No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem

February 8, 2010
“No shirt, no shoes, no service,” How many times have you seen this sign hanging in the window of a restaurant, store, or other place of business? It is this sentiment that summarizes the social attitude towards bare feet in public: you may as well be running around wearing a scarlet letter. Even on beaches and in swimming pools, the few places where bare feet are acceptable, you are still able to witness swimmers donning water shoes and beachgoers choosing sandals over the feeling of warm sand between their toes. Why? Is it just because our mothers told us not leave the house with unshod feet? The truth is that in addition to being incredibly pleasurable, going barefoot actually has many health and lifestyle benefits, contrary to the social stigma associated with it. Shoes may help keep feet warm and dry in the winter months, but they also shield a much-needed sensory organ from the world. In order for a happier and healthier lifestyle, we should be allowed to wear shoes less often.

One common misconception regarding going barefoot is that you can be arrested or fined. However, contrary to this popular belief, there are currently no laws against not wearing shoes. After extensive research, the Society for Barefoot Living states, “Having bare feet in public or in a place of business open to the public (including restaurants) is not against any law. (It is also not against the law to drive barefoot anywhere in the United States.)” Privately owned businesses do have the right to prevent you from going barefoot in their establishment, however the most you can receive as punishment is being thrown out or banned from their facility. They do not have the authority to have you arrested or make you pay a fine. The Society further states, “Having bare feet in public or in a place of business open to the public (including restaurants) is not against any health department regulation in any state the authors are aware of.” The reasoning behind this is that bare feet are simply not a health issue. Sure, the soles of your feet may get dirty, but no more so than the soles of your shoe. Someone’s bare feet can in no way affect the health of another person. This also means that any signs that read, “No Bare Feet By Order of the Health Department,” are a lie. Storeowners use this sign, however, in order to avoid conflict with customers and scare people into wearing shoes. Many business owners do not like bare feet because they are afraid that in the event of an incident, say a customer not wearing shoes steps on a piece of glass, they will be held liable. In reality, most people who make the conscious choice to go barefoot do so fully aware of such dangers, and are not likely to sue on account of their own behavior. As a compromise, an alternative sign could be placed, “Bare Feet at Own Risk.” While going barefoot may get you in trouble with the owner of a private place of business, you need not fear any repercussions from the law.

In addition, going barefoot is healthy and natural. It is hard to imagine that nature’s design would include feet too fragile to be able to walk without support. Your feet are a complex system of 52 bones, 66 joints, 214 ligaments, and 38 muscles and tendons, with skin twenty times thicker than the rest of your body. It would seem they have been made sturdy enough to handle human’s number one mode of transportation. Your feet, as much as any part of your body, should be used to feel the world around you. One cannot deny the pleasurable and therapeutic value of walking barefoot across freshly cut grass or a sandy beach. Many barefooters even attest to the spiritual merit of casting off your shoes, claiming it helps to clear away the cobwebs of your mind. When you wear shoes, you lose that connection with the ground. Also, many athletes are beginning to look at training barefoot as a way to prevent common athletic injuries. A 2001 study by Michael Warburton, a physiotherapist from Queensland, Australia, found that, “Running barefoot is associated with a substantially lower prevalence of acute injuries of the ankle and chronic injuries of the lower leg in developing countries… Laboratory studies show that the energy cost of running is reduced by about 4% when the feet are not shod.” Often the primary reason that prevents people from losing their shoes is the fear of catching disease. Quite to the contrary, going barefoot can actually reduce your risk of catching funguses such as athlete’s foot. The American Academy of Dermatology states, “Athlete’s foot does not occur among people who traditionally go barefoot. It’s moisture, sweating and lack of proper ventilation of the feet that present the perfect setting for the fungus of athlete’s foot to grow.” As far as other diseases go, it is much more likely to be exposed to illness-causing germs through contact with your hands, yet the sign does not read, “No shirt, no gloves, no service.” Going barefoot is what nature intended and in addition to the many health and spiritual benefits, does not contribute to the spread of disease as much as we give it credit.

Finally, not only is not wearing shoes beneficial, but wearing shoes can sometimes be harmful to your feet. It is estimated that 75% of North Americans will suffer from a foot problem in their lifetime, with women four times as likely as men, (most likely because of the high heeled shoe). Said foot problems are caused by wearing ill-fitting shoes, not from wearing none at all. With so many unique feet out there, it is easy to find shoes that do not fit properly. Be it those pumps that pinch your toes but look so cute, your favorite sneakers that no longer fit but you don’t have the heart to replace, or even shoes bought during the wrong time of day. Many people are unaware that to avoid buying shoes that do not fit, it is best to shop for shoes in the afternoon or later in the day. This is because your feet actually swell during the day, causing shoes that fit in the morning to be too snug by the end of the day. Running shoes are another contributor to the high amount of foot injuries, especially those associated with athletics. Research now shows that wearing shoes can create the illusion of being protected against injury inducing impact, without actually providing that protection. It is this situation that helps account for the high amount of athletic injuries. In addition, shoes can help promote improper running form, which can result in long-term injuries. Shoes cushion the foot in a way so that improper running no longer hurts, preventing the athlete from realizing their form is bad, and creating life long poor habits. Barefoot runners however have an easier time adapting proper habits by not deadening the sensory feedback of their feet. A 2006 Wall Street Journal article states, “Some experts now believe that most athletic shoes, with their inflexible soles, structured sides and super-cushioned inserts keep feet so restricted that they may actually be making your feet lazy, weak and more prone to injury.” But even more harmful than athletic shoes is shoes worn by children. The first years of a child’s life are essential for development in the foot, specifically of the longitudinal arch. Flat foot is a problem in the United States most often caused by wearing closed toed shoes during childhood. The Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, India surveyed 2,300 children between the ages of four and 13 years to establish the influence of footwear on the prevalence of flat foot. Their study showed that, “The incidence among children who used footwear was 8.6% compared with 2.8% in those who did not. Significant differences between the predominance in shod and unshod children were noted in all age groups, most marked in those with generalised ligament laxity. Flat foot was most common in children who wore closed-toe shoes, less common in those who wore sandals or slippers, and least in the unshod. Our findings suggest that shoe-wearing in early childhood is detrimental to the development of a normal longitudinal arch.” And yet, mothers everywhere are still cooing over their child’s cute little baby shoes without realizing the potential harm they could be doing. Although shoes are meant to protect, they can sometimes do more harm than good, especially when they’re ill-fitting, running shoes, or worn by children.

We should be able to go barefoot more often in order to promote a happier and healthier lifestyle. Although some private establishments may not allow it, there are currently no laws or health codes against bare feet. Bare feet are what nature intended, and therefore include several health benefits. And finally, the shoes we love so dearly may actually be hurting us after all. There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the area of bare feet, which help to fuel our society’s attitude towards them. With proper education and debunking of these myths, perhaps more people could see the many benefits of being able to forsake their shoes. And then rather than worrying about the customer’s feet, we will instead be more concerned that the current policy says nothing about not wearing pants.

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