In recognition of National Go Barefoot Day, here’s my testimony to having my own two feet planted firmly on the ground!
First things first: our culture is really weird about shoelessness. I would say it’s the last taboo, but there are, thank God, a few more left in place. Let’s say it’s the last taboo of zero moral significance. Americans, and probably North Atlantic/Westerners generally, equate shoes with civilization. To have no shoes is to be poor, destitute, uneducated, probably stupid, and maybe pregnant. Twice I believe myself to have been mistaken for a prostitute, once in the U.S. and once in Germany, because, despite my definitely not sexy attire, I was out in public shoeless. (I did not linger long enough to find out if what the men in the cars who rolled down their windows but said nothing actually wanted was directions.) Plus, barefoot is somehow thought to be unhygienic, as if whatever modest stuff that may seep out of the pores of the soles of your feet—feet that are regularly cleaned—could possibly be worse than what’s on the bottom of your shoes, which are never cleaned unless you step in you-know-what.
Wearing shoes is a fairly recent human phenomenon. Greeks and Romans didn’t bother most of the time. They even had a kind of sandal without a sole, just for decorating the top of the feet. God apparently is not overly impressed with shoes: Moses’s first instruction upon approaching the burning bush was to kick off his sandals because he was on holy ground. Some religious orders are known as the Discalced, fancy for “shoeless.” As protection from the elements—burning sand or freezing snow—shoes make sense. But as the sine qua non of virtue? Not so much.
I went barefoot whenever I could as a kid, but it was one of those things that you were supposed to grow out of, like sitting on the floor or playing on the swings. I wore shoes dutifully, if a little sadly, often sticking with my sandals until well into winter. (But I have not worn them inside for years: Slovakia cured me of that.) Some years later, Andrew discovered barefoot running as a cure for knee pain, and I scoffed. “What happens if you step on glass?” Turns out that’s what people always say. In about five years of going barefoot in city, suburb, and country, I’ve stepped on glass once. (Hint: it glitters. You can’t help but notice it. The one time I missed it I was in a busy city center and too busy avoiding other people’s shoes to keep a lookout for glass.) Then, as I always do, I stopped scoffing and tried out Andrew’s idea, and it was brilliant. As it always is.
Barefootery has become a thing. Biomechanical and paleontological science are both discovering that humans were meant to go barefoot—surprise, surprise!—and so wearing shoes, especially with thick soles and elevated heels, totally messes up our posture and a bunch of other bodily systems as a result. If you hurt anywhere, ditch the shoes and see how things start to right themselves. Start inside, especially if you have tender tootsies, and graduate to soft grassy lawns as soon as you can. If you find you tend to get hurts, bruises, or scratches in the same place again and again, it tells you there’s something off about your gait—and now you can fix it! Soon you’ll have a set of beautiful calluses to boast of and the requisite toughness even to hike barefoot. If sitting is the new smoking, then shoes are the new cigarettes!