It’s that time of year when my shoes come off and only go on so that I can walk into buildings where shoes and shirts are required. A lot of people find this really strange, some of them find it downright dangerous. What if you step on glass? Broken needles? Rocks? Thistles? Disease?
Indeed, any of those things are possible, though broken needles are scarce in my little suburban town. Although I would very much like to, I rarely get the chance to go barefoot in the city proper. I don’t mind looking like a lunatic, but the fact is that in the city there is broken glass everywhere.
I can walk on the occasional bit of broken glass. I frequently arrive home and pull a little piece or two out of my calluses without a big to do. I can only brush that off because my feet are very heavily callused, which is a bit of a commitment. The worst time of the year is late winter when the shoes come off and my tender feet hit the pavement for the first time in months. Building up calluses can protect you from many things, but frostbite isn’t one of them, so I am forced to wear shoes for most of the winter. In any case, in order to get to the point where I can blithely navigate rocky paths and forest trails without things constantly stabbing my feet, I have to go for a barefoot walk almost every day in late winter and early spring to build up those useful calluses. It usually starts with a series of blisters I have to work through before my feet get with the program again.
People wonder why I do this, and as much as I want to cite some kind of great scientific evidence about the benefits of barefoot walking or running, my answer is much simpler than that: It just feels good. I love the feel of my feet on the earth, the flexibility and grip of my toes and ankles while climbing trees or rocks, the heightened sense of fine path texture that you lose when wearing shoes. I love being able to walk out my door with no preparation and chase the children around. I like being primal and animalistic and knowing that my body is sufficient without the props of civilization, no matter how useful they may be at other times.
My feet are DISGUSTING. If you’re the kind of person who gets a regular pedicure and worries about your polish and what your toes look like in sandals they would apall you. I’ll spare you a photo. (Some people are really weird about feet.) Because they are open to the air most of the time, they don’t smell much, but they are callused, dirty, scratched, and frequently stained with things like grass or berries I step on. I wash them in the shower just like everyone else, but even when perfectly clean they maintain an tinge of dirtyness because calluses get stained.
I don’t worry much about disease, really. The outdoors is both a living breathing biome full of microscopic organisms and insects of all kinds, and at the same time remarkably safe. I might get stung by a bee one day, if I accidentally step on the poor thing, and I do worry about chiggers because those little buggers are annoying as shit. I regularly pick ticks out of my clothes and my hair, but I don’t have problems with them on my feet. Maybe they can’t attach to a blood supply through my calluses? I don’t worry about picking up bacteria or viruses. As I said, I do wash, and if I do happen to pick something up there are antifungals and topical medications available at the local drug store without much of a fuss. So far I’ve actually found going barefoot most of the time is very good for my feet in terms of not incubating bacteria and fungus. Shoes, on the other hand, are breeding factories. My feet look ugly, but I bet they’re actually cleaner than yours if you wear shoes all day!
And yes, I do step on the occasional thing. Nothing in the world can protect a barefoot person from the pain of stepping on a lego. If I slip while I’m climbing I can cut the shit out of my feet. Catching a rock while I’m running isn’t very pleasant. I’ve had nails in my feet and thorns and I could rant for days about canadian thistle. I don’t really care about any of that though. There are tradeoffs for everything, and honestly you get used to it. You learn to be more cognizant of the environment under your feet. You learn your regular terrain. The act of walking becomes a different kind of experience and your relationship to the earth beneath your feet deepens. Sorry, I’m getting a little woo there.
Living barefoot is a commitment. It’s not just something you can try out for a day. I mean, you can, but it won’t be pleasant because it’s never pleasant for the first month or so. The first month of barefoot is blisters and soreness and constantly catching your toes on tiny variations you can ignore when you’re wearing shoes and stepping on sharp pointy things and probably a bit of bleeding too. I think it’s worth it. Your mileage may vary. Is it safe? Yeah, it is pretty safe, at least in the country and the suburbs. Is it wise? I have no idea.
I get yelled at a lot. In the summer time I wear sandals everywhere because I can slip them off under tables and desks. I sit yoga style in restaurant booths and chairs, sandals tucked under the table, feet tucked under my thighs like a kindergartener, and occasionally a server or manager comes by to tell me to put my shoes back on. I roll my eyes and comply, but next time I’ll do the exact same thing without remorse. My feet out of my sandals are no more a public health hazard than my feet inside my minimal sandals. But it’s okay. People don’t know that. A lot of people do have really unhealthy feet, I guess. If an office worker sat down in a restaurant and took off the shoes he’d been sweating in all day, they would probably smell bad, which is not appetizing in a place of eating. So I get it. I get why these policies exist. I ignore them as it suits me, secretly being a barefoot rebel when I can get away with it, calmly complying when I get caught.
Not every revolution is a big deal or a matter of principle. Not everything about being a libertine has to do with sex. I love my primal connection to the ground and my body, and I shall wear it as I like with or without the approval of my culture.