Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Top 10 Impacts on Bare Feet in 2010

Since you can't turn on the TV, visit a Web site or read a magazine at this time of year without seeing some recap of the year that was, I thought I'd follow suit, look back and share the top 10 ways that bare feet or going barefooted made an impact in 2010. In this second year of creating this list, some are news items while others are trends or products. You may not have heard of some of the things on my list. Quite honestly, you may not agree with what I've selected or the order in which I've put them. What's important here is that the list is comprised of 10 ways that bare feet became more pervasive and made a name for themselves this year, not necessarily how the public saw them as a whole -- and not necessarily good. The list, in ascending order:

Honorable Mention: The Primalfoot Alliance Begins
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that The Primalfoot Alliance began this year. My brainchild -- but the work of a number of people -- began the process of "Taking Our Feet Back" and advocating for those who choose to go barefoot...even in public. There's a lot more on the horizon for this group. Keep an eye out in 2011.

10. Tiger Woods Likes Them Naked -- His Feet When Practicing, That Is
On the heels of Tiger's respectable #2 finish in my rankings last year for his widely-publicized post-vehicular-crash shoeless nap, he made it known this year that he often practices his golf swings sans footwear. Of his coach Sean Foley, Tiger wrote in a PGA blog, "Sometimes he has me hit shots barefoot, just to work my balance." Cool! So cool, in fact, that there was much speculation ahead of this year's Ryder Cup in early autumn that Tiger would even compete barefoot. Alas, that wasn't meant to be, but kudos to him and his coach for seeing the light shining down on the benefits of barefoot activity.

9. Serena Williams Misses U.S. Open After Cutting Feet in Restaurant
Some barefooters took notice when news broke in July that tennis star Serena Williams cut her foot on a piece of broken glass in a restaurant. As you're likely aware, the threat of broken glass is a common reason for restauranteurs to deny barefoot patrons. This could have ended up as fodder for barefoot-unfriendly folks to continue such discrimination. So was Serena going barefoot at a restaurant? What happened?

Ms. Williams told USA Today that details of the entire event are a bit of a mystery, but that she does know that both of her feet got cut by broken glass while she was wearing sandals and exiting the establishment. She's all better now and back to playing, but the scare left her with a lacerated tendon and a number of stitches.

Wow. It goes to show you that sandals won't even protect against some things, even while they are considered adequate "protection" compared to bare feet by so many naysayers. I think it also is a testament to how footwear "dumbs down" the feet and cuts off some of our senses. I wonder if this would have happened if she were barefoot. Would she have been more aware of her surroundings and, therefore, avoided the glass?

8. Groups Set New Records Sans Shoes
If there's something worth doing, somebody will think it's worth doing more than anyone has ever done it. That applied to bare feet this year as records were made and broken for both walking and running without shoes. Unfortunately, no one in the Western world managed to pull it off...for long.
The Guinness World Record for
Largest Barefoot Walk was
set in China in 2010.

In June, The Barefoot Runners Society made a "run" at the Guinness World Record for Largest Barefoot Race. They set it in early May when 140 of their closest friends ran around an indoor facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Their accomplishment was eclipsed in December, however, when 306 runners in Mumbai, India, took part in a barefoot half marathon organized by the Barefoot Runners of India Foundation.

Those who preferred a slower form of shoeless locomotion set their own records this year, too. First, it was 1,141 barefoot people in Chengdu, China, who
walked one kilometer to set the Guinness record for Largest Barefoot Walk in September. The event was organized by Infinitus (China) Company Ltd. as part of their World Walking Day. Not long after their stroll, however, another group of more than 1,900 attempted to break that record in Andhra Pradesh, India, in November. It, however, has not been certified by the folks at Guinness as of this writing.

7. Sesame Street Tells Kids: "Set Your Piggies Free"
Kids love to take off their shoes...and so does Ziggy Marley! The good folks at the Sesame Workshop released a music video on their flagship PBS program "Sesame Street" this year. In short, it reminds kids that shoes don't need to be worn all the time. Aside from a nitpick I have about their implying that bare feet and pavement aren't friendly with each other, it's a cute song. Here's hoping that it helps bolster an army of children who don't fear bare feet on themselves or others as they grow older (and become managers at stores and restaurants). Hey, a barefooter can hope, can't he? Take a look:

"The Barefoot Book" Released by a "Barefoot Professor"
If ever barefooters around the world wanted an instruction manual on the benefits of going barefoot to share with friends, anatomy professor and barefooter Daniel Howell, PhD, released it this year.The Barefoot Book came out in the summer and started making waves in national media by the fall. Within months, Howell began giving interviews with the likes of The Washington Post, MSNBC, NBC, WGN Radio and numerous other outlets. While many of the interviews largely ignored the substantial contents of the book, Howell put a legitimate face on barefoot living and backed it up in writing. I'm excited to see how things progress as Howell continues the interviews in 2011 and The Barefoot Book becomes more widely known.

5. Taylor Swift Performs Barefoot at the VMAs (and Other Celebs Kick Off Their Shoes)
One of the hottest names in music this year was Taylor Swift, and she made waves online when she performed barefoot at the MTV Video Music Awards in September. Her song, seemingly sung to Kanye West, lended itself well to a shoeless performance since going barefoot is often considered a symbol of humility. Afterward, Twitter lit up with all kinds of comments about her lack of shoes. While some were supportive and thought it was cool, many panned her for being so gross, blah, blah, blah. You can read more and see the performance at my blog post about the whole thing.

When Miss Swift wasn't baring her soles, other celebrities made headlines here and there in 2010 for going barefoot, too. They included Michael Franti, Pamela Anderson, Thomas Jane, Diana Vickers and Isabel Lucas, to name a few.

4. Rex Ryan's Foot Fetish Fallout
I was done putting this list together when this bombshell fell out of the sky and I had to bump all the earlier stuff down a notch. Apparently the New York Jets' head coach and his wife like to play "footsie" with each other...and record it...and post it to the Internet. Once the media got wind of it, the Internets lit up with the term "foot fetish," and Ryan had some a'splainin' to do -- or not. "I know you need to ask and all that stuff, but it's a personal matter and I'm really not going to discuss it, OK?" he said in his response to reporters' questions. So sports media folks didn't get any answers and pretty much dropped it. Over and done with, right? Not quite. The media loves a good story and NFL head coaches' foot fetishes make for titillating material, so what's the best way to keep this thing alive as long as possible? Ask sex therapists what they think! Talk about it on The View! And that's just what they did:

Now I'm very clear that I don't consider myself a foot fetishist, but this falls into the "to each his own" category for me. I know that there are many in the barefooting community that DO have foot fetishes, but there are also those who are staunchly opposed to them. I like what the therapist in the aforementioned link said, "It's only defined as a problem when the person or couple define it as a problem." Fair enough. Let's move on.

3. "One Day" Throws the Barefoot Baby Out with the Bath Water
Who doesn't love a great cause to get behind? Nobody! Okay, so there are people throughout the world who don't have any shoes and need access to them sometimes -- emphasis on "sometimes." I can admit that. It's good to have a pair available.

Along comes TOMS Shoes to organize "One Day Without Shoes," encouraging people to nobly go barefoot for a day in April to understand what it's like to live sans footwear. And while you're at it, you can buy a pair of their for-profit footwear and they'll donate a pair to needy children. Huh. Well, fair enough. TOMS claims they knew of more than 250,000 folks who bared their soles for the day for the cause. The theme for this year's "One Day" of bare feet? "It's Hard Without Shoes." Wait, what?

It turns out that to effectively promote your cause of selling shoes to the charitable masses, you have to demonize bare feet -- even though it's the best way to live and most people really can get away with it most of the time. And demonize they did. Folks tweeted and blogged all over the 'Net about how much their feet hurt (which makes sense because their feet aren't used to it) and how they were getting kicked out of some places because of it. Welcome to the barefooters' world, friends. Well, I guess with respect to the last point, it IS hard without shop or dine in this country, but I digress. I'll avoid getting into the nitty gritty details of how many things are misguided about TOMS campaign, but will say that it doesn't help the cause of promoting barefoot activity when a company that makes its money from selling shoes can rally so much support for a campaign that primarily is meant to sell their shoes.

On the plus side, at least one young lady decided it
wasn't so hard without shoes that day. She's kept a barefoot lifestyle going since that day. At least there's some hope.

2. Lieberman Study Data Takes "Barefoot" Running to the Next Level
What could get supporters of barefoot running even more hyped about the sport following the success of Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run? (#1 on my list last year) Proof! And that's just what they got in the results of the Harvard study, "Biomechanics of Foot Strikes & Applications to Running Barefoot or in Minimal Footwear" published in Nature in January. In a nutshell -- help, I'm in a nutshell! -- Daniel Lieberman, PhD, et al showed evidence that running with a forefoot strike ala barefoot running creates less force on the body.

Yours truly running barefoot in
the Hospital Hill 5K in Kansas City,
June 2010.
What happened next eclipsed anything we'd seen from Born to Run. Media outlets everywhere picked up on the results and fitness folks all over were talking about it. Podiatrists came out of the woodwork stressing caution. The term "barefoot shoes" started to permeate everyday culture. Enough Vibram Fivefingers got out there that most people had at least seen or heard of them -- possibly through a friend who had a pair.

One event that made waves among the barefoot community was the first ever New York City Barefoot Run, a pilgrimage of sorts. About 265 barefoot runners from all around the U.S. and world, including many of the most well-known, converged on The Big Apple for the event. Though I didn't go, I heard that a great time was had by all. We can expect to see it a second year, and many more similar events spring up all over the place in the years to come.

The barefoot running movement and research on the sport will continue for a long time after 2010. In early December, not one year after the study started making waves, another leading researcher announced that she was leaving her school to conduct research alongside Lieberman. Irene Davis, PhD, a barefoot runner herself, left the University of Delaware to help launch a running center at Harvard Medical School. I think it's safe to say that we've only scratched the surface on what we know about running without shoes. What's more, we should see more studies coming out in the next few years to empirically back up what many of us already know about the benefits of running barefoot.

1. The "Barefoot Bandit" Gets Nabbed
He fought the law, and
the law finally won.
(Cue the "Real Men of Genius" music) Here's to you, Mr. "Barefoot Bandit" Colton Harris-Moore. You jumped all the way from #5 on last year's Top 10 list to the prime spot in 2010. And boy, did you do it in style -- and completely barefoot. (He ain't got no shoes on!) You nabbed our hearts while the police nabbed you in The Bahamas. Nobody else could have evaded authorities for more than a year while robbing places and snatching airplanes on the joy ride of a lifetime. (The BALLOON BOY has nothing on YOU!) While we barefooters just try to avoid getting a talking to from security at the local mall, you tried to see what kind of Cessna was available to steal undetected from the closest airport. (I'll TAKE the one in RED!) Now, we don't condone the illegal things you did... (You can STILL fly as a JAILBIRD!) .. but we have to admit that we admire that you often did it without shoes. That' (Mr. "Barefoot Bandit" Colton Harris-Moore!)

All right. Enough antics. Man, can you believe that kid? He started his spree in 2008 and wasn't caught until July of 2010. What's more, he got all the way across the country in that time!

He made such an impact in the news this year that Time Magazine even
named him #4 of their "Top 10 Fleeting Celebrities" of the year. That's why he definitely deserves the top spot here. It remains to be seen what impact his barefoot adventures had on society's perceptions of bare feet, but one writer tried to quickly cut off negative views at the knees by writing a post called, "Not all 'barefooters' are bandits." It actually is worth a read, highlighting a few barefooters of notoriety.

We'll see what happens to Harris-Moore. Maybe he can share with his fellow inmates all the benefits of going the shower...with soap on a rope. :-\

So what do you think of this list? Was there something that you think was a huge omission? What struck you as the top impacts on bare feet -- good or bad -- this year? Please leave your comments in the section below.

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