Subject: Confessions of a Lifelong Barefooter
I started going barefoot a long time ago as a kid growing up in the wet and rural environs of Northern Illinois. I wore shoes almost religiously when I was a small child but when the family moved to the country the swamps, the mud, and the ponds around our neighborhood demanded the constant removing of shoes and socks. Some of the other kids just went barefoot all the time and were running free through everything without stopping. I soon followed.
I grew to love the sensations of the world underfoot and unlike the other kids, I never gave those up even after discovering how much it bothered people when I was first thrown out of the mall. I’ve been going barefoot ever since. Sometimes 24/7. There have been times when I had no shoes at all to wear. In this modern world, it has been a strange and curious experience. From this life I can share, at least, some of my observations to anyone who is curious about going barefoot a lot:
1) It is strange. On this forum, there is a lot of shoe hating but most people don’t hate their shoes. The ground outside is often hard, unforgiving, cold, hot, sharp and dirty. I am fine with all that myself. I enjoy the fireworks of feedback each barefoot step sends me. I enjoy the connection. Shoes makes feel something like an astronaut. Still, I get why most people prefer to wear shoes. I don’t expect that to change. I also understand that people are going to stare at my feet when I pass by. It’s odd. If I see someone barefoot, I will stare too. People are naturally drawn to the unusual in their environment. It is part of animal survival to notice something novel. I remembered when I worked at a convenient store, I could tell when people were barefoot without seeing their feet. Most people walk differently without shoes. They tend to prance.
2) American Intolerance. Some people find the sight of bare feet vulgar… especially men’s feet. When I toured barefoot through Europe, people thought it was odd but no one ever tried to stop me… not even in the nightclubs and restaurants. In America, being barefoot in such places can create rage.
It’s a mix of unique American cultural attributes that make it far more controversial to go barefoot here than anywhere else in the world. America has long been a very puritanical society, adopting stodgy Victorian ethics more enthusiastically than England itself. During the sixties, the counter-culture included a lot of young people going as naked as possible… including going barefoot. This sent some of the older generation into a rage.
There was also a strong ethic of what I call “Better Living Through Sterility”. Touching anything with skin is seen as anathema… especially the ground. Americans were very fond of sterilizing their environments with all the latest chemicals. Cleanliness was, and still is, an obsession.
Then there is the Cult of Litigation here America where people pursuit undeserved wealth through frivolous lawsuits that has business owners living in fear of being sued for someone else’s actions. All these factors pushed the “anti-barefoot” mentality into the mainstream. It became legitimate to run barefoot people out of shops and restaurants.
3) Navigating American Establishments: I find that in establishments of all sorts, how people react to bare feet is usually personal and not “professional”. I would be surprised if any company or store spends time discussing what to do if someone comes in barefoot. I have worked in retail and I can assure you that it was never a topic. Businesses have other things to worry about. Most of the time when someone confronts you it is their own perspective that is confronting you. Sometimes low level cashiers will take it upon themselves to harass you and insist on you leaving. They will insist there is a rule or law or policy they are enforcing. Chances are there isn’t any of those. The actual management probably hasn’t thought much about bare feet simply because it doesn’t come up… at least until someone comes in barefoot and insists on seeing the manager or engages in a letter writing campaign.
The end result of raising hell about being thrown out of a place can vary. What happens in a big company is they will bring it up the chain. The decision will be based on whether they think someone coming in barefoot is any risk. Sometimes they conclude it is a risk and that banning one customer out of perhaps several thousand because he or she insists on entering barefoot isn’t going to hurt their bottom line. Sometimes they conclude it isn’t an actual issue.
I have settled to a fairly simple set of responses to being harassed. If I don’t have any shoes, I leave. There is not much of a choice. It actually doesn’t happen much. I currently live in Salt Lake City. Not a place known for “tolerance” but I rarely get hassled about being barefoot. Sometimes I carry a pair of sandals I have made of thin leather. They fold into my pocket. With those, I can walk in barefoot and if I am harassed, I have a way of completing whatever task I had in mind. They are just barely shoes but no one cares about what kind of shoes you are wearing… only that they are shoes. Whether I actually put on shoes depends on how bad I want to be there. Usually, I will leave, to be honest. As far as shopping goes, I will mention I can shop at Amazon naked whenever I want.
I think you have no choice but to make a choice whether or not you want to be somewhere that won’t let you in with bare feet. Most of the time, I will find a barefoot friendly alternative. Sometimes, I will put on shoes for a time and then remove them. Sometimes, I will deal with wearing shoes. It isn’t such a big deal to me though I know in some places it is hard to shop even for groceries with bare feet. I will admit, that is a bit much. I am fortunate here so far, three years I have been getting groceries barefoot. Knock on wood.
4) Barefoot Advocacy: Personally, I am not into battling companies and the like about bare feet. I got better things to do and there are more important issues in this world than people’s rights to go barefoot. Still, I will advocate for going barefoot when I am asked during interviews. I have written and share articles about it. Social mores are dictated by narrative and the narratives of nagging letters and especially lawsuits are inherently negative.
5) Interpersonal arenas: I think you have to be willing to be an outcast to go barefoot all the time. As previously stated, going barefoot in public is pretty outside the norm and there are only two outcomes. Either you conform and put on your shoes or accept being an outcast. Society is not going to change for you. People will judge you for it. It might make things difficult for you socially.
I try not to risk other people’s enjoyment over my bare feet. In other words, if I am going to hang out with friends some place where my feet could cause trouble, I prepare to deal with that by at least bringing shoes. I don’t want to force all my friends to leave with me. I can’t say that always happens. Sometimes, I get dragged along to some place I wasn’t expecting to go with no shoes to put on. Sometimes barefoot intolerance shows up in unexpected places. I have been on tour with my band and left town with no shoes thinking I wouldn’t need them only to be kicked out of a gas station. Gas stations are, weirdly, one of the most barefoot intolerant places in America.
6) Ownership: I think this is the most crucial trait one needs to adopt if you really want to go barefoot in public. I would stay away from rationalizations about being barefoot is better or necessary or healthy or whatever. Those are all flimsy foundations that you will be forced to defend over and over again. Those really should be secondary reasons. You should really go barefoot because that is the choice you want to make and you are not going to let anyone take it from you. That is something you can stand for and no one really has any way of pushing you off that.
As for myself, I embrace my weirdness. Whatever people feel about my bare feet, they respect that I am strong enough to walk that path in the face of a society that is against it. I am sure it turns some people off but the DNA of America also places a lot of value in the individual who is willing to stand out. I think most people actually react somewhat positively to it. On those rare occasions when someone sees me in shoes, it seems to really disappoint them.
I haven’t had huge issues with lovers about it. No one who has a huge issue with bare feet would ever date me in the first place. I feel that if you’re going to do something strange like this, you should own it. To do otherwise, is to commit yourself to life of inner conflict. Though not specifically having much to do with being barefoot, I had plenty of inner conflict when I was younger. It was only by resolving those in favor of who I decided to be that I was able to enjoy living my life.