This week’s topic is mostly for another blogger over at A Glorious Adventure. Her children are what inspired me to think about my own mostly unshod life and got me thinking about the possibilities of something a little more natural for my feet. Winter’s coming on, something I tend to think about regrettably as “the shoe season”, and it’s time to start thinking about what I’m going to wear on my own feet this year, and how I’m going to cover my children’s toes, given they’ve been running around barefoot all summer and I don’t even know if their shoes fit. My fellow blogger also has two children who prefer to let their feet live in freedom, so I want to thank her for getting me thinking on the topic.
It all started out with a search for shoes for my children. I was looking for some Robeez to get for Luca. My older boys all had their own pairs through the winter and it was time to look for something to keep his bitty feet warm. I hate the idea of binding a baby’s feet up in rigid shoes. It’s not good for their feet and it doesn’t help them learn to walk. Actually, it hinders their walking. While I’m not expecting my little Lucabear to get up and start walking this winter, I don’t want to be buying shoes that will slow the process down any. I don’t exactly expect him to be on the ground outside either, but I want to be prepared.
This got me thinking about a company a friend referred me to last fall. The company is Soft Star Shoes. She had a pair for her daughter that were so incredibly cute. The design was simple, nothing fancy, but the colors and the way they were made was wonderful. Plus, they’re higher quality than Robeez, often made out of thicker leather or suede. That drew me in eve more because I want something my kids can beat up a bit. Best of all, they make them for all ages, even adults. I’m seriously considering on jumping when I have the chance to get a pair for myself. I’d rather be barefoot, but in the dead heat of summer the ground is too hot to be barefoot, and the dead of winter it’s too cold for me to go unshod. I’d rather have something, and minimalist seems to be the way to go, at least for me.
Soft Star also has a selection of links to articles about shoe-wearing and how it’s so incredibly damaging to your feet. The best (and longest) article is You Walk Wrong. It covers pretty comprehensively what we’re doing to our feet by wearing shoes so incredibly often, and the author’s experiment with barefoot walking as a New Yorker. His experience was amazing. He could really see the value of wearing shoes that liberate our feet rather than bind them up all the time. His experience seemed to show that less is better. Minimal shoes are good, but barefoot is best.
All of this led me to some disturbing research. Did you know your feet will actually start to conform to the shape of a shoe from just a few short weeks of shoe wearing? Or that our shoes aren’t designed to actually aid our walking? I was kind of surprised when I read about how shoes are designed and the whole design of shoes is in direct conflict with the way our feet work. There’s this mystical “toe spring” which curves up in the front to make for ease of walking in hard soles. Shoes bend in the middle, a place our foot can’t even bend, and not in a logical way. They reduce our contact with the ground so we’re more likely to slam our heel into the ground when we walk, causing all kinds of damage. Shoes also apparently increase the rate at which injuries happen while walking and running. The more padded or firm the shoe, the bigger case of injury. Arch support and inner molding, all those shoe inserts, all of that is actually bad for your feet, but they’ve become necessary because our feet have become so weakened by wearing shoes all the time. It’s disturbing how a dependence on shoes only encourages a further dependence on shoes, and fancier, more expensive shoes that help us deal with the problems of wearing shoes.
I have to admit, looking at Corde’s little monkey feet (and I hope I can figure out how to get the pictures off my camera before I post this), I find them kind of ugly looking feet. My brain has been trained to believe that narrow feet where the toes all line up are the perfect kind of feet. They are tidy, ordered little things that serve their function and look “pretty”. Corde has what most people would consider “ugly feet”. Her toes splay out like a monkey, giving her the appearance of having paddle-like feet, similar to a duck. I used to wonder how on earth she inherited such ugly looking feet. I couldn’t imagine where she might have gotten them from because neither her dad nor I had these wide spread toes.
As it turns out, Corde’s feet, though they may not seem the most attractive to some, are actually far healthier than mine. Those are the feet of primal people, the kind that never wear shoes. I guess that makes sense because she’s always running around unshod. The toes are spread wide to really grip the ground. Toes often develop such strength that using them to pick things up isn’t at all unusual. It’s a habit I’ve had since I was small and people thought I was strange for, but I’ve always been barefoot a lot and I’ve always had strong feet.
I’m not looking forward to the “shoe season” with my kids. Not only will it mean buying them all new shoes, but I’m going to have the challenge of finding something wide and comfortable for Corde’s feet that’s not going to make them feel compressed and warped into a shape they don’t belong in.
The woes of shoe buying aren’t exactly unfamiliar to me. I have problems with my own feet in shoes. The lift of my big toe nail often means they rub and press on the top of a shoe. My toes are wide (probably from all that barefoot time) and I often get blisters on the sides of my little toe from rubbing against the side of the shoe. It’s only gotten worse with time. My poor toes were blistered nearly all summer long. For the longest time I thought I just had weird feet, but the truth is I have feet that don’t want to conform to the shape of a shoe, yet the shoes keep trying to mold my feet to match them.
Everyone has known for some time that heels were bad for your feet. The way they contort your foot into an unnatural position is kind of proof of that. Achy feet is all part and parcel of wearing the wretched torture devices. However, I never would have thought other shoes would be as bad. Military boots with their hard soles and rigid support are horrible for your feet. Flip-flops aren’t much better. Even my beloved Converse aren’t great for my feet, but their thinner soles make them a better option than some of the other shoes out there.
So the best option, as it turns out, is to let your feet be free. Don’t wear shoes whenever possible, and if you must wear shoes, go for the most minimal shoes possible. It’ll be better for your feet that way. Your feet will probably get tired and sore easily for a while until you adjust to the natural rhythms of walking barefoot, but once you do, you’ll be better for it.
And what can you do once you’ve taken on a barefoot lifestyle? Believe it or not, there aren’t a lot of laws governing foot covering. As it turns out, the only policies on footwear in retail establishments and restaurants deals with where the food is stored or prepped. Shoes must be worn in those areas, but there is no governing policy anywhere else. There’s also a lot of talk about shoes being required for driving, but as it turns out, in most states in the U.S. it’s “not advised” at best. Only in California does it seem to be specifically illegal. From what I’ve seen, other countries are even more lax.
There are barefooters everywhere. They run, water ski, hike, and do so much more. For more information on going barefoot, laws in your area, and resources for barefooters all around the world, visit the Society for Barefoot Living. They have some wonderful resources and articles there as well.
It may not be a huge movement, but there are more and more people all over the world seeking freedom from shoes. I was starting to think my own family was the only family crazy enough to wear shoes as little as possible, but it turns out we’re not that strange. It’s not such a radical movement after all, though it’s certainly not mainstream.
So join the movement. Try it out. It’s about time you did something for your feet!