Huaraches instantly transform you into a Spartan warrior. True story.

Foot Versus Fashion: Our Battle with Shoes


The damage to our feet begins even before we take our first step. Don’t believe me? Look back through your baby pictures and check out your feet. I bet you will see those adorable leather lace-ups that many of us wore (they may even be bronzed).

 

And these days, who can resist baby Toms? Even I get all tickled inside at the sight of them.

 

How are these not cute?

How are these not cute?

In Colorado, we were all a bunch of free-spirited granola crunching hippies. I didn’t wear shoes unless I went somewhere that posted signs telling me I couldn’t enter without them.  I can recount a few occasions when I father looked down at my feet disappointedly asking, “Where are your shoes?” Okay, I didn’t always remember to bring shoes when needed.

When it came time to dress my kids’ feet the battle of foot versus fashion swept through my home. My husband’s family is more traditional in the sense that all children should wear shoes because the world is a dangerous place. And it’s just what people do. They wear shoes—even before they walk.

When our kids started walking it was supposedly time to get them expensive walking shoes. But I always felt they were born with proper walking attire—and unless the sidewalks were hot or covered in glass they should use what they were born to use.

I will admit I pulled more than my fair share of thorns out of my feet as a kid. But I ran through vacant lots shoeless, so it was my own stupid fault. I never did injury my feet on sharp objects or catch some life-threatening parasite that looms in all the seeping crevices of the streets.

To this day I loathe the idea of shoes. I still only wear them when signs tell me to do so. When guest enter my home they take off their shoes. Not because I tell them to, but because I’m not wearing any—they must feel like I’m a clean freak or something. So not true!

After working in a shoe store in college, I am very happy with my decision to go unshod for most of my life. Day in and day out I would assist ladies with all sorts of foot problems. Bunions, corns, plantar fasciitis, hammertoe, and ingrown toenail . . . the list went on and on. It took a good hour to find shoes that actual fit these ladies’ feet.

This is what I faced everyday at work.

This is what I faced everyday at work.

These issues weren’t exactly the fault of the customer, but the fault of the shoe. I don’t just mean stilettos, boots, or penny loafers, or any other foot-torture device in which humans jam their feet. All shoes are bad for your feet because they change how you walk, how your feet grow, align, and connect with the earth. Humans spent millions of years evolving into upright pedestrians, but we choose to fight evolution every time we slip into a shoe.

In 2007, researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, published a study titled “Shod Versus Unshod: The Emergence of Forefoot Pathology in Modern Humans?” in the podiatry journal The Foot. The study examined 180 modern humans from three different population groups (Sotho, Zulu, and European), comparing each foot to one another, and then to the feet of 2,000-year-old skeletons.

Researchers learned that humans had far healthier feet prior to the invention of shoes.  Can you guess which group had the healthiest and unhealthiest feet in their modern subjects? That’s right, the Zulu who often go barefoot had far healthier feet that the Europeans who spend a majority of the time shod. You can read further studies from Harvard’s Skeletal Biology Lab discussing the topic here and here.

Researcher Dr. Bernhard Zipfel commented that American Podiatric Medical Association does not “actively encourage outdoor barefoot walking for healthy individuals. This flies in the face of the increasing scientific evidence, including our study, that most of the commercially available footwear is not good for the feet.”

The largest issue with shoes is that it takes something perfectly natural for humans (walking) and turns it into a totally unnatural movement. Compared to our ancient ancestors who lived pre-Jimmy Choo, humans don’t know how to walk.

Dr. William Rossi was quoted in Podiatry Management,“Natural gait is biomechanically impossible for any shoe-wearing person. It took 4 million years to develop our unique human foot and our consequent distinctive form of gait, a remarkable feat of bioengineering. Yet, in only a few thousand years, and with one carelessly designed instrument, our shoes, we have warped the pure anatomical form of human gait, obstructing its engineering efficiency, afflicting it with strains and stresses and denying it its natural grace of form and ease of movement head to foot.”

 

If shoes are so darn bad for you, what can you do about it? Go barefoot.

 

Risk of going barefoot: ant bite

Risk of going barefoot: ant bite

Risk associate with shoes all day everyday: um, yeah . . .

Risk associate with shoes all day everyday: um, yeah .

Okay, this might not work in all settings. But you can at least be barefoot as often as possible. You don’t really need to wear shoes around the house. You can safely walk to the mailbox (weather pending) with no shoes, and romp around on the grass without them. Honestly. You won’t get hurt. And if you do, it’s far less painful than what may happen to your feet in the future if you continue to cram your feet into shoes day in and day out.

When shoes are not optional, your best bet is something that closely mimics your natural gait—or the barefoot variety, if you will. Most athletic shoes are designed with features present as more comfortable. They have a toe spring, which causes your toe to rise up from the ground, and most often are so cushiony as to swaddle your feet like a baby in a blanket.

When selecting shoes always go for fit and comfort over style or price. Then whenever you get a chance, take them off and let your feet do the natural work they were intended to do as you walk.

Then come the heels, boots, and everything in between. My thoughts are that yes, they make your feet look lovely on the exterior, but what’s really going on inside your foot, ankle, calf, and knees when you wear these shoes?

Not to say that you should never look at Prada window display again, but wear fashionable foot attire with great discretion and as little as possible. Instead, opt for a more natural approach to shoes.

I recently received a pair of Invisible Shoes from my buddy Steven. The catch is they aren’t really invisible. Not like The Shadow in classic pulp magazines, but they are about as barefoot as you can get without going completely naked from the ankle down.

Huaraches instantly transform you into a Spartan warrior. True story.

Huaraches instantly transform you into a Spartan warrior. True story.

I will do a full review of Invisible Shoes next week, so stay tuned.  You can find out more about these Huarache-style shoes on Steven’s site.

If you want more coverage for your feet, barefoot runners are another great option. I recently purchased Merrell Barefoot Run Pace Glove shoes after I completely wore out my New Balance Minimus (don’t get me started on how the new design for these sucks). Though I don’t love them as much as my original Minimus, they certain do the job when I am forced to wear shoes.

When looking for minimalist footwear, you want something that mimics your natural gait as much as possible. You want to feel your feet spread the ground, have flexibility in the shoe soles, and minimal constriction on the sides of the feet.

It’s important to take care of your feet as they must carry you a long way in life. Choose your shoes wisely and go barefoot whenever you get the chance, especially at home.

 barefoot workout

 

To learn more about what goes on in the body when you run barefoot and whether you should ditch your shoes during activities, check out this article from Runner’s World.

 Martin Rooney is a huge proponent of barefoot training. Having been a therapist before he became a coach, he wanted to address why many of his clients came to him with foot issues. His research over the past ten years has really helped us (both coaches and barefoot trainees) understand the importance of kicking off those shoes from time to time. For more great reads on whether or not to try barefoot, click here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments
  • Great article. It is so helpful to know on how we take care of our feet for a healthy and happy living. :)

  • Ah, so now I am sensitive to poor shoes…
    I’ll be grateful for not having to wear heels to work, then :)
    thanks for explaining this, Kellie.

  • This Article and motif is useful, if we would like a sport. Through higher fitness and better performance, the combination is simpler and you’re feeling great..

  • Hi Eva! So glad you are enjoying your barefoot shoes. I do agree from personal experience that your feet become more sensitive to regular shoes once you live barefoot for longer durations during the day. the structure of your foot changes as the muscles and joints in your feet grow stronger and your feet get used to having that ground impact.

    So, I guess it is a trade off. You have happier, healthier feet but have to cut back on the amount of shoes you own. Most often non-minimalist shoes cause restrictions in mobility that we get used to. Once you regain that mobility your feet become sensitive to that restriction. They are used to doing a lot more work when you move than what these other shoes allow. So your feet are programmed (nervous system) to work in a different way that your shoes allow.

    I would say in this instance, try to limit your wear of non-minimalist shoes when you can. My husband always comments that I were barefoot runners everywhere, but they are about all I can tolerate for long durations. If you have to wear other shoes, try to slip them off to give your feet a break when you can. Say in the car, under your desk, ect.

    Hope this helps. :)

  • hi Kelly, I’ve been getting my feet used to wearing the merell barefoot pace gloves since June. my first excursion into barefoot shoes, although I’ve always spent lots of summer time in bare feet around the house.
    I love the barefoot shoes, can now wear them all day, run in them too, but now I have a problem: sore feet in the regular shoes I used to wear without problems. is this a normal consequence of giving your feet lots of time in the barefoot shoes?

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