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:
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?