As confusing as it is to call something barefoot when it's obviously not, the issue gets even worse when people tell their friends, "Wearing (fill in the blank minimalist footwear) is just like being barefoot." Those of us who subscribe to fully bare feet are often asked, "Why not just wear flip flops? Isn't it the same?" My answer to both of those questions: "No, it's not the same." And let me give an example why.
All of us have cut a finger or had a hang nail in such a way that we've needed to cover a finger tip with a Band Aid-like bandage. It protects the injury and promotes healing, but it also does something else: It screws up our hands! Ever tried typing with a bandage on the tip of your index finger? It's weird. You don't like it. Beyond typing, you automatically adjust how you use your fingers and hands based on that one little bandage. Your index finger may still work perfectly fine. Your fingers may still be able to flex, bend and move just as before. But with a bandage on it's still...different...and wrong.
What's changed so drastically just by adding that small bandage? Sensation. You can no longer feel things with your fingertip. The digit may bend and move like normal, but the cut-off sensation between you and what your touching is difficult to handle.
The muted sensation when wearing a bandage for a cut finger is the same muted sensation when wearing minimalist footwear or flip flops. Sure, your feet may be flexible in VFFs and have no cushioning. Yes, feet are generally exposed to all elements in flip flops. But the key difference between that footwear -- any footwear -- and going barefoot is the lack of sensation between our soles and the ground.
Don't believe me? Try this: Grab a box of cheap bandages and wrap them around the tips of all 10 of your fingers. Next, just do what you normally do. Type on the computer. Use the restroom. Eat a meal. I have a feeling that it won't be long before you're itching to take the things off because you can't "feel" anything. Remember: There's nothing wrong with your fingers. Your hands can flex just as well as normal. They can breathe just as well as normal. It's just that there's no sensation where it matters most. You've put "flip flops" on your fingers.
I'd estimate that ground sensation is at least half of the benefit of going barefoot for me. I do enjoy my feet not being cramped inside stiff shoes and I like the fact that I don't have to rely on cushioning, but no matter what footwear I put on I'm always missing 50% of the experience of bare feet. I like a Tweet that Daniel Howell, PhD, author of The Barefoot Book, posted a little while back. Paraphrased, it went something like this:
"To those who say running in minimalist footwear is like running barefoot, I welcome you to actually run barefoot and then say that it's the same."The media and others -- including minimalist footwear manufacturers -- need to stop calling those products "barefoot." They're not and never will be. I don't have anything against this footwear as tools for protecting the feet or keeping them warm as necessary, but "barefoot" they are not.
What do you think of calling minimalist footwear "barefoot" shoes? Do you ever go fully barefoot outside your home or do you wear minimalist footwear? Is my comparison between finger bandages and flip flops on or off the mark? Please leave your comments in the section below. Thanks for reading!