffman Stadium's new "outfield experience," which has a number of family-friendly shops and attractions. After also visiting other family members with seats on the other side of the stadium, I ended up circling the entire place barefoot by the time we returned to our seats. That's 360 degrees around a baseball stadium. Barefoot. Oh, did I mention I had my 20-month old daughter on my shoulders most of that time? In the end, my feet were quite dirty, but the drizzling rain that came on our way out to the lot helped wash away most of the grime. I avoided all the tailgaters' trash and made it safely to the van.

On Saturday our nation celebrated Independence Day, and my feet expressed their independence by continuing to go bare. Our family attended the local fireworks display and then went over to my in-laws' where we shot off our own fireworks. In the end, the feet held up great!

Sunday was another barefoot visit to church, then in the afternoon my wife threw me a belated surprise birthday party at a local park. Still unshod, I enjoyed seeing good friends and playing with the kids in the park's water "sprayground." It was only during these activities that my feet started to complain to me. More specifically, the ball of my left foot directly below my big toe hurt some. It was the skin itself that was painful, not the muscles. I would later discover that the skin on both feet were slightly abraised. No problem, though. After soaking them at home later and resting them overnight, they've felt good today. I chalk it up to the necessary work of toughening up my soles.

In the end, I was barefoot this weekend from about 9:30 a.m. Friday through 7:45 a.m. Monday. That's a little more than 70 hours of completely bare feet and I loved it! My feet got to breathe and enjoy the ground below me and it helped me to enjoy a great weekend with great people.

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