Written by Jeff Langley.
You’ve seen him, gamboling about campus. Undoubtedly you’ve sniggered to yourself or clucked your tongue, snidely side-remarked to a friend, or simply averted your gaze in confused embarrassment. Why does that scruffy pirate/Jesus looking dude never wear shoes? Well, here he is, to testify once and for all, in this most auspicious, public medium.
My reasons for writing this article are manifold. For one thing, I don’t have enough to do with my 21.5 credits, work and play rehearsal schedule. Secondly, some of you have inquired in person about my habit and I have told many of you outlandish lies; I wish to set the record straight. And then I think there’s a small chance some of you may actually be interested in the following explanation and, who knows, it may cause you to reflect on your own lifestyle or to examine certain assumptions.
When asked why my feet are perpetually nude, I have typically responded in one of three ways. Sometimes I feign lack of comprehension (no hablo ingles…). Sometimes I make up a cockamamie story about my boots catching fire as a child, or about cruel and unusual punishments inflicted on my feet by my satanic foster parents. Usually, I ask, “Do you want the short answer, the mediumish/likely-to-instigate-further-inquiry answer, or the somewhat longer version?” Most of you have been satisfied with the short answer—“I don’t like shoes.” Slightly more detail— “I find most of them uncomfortable, most of the time, and I believe they are unhealthy.” People typically accept this explanation without challenge, and resolve to avoid me at all costs in the future, because whatever I have may be contagious. Those of you who scored “empathy” in your Top 5 are likely to grant me a benevolent smile and a head-pat, and perhaps say something like, “That’s nice, laddy. Here’s a lemon drop.” Some of you more adventurous folk may cock a curious eyebrow, which is sufficient encouragement for me to launch into the somewhat longer explanation. This version is part hippy-jabber, along with some debated scientific opinion.
It goes a little something like this: Going shoeless as much as possible is part of a larger goal to be ever present and in touch with my environment. I think everyone can relate to the pleasure of walking on warm sand, or dewy grass, or moss, or cool spring mud, or through crunchy autumn leaves. I’m just a greedy lout and want those sensational experiences all the time.
As to the claim that many shoes are unhealthy—I believe God has designed our feet to do their job (i.e., bearing up and transporting the rest of the body) just fine on their own. The basic overall structure of a healthy foot is an arch. The history of architecture teaches us that the way to weaken an arch is to exert force at the apex from below. Many shoes (particularly those designed for athletic performance) do just that. They fill the space of your foot’s natural shape and call it “support.” Additionally, thick heels generally cause a walker or runner to strike the ground with extra force. These things can lead to a host of health problems.
Allow me to interject here that I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. I’m an English/COM major, by golly, what business have I presuming to know things about the human body? But English majors read a lot. There are other knowledgeable voices out there singing the praises of the unshod foot. While their claims are still debated, the trend is catching. You athletes may already be aware of the barefoot running movement. For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, minimal Internet research will give you a general idea. For further study, I can heartily recommend Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. It’s a thumping good read and includes a great deal of information on the theories that I am not wholly equipped to unpack for you.
Some final thoughts before I bring this self-absorbed ramble to a close: Yes, I will don footwear when there is snow on the ground. Yes, I wear something (flipflops or minimalist shoes) on my feet in establishments that demand it. Yes, there is a time and a place for protecting that skin, when it may encounter stones, thorns, cacti, lava, what have you. Get some good moccasins.
Do I suggest you all chuck your $150 running shoes and join the hippies? Well…I’d encourage you to consider it. Do some research. Try going a day without shoes (except in the D.C. and Union…they’ll bounce you outta there before you can say “Yolo”).
Enjoy interacting with your environment in as many ways as possible and think critically about the claims of marketers (e.g., buy these 100-plus dollar running shoes that offer you maximum “support”).
Lastly, go read the poem “God’s Grandeur,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and see if you can guess which is my favorite line.