Archive for March, 2010

Use it . . . and then lose it

We pretty much have the right to go barefoot, just as we have the right to wear a hat or not, or dye our hair green, or wear goth clothing, or get a tattoo. As a general observation, there are few if any rules against it. As the Society for Barefoot Living has shown, no state health department requires shoes in public buildings or restaurants (though there are just a few scattered municipalities that ban bare feet).

But bare feet are different than hat-wearing or tattoos. Going barefooted can result in bans. We’ve seen it at various businesses: you can go barefoot there, but then if somebody with a bug up their butt sees you, you can suddenly be banned. It’s a case of using the right results in losing the right.

It also happens with governmental entities. Libraries are the worst. In fact, not long after I started using the Stark County Public Library barefoot, their Board of Directors passed a resolution banning them, and there’s really not much we can do about it. It’s not as if my presence there barefooted caused any problems. It’s just that they seem to revel in their power to do whatever they want.

Now the Ohio Statehouse is going the same route. I’ve visited the Statehouse many, many times barefooted over the past 10 years or so. I never had any problem until last June, when I was seen by a State Trooper. He stopped me, being sure there was a rule against it (there wasn’t). He also got quite indignant that I even suggested that there was no rule, and he brought in his smarmy Sergeant. Eventually, they called the folks in charge of the Statehouse, and were told that there was no such rule. They let me go (reluctantly!).

But they are now getting even. I used my right, so now I have to lose my right. The Statehouse is now going through the administrative procedures to put a ban on bare feet into the Ohio Administrative Code (the first such reference). However, while the Board for the Statehouse has passed their ordinance, it still must go through a special process, and we have a chance of stopping it (while I say we have a chance, I don’t know just how large that chance is).

We might be able to change the mind of their Executive Director, or we may be able to change the minds of enough Board members as the rule makes its way through the approval process.

What that means, though, is that people need to write letters opposing the rule change. I’ve put together a web page explaining what everybody needs to do. That web page is here. We would greatly appreciate it if you would write the letters called for there.

Otherwise, it will be just another instance of somebody using their right to go barefoot, and then losing it.

(If you do write a letter, it would help if you let us know. Either leave a comment, or send an email to statehouse@ahcuah.com.)

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Toe Sox Blog Entry

There is a very nice blog entry regarding toe socks being marketed for yoga classes. An excerpt:

Toe Sox takes an traditional and fundamental aspect of Yoga and turns it into something that people should be disgusted about. Rather than associating the foot with proper form, agility, and flexibility, the company decided to put the idea into people’s heads that bare feet are disgusting. True negative advertising. Let’s look at some of their other excerpts:

“Researchers say more than 35 million people are affected by some sort of foot problem, such as toenail fungus, athlete’s foot or warts. Don’t get us wrong. We know that your local studio or gym does its best to provide a safe and sanitary environment for your workouts by cleaning and disinfecting equipment after each use, but think about it – how clean can the floors really be?”

Now really? And what is this research based on? Are we talking about people who wear shoes and socks all day, the main cause of these ailments that people of 2000 years ago would be laughing hysterically if they heard of any of these? So because they subjected themselves to these ailments without properly caring for them, others should be scared into avoiding the floor of the yoga studio or mats? I know people that don’t wash their hands often enough, yet you don’t see people running around in medical latex gloves.

The rest is at the blog The Barefoot Health Lifestyle.

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Wave Bye-Bye

The magazine “The Wave” has an article out that is just wrong on so many levels.

First of all, the title of the article is “Go Barefoot.” But do they advocate going barefoot? Of course not. We’re all familiar these days with that sort of bait-and-switch. It’s an article (heck, it’s almost an advertisement masquerading as an article) about Vibrams. Don’t forget, even wearing a minimal shoe (and it is a SHOE) cuts off valuable sensory feedback from your soles.

The article then goes even further and says, “barefoot is icky.” Huh? What is really icky is bathing your feet in the bacteria that love to reside inside shoes. In fact, Vibrams seem to have a real odor problem, but that’s really not that much different than the odor problems almost all shoes generate. But it is all the more offensive since they are selling under a supposed “go barefoot” label.

Bare feet do not smell—feet need to be confined in bacteria factories in order to do so. Don’t forget: if your feet smell and your nose runs, maybe you were built upside down.

Oh, and if you go to read the article, the only valuable information is in the comments. Now those are worth reading.

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Now That’s an Attitude

Here’s another barefoot story from the early 1900s.

This one is from the Mahoning Dispatch, August 22, 1913:


Picturesque Mayor of Ohio Town Walks Down Main Avenue of Village In His Bare Feet.

Clarington, O. Aug. 20.—When his fellow townsmen remonstrated with Col. Sam Techappott, the picturesque mayor of Clarington, when he emulated Sockless Simpson of Kansas and walked down the main avenue while the street was crowded, in his bare feet, he told them to mind their own business and that he would do as he blamed pleased, or words to that effect. Col. Techappott, who is a veteran of the Civil war, has caused much controversy and efforts have been made to have him removed from office, but without result.

Well, at least it wasn’t “shocking.”

[Note: “Sockless Simpson” refers to a progressive polititian. Simpson denounced his rich opponent as having feet “encased in fine silk hosiery.” The opponent retorted that at least he had socks. Simpson took the insult and made it his own.

I guess I shouldn’t have to add that “sockless” is not barefoot.]

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Every year TOMS shoes runs a special campaign ostensibly to demonstrate their social consciousness. Here’s a recent article in which they spell out:

TOMS Shoes was founded almost four years ago on a simple premise: With every pair of shoes sold, TOMS gives a pair of new shoes to a child in need. The “one for one” philosophy uses the purchasing power of individuals to benefit the greater good, according to Mycoskie.

They don’t even consider that their policy might not benefit the greater good, since it relies on the usual myths.

Myranya, in her blog, does a really good job discussing this:

April 8, 2010, TOMS Shoes is holding its third annual ‘One Day Without Shoes’ campaign, to ‘experience what millions of children endure every day’. They give a pair of shoes to a child in a third world country for every pair of shoes they sell.

Now I have gone barefoot by choice for fourteen years, and I am very happy with healthy, strong feet. I can tell you that going barefoot for a single day when you’ve spent a lifetime in shoes is NOT anywhere NEAR experiencing ‘what children have to endure’. YOUR feet are going to be extremely tender and soft, you’re going to wince at every pebble, shy away from every rose bush or thistle you spot, you’ll probably get cold toes. You may even get sore calves because you walk differently from what you’re used to. But THEIR feet are tough, calloused and leathery, they can handle much larger rocks without noticing them, they are only occasionally bothered by particularly nasty thorns.

Read the rest of it here.

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There is a very interesting (and long) article about whether bare feet are better at the Neuroanthropology site. The article is well supported with scientific articles.

The article’s discussion of “support” and what is “natural” got me thinking about a different way to look at things.

Here’s a portion of what the article says:

Patterns of bone growth and remodeling due to use (commonly referred to loosely as ‘Wolff’s law,’ see Ruff et al. 2006) suggest that a shift in toe use and the increased support for the bones of the feet provided by habitually worn shoes, will lead to differences in bone structure between habitually shod and unshod populations (see, for example, Sim-Fook and Hodgson 1958). Bound together laterally and ‘supported’ by an arched shoes, the foot cannot act as efficiently as a shock absorber; at the same time, less dynamic loading on the bones means that the bones will be less robust. Shoes, then, have a range of developmental effects, from low-level, constant pressure and abrasion to a form of protection which leads to greater fragility.

As a result, Zipfel and Berger (2007) recorded substantially higher rates of bone pathology in the feet of shod populations that they studied (European, Sotho and Zulu) than in pre-pastoralist South African populations who likely were habitually barefoot foragers. Although Erik Trinkaus’ work (see below) suggests that pathologies caused by shoes might be uneven distributed among the bones of the feet, Zipfel and Berger (ibid.: 209) found ‘the foot on the pre-pastoralist group is uniformly “healthier” than the modern groups.’

(Emphasis in original.)

Additionally, it seems that the grand solution offered by so many podiatrists to foot problems is some new sort of orthotic that provides “support”. We also see advertisements and products such as Dr. Scholl’s Footmapping technology that tell you just what is wrong with your feet. Have you ever noticed that this technology always finds something wrong with your feet, and that they always just happen to have a custom orthotic to fix it?

Somehow, it just never seems to come out that it is the shoes that are causing those problems in the first place. The Penn Medicine site states that

Seventy-five percent of Americans will experience foot health problems of varying degrees of severity at one time or another in their lives.

We accept this with equanimity. Yet, as the Neuroanthropology article points out, barefooted populations just don’t have these sorts of constant and unremitting difficulties with their feet.

I’m reminded of a similar situation with back braces, since humans seem to have even more problems with their backs than they do with their (shod) feet. For the longest time, back braces were recommended to “support” the backs of employees in the workplace. However, when the study was done, it was shown that the braces had no effect at all. I’d even argue that constant brace-wearing weakens the back muscles. Once the back becomes dependent on the brace, the muscles just don’t have the strength they need. In fact, other studies show that bed rest is not an effective treatment for lower back pain. It’s better to keep those muscles moving and exercising.

To relate it back to the effect of footwear and support, it’s as if we’d all gotten used to always wearing back braces. We would think that our backs really needed them for support, but it was really the braces themselves that dictated that support was needed. To take the analogy further, additionally consider that the braces being worn forced the back into a peculiar, stooped posture (for when feet are crammed into shoes, they are pressed into a terribly unnatural shape, as noted in the Neuroanthropology article). Furthermore, we’d see back “specialists” recommending “orthotics”, or specially designed and shaped back braces. We’d see different companies competing to come up with the best back orthotic. We’d see a Dr. Spine’s special “Backmapping” device that would tell you just what sort of orthotic your spine needed.

But nobody would actually consider the possibility of not wearing the stupid back brace and letting the muscles regenerate themselves.

And that’s where all too many people stand with shoes today.

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Following up a bit on the last entry, as the second item noted, the real sin may have been that Ms. Johnson was a woman appearing barefoot in public. (Ironic aside: and we all know that, back then, if a woman was barefoot, she should be at home . . . and pregnant.) That point is emphasized by the following story, also from the early 1900s, in the Akron Daily Democrat, August 30, 1902, p. 5:


(Special Correspondence.)

Barberton, Aug. 30—A gang of Spanish gypsies took the Magic City by storm Thursday, and for a half hour, were busy as bees plying their trade of fortune telling when they were sent out of town by the police officers and threatened with incarceration in the Posey House, should they venture to return. They presented a shocking appearance, some of the women being barefooted.

Yes, seeing women barefooted was considered “shocking.” What? Were women’s feet so much different than men’s feet? Did they have little tiny boobs on them that had to be covered?

Interestingly, these days it appears that women are not harassed for going barefoot in public as much as men are. Barefoot women (particularly younger women) are considered “cute,” while barefoot men are considered . . . odd.

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We’ve seen in other entries that bare feet were fairly common in the past. However, a lot of that really did depend on where you were, and who you were. For instance, kids were always allowed to go barefoot. In the early 1800s, on the frontier of the United States, adults would go barefoot simply to save on shoe leather. In the “hollers” of the Appalachians, most folks would also go barefoot most of the time.

But in the early 1900s, adults in the cities were expected to be shod. This may have been the influence of Victorian England making its way across the ocean and the attempt of its former colony to feel sophisticated. In fact, not only was being barefooted usually mentioned with derision, so was being bareheaded. Somehow, we’ve managed to cure ourselves of the bareheaded stricture, but the barefooted one still hangs on.

We can see part of this from a story that appeared in The Paducah Evening Sun, November 8, 1904, p. 8:


Lexington, Ky., Nov. 8.—Minnie Johnson, a member of the local Salvation Army corps, was arrested yesterday at the instance of Chief of Police Reagan for preaching on the streets in bare feet. The woman created a commotion Sunday night by appearing in front of the Phoenix Hotel without shoes or stockings, and when she made her appearance again this morning Chief Reagan ordered Officer Sweney to make the arrest. She was turned over to the Humane Society and an effort will be made to get her a position with a family.

Ensign Nelson, of the Salvation Army, said that the woman had been a member for several months, and that when she appeared in her bare feet it was against his orders. She is said to be a member of a prominent family of Ashland, Ky.

It wasn’t the preaching in the street that was the problem; it was doing it in bare feet.

There might have been another factor, though. That is brought up in another version of the story, from the Blue Grass Blade, November 27, 1904, p. 1:


A woman named Samantha Johnson, from Huntington, W. Va has been preaching on the streets in Lexington.

She is, as all agree, a perfectly well behaved woman and preaches the same old gospel that is preached by the regular professional male sky-pilots.

She says that God told her plainly not to wear any shoes and so she preached barefooted.

The police arrested her several times for being bare-footed, and she was finally adgudged [sic] a lunatic and sent to the Lexington asylum for the insane, with no charge in the world against her except that she will go barefooted.

All the pictures of Jesus Christ represent him as bare-footed and the big picture of God that I saw in Bethlehem of Judea represents him as being bare-footed. So that if Jesus Christ or God should ever take a notion to come to Lexington they better get them some shoes for if they come into Lexington bare-footed the police will also send them to the lunatic asylum—that is unless the police discriminate between males and females.

It’s rather ironic that this should have occurred in Lexington, Kentucky. Probably not too many miles to the east were both men and women going barefooted regularly, but then that was the social norm there. In Lexington, it was considered an oddity, and an excuse to impose strict societal sanctions.

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Eco-friendly feet

I do a lot of hiking (do I have to add “barefoot”?).

Many of the trails that I hike on have a specific focus: some are principally horse trails, some are designating as trails for mountain bikes, and some are for foot traffic only. It is interesting to see the different kinds of wear that each gets, and I think my observations can be used to consider how bare feet affect the trails. (These observations regard the eastern United States. They may not apply to areas with drier climates.)

Horse trails are the absolute worst. There are many areas where I hike in which the horse trails have been dug a full three feet into the ground. Wherever the trail crosses damp ground, the soil is horribly churned up and the trail becomes a morass of foot-deep mud. Not only that, since the horses don’t like walking through that stuff, the trail usually gets very wide there, as more and more users try to walk around the morass. (One advantage to bare feet is that, if you are forced to walk through the mud, you will not have any boots sucked off your feet. I’ve seen that happen with my shod friends.) This sort of trail damage is caused by two things: the weight of the horse and rider, and the sharp edges of horseshoes.

Mountain bikers sometimes seem to have a bad reputation. This, however, seems to come from the irresponsible ones. The mountain bike trails that I hike on were built by and are maintained by the Athens Bicycle Club. They do a really good job. The trails are designed with plenty of switchbacks, and users are heavily discouraged from cutting through. This really reduces erosion. In fact, the wide bicycle tires really don’t seem any worse, erosion-wise, than any hiking boot.

On regular foot trails I do still see erosion, particularly, again, in the softer, muddier spots. This erosion seems to be caused by the sharp edges of waffle-stomper hiking boots. They cut into the mud and soil, not only at the edge of the footprint, but even in the interior.

Bare feet just don’t do that. When hiking, I’ll often check to see what sort of footprints I am leaving, and I usually have a hard time seeing them, even in wetter soils. My weight is spread out over my whole sole, instead of concentrated at specific pressure points, so I just don’t dig in and cause damage. Also, the edge of a foot is rounded, and that too minimizes erosion. Hiking barefoot really is friendlier to our trails.

I should add one caveat, though. Bare feet will still cause the creation of trails. Trails through the woods are created not only by erosion, but simply by the pressure of a footstep. The pressure compacts the soil making it harder for any plant to grow there. However, a trail created by bare feet only will not erode away soil the way any other of the other trails users will.

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Those “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs really seem to be a recent phenomenon. As Professor Terry Anderson noted in his book, The Movement and the Sixties:

Citizens reacted to the hippie threat in many ways. Country-western singer Merle Haggard condemned the counterculture in his hit tune, “Okie from Muskogee,” and singer Anita Bryant held “rallies for decency.” Southern Methodist University officials attempted to stop mail posted to the campus address of “Notes from the Underground,” while a group of alumni and students threatened violence if the “filthy sheet causing embarrassment” did not stop publication. Businessmen across the country put up door signs, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service,” while Marc’s Big Boy in Milwaukee hired a cop to make sure that no one with beads, beards, flowers, sandals, long hair, or funny glasses was allowed inside to buy a double hamburger.

Those signs were nothing more than the reaction of stores to hippies. Labeling them as “no shirt, no shoes” was simply the easiest way to keep them out.

Furthermore, this conclusion is reinforced by researching other sources. If one looks at many on-line newspaper and magazine resources, the earliest one can find a reference to such a sign is the early 1970s. The sign just didn’t exist much before then.

Of course, the signs spread like wild-fire, and before too long people became convinced that the signs were required by Health Codes (they’re not). These days, most stores do not have such signs, but the myth of the Health Code lives on. Also, folks have become conditioned to think that such signs are on the doors of every establishment, and I am regularly asked about such signs. But if you take the time to look, there are only just a very few stores (CVS comes to mind) that have those or similar signs.

Regarding Health Codes, the Society for Barefoot Living regularly writes to the Departments of Health for all the states to confirm that there are no such Health Department requirements. You can see the resulting reply letters here.

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