So when I became a parent, and my son approached the age of walking, I immediately started trying to put him into those little slide-on Vans type shoes, with the 3/4" white walls. To my surprise (first time mom over here), he was immediately tripping over the heavy soles on the shoes, and seemed to have much more trouble with finding his footing. I watched him walk, and remembered what it was like for me in first pair of high heels. I started doing some research.
In my mommy friend circles, soft-soled shoes were all the rage, and were supposed to help tiny developing feet find their footing. Robeez
was a really popular brand, and very well made, so I ordered him a few pairs, and immediately we saw a difference. He was sure-footed, and very soon from making that purchase, started running with great abandon, happy as a clam at his new-found mobility.
This prompted more research.
Some of you may know, we don't sleep on a mattress in this house - just a couple of blankets on the floor. There are a lot of reasons for this, but as it pertains to this discussion, primarily it's because mattresses provide too much support for your back, weakening your posture while you sleep, and generally causing more problems than they solve. It's like being in a big squishy body brace all night, and all of that support all over your body puts things out of wack.
Apparently the same is true for conventional shoes. We have all of this shock absorption and arch support built in, and as a result, many people's posture suffers, we have poor balance, and even problems with back pain and ankle discomfort.
Being barefoot, your foot falls into the alignment that nature designed it for, and there is no compensation on the part of your legs, butt, and lower back to make up for a shoe that alters that. You have better balance because you're in direct contact with the ground, and there's not the barrier of a thick shoe sole desensitizing the experience of walking and running.
Now before you start saying 'But but but I work on concrete floors', let me just say that I get that shit. The human body definitely wasn't designed to spend 10 hours a day zipping back and forth over a concrete floor, and in this case, some shock absorption is, in my non-podiatrist opinion, exactly what you need. I was cooking and bartending when I was pregnant with my son for 11-13 hours a day, and had horrible sciatica as a result. A big part of alleviating pain from these sources is just giving our bodies a little TLC - elevating my feet for 15 minutes every four hours really pissed off my coworkers, but my body was in a much better state by the end of the day.
Anyway, I digress, back to being barefoot.
So in a place like Montana, we have a few factors that prevent us, and most certainly toddlers, from being just plain ol' barefoot all of the time, in addition to the usual things:
it's really fucking cold herelots of prickly, pokey plantsrocks. rocks EVERYWHERErattlesnakes in high and dry regionsmy soil is littered with ancient bits of broken plastic and glassgrocery store floors are gross - I don't want to be barefoot there
A few of these, you can adapt to. Unless you're spending an extended period of time outside, the cold isn't an issue for bare feet, and you adapt. Your soles toughen up to the rough plants and rocks, and you generally become pretty desensitized to them, the longer you go without shoes.
However, the sharp waste issue (I rent my home, and the soil has seen a lot of junk over the years), coupled with folks in the higher alpine desert areas that see rattlesnakes, put themselves at some serious risk by exposing the part of their body mostly likely to come into contact with a rattlesnake first - their feet.
Being barefoot in as many scenarios as I can is generally what I shoot for, and I love the sensation. I had a friend stay with me for a few days while her new house was being prepared, and I remember coming in from a hot day in the summer sun, barefoot on a mound of compost and topsoil in the bed of the pickup, shoveling and heaving it for hours over the side. I came in to cool and have some water, and she chirped, "I brought my pedicure stuff, want a pedicure?!!"
I gave her a wry smile, and looked down at my filthy feet, nearly black from my work, with dirt and poop literally between the toes she was talking about painting, and said with the least amount of smartassery I could muster, "Yea, I don't really do pedicures."
Dirty feet, I love them! Those are feet that have been busy, toiling in the soil, stomping and hiking across the mountains, climbing over fallen trees, deftly sprinting after wandering toddlers - these feet of mine were made to touch the earth and get filthy.
There's actually some evidence that it might also be beneficial to come into direct contact with the earth because of the negative electrical charge the ground puts out. "Grounding" is based on this principle, and apparently it's pretty well established that it helps with inflammation.
I found this article
really interesting on the subject.
For those of us, like toddlers, that probably shouldn't walk everywhere
barefoot, there are soft soled shoes out there, which keep our feet warm and dry, and can protect from some of the sharper things we may encounter. However, I will say that running all over our gravel driveway, my son has worn some serious holes in his little soft soled shoes - I have a bag full of them that need repairs.
They do make soft soled shoes for adults
as it turns out - maybe one day I'll spring for a pair.
If you're up for the maintenance, it's a really intriguing alternative to conventional footwear, and the benefits seem to go well beyond toddlerhood.
I'm curious to hear from other Barefooters, or people that have tried shoes like these - any noticeable changes for you when you made the switch in terms of your foot/muscle health and overall comfort? Any tips for those of us looking to make the transition?