1. Shoes protect your feet from germs.
Actually, although many people believe that the world is full of germs just waiting to make your bare feet fall off, this is a myth. Well, the world is full of bacteria, but most of those bacteria are perfectly harmless and some are even beneficial. The nasty germs, like Pseudomonas, actually live inside shoes and are otherwise not present on your skin. Same goes for the fungus that causes athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis). In truth, the shoe is a warm, moist, hotbed for microbial growth and is the leading cause of foot infections. Going barefoot exposes the skin of your feet to refreshing air and sunshine, which inhibit microbial growth and infection. Need proof that shoes are germ factories? Wear your shoes all day and then smell them and your feet (if you dare), then go barefoot for a day… no stinky feet. You could try the same experiment with gloves.
2. Shoes protect your feet from injury.
Wrong again (sort of). Shoes can protect your feet from some acute injuries, but I’ve noticed that people step on nails with or without shoes. Many people fear broken glass, but broken glass is rather rare these days (“plastics make it possible”) and is actually not that dangerous anyway. While stepping blindly and forcefully on a huge shard of glass can cause a severe cut, that kind of thing is not likely to happen on the sidewalk. (Ironically, it is likely to happen while wading in a littered river, which lots of people do, barefoot). On the sidewalk, most broken glass is small and lies flat. As for nails, it turns out that it’s better to actually step on a nail barefoot than while wearing shoes. Why? Because the shoe is a hotbed for bacteria (remember that Pseudomonas?) and the likelihood of a dangerous bacterial infection skyrockets from your shoe. Lastly, while shoes may offer some protection against acute injuries, they are responsible for most of our chronic foot injuries, like bunions, Hallux valgus, hammer toe, over-pronation, fallen arches, etc. etc.
3. Shoes give you better grip on car pedals.
I’m not aware of a study that demonstrates this declaration. In fact, a strong argument can be made that shoes reduce your grip on car pedals. The skin on your feet is well-designed for traction, you even have skin prints on your soles and toes just like you do on your fingers for improved grip. You can also hold the pedal with your toes. Shoes, on the other hand, often have slick, slippery soles (especially when wet). Flip flops are notoriously dangerous for getting caught in pedals and high heels limit your ankle’s range of motion. Experienced barefoot drivers compare driving barefoot to driving bare handed, which is also arguably safer than driving with stiff, bulky gloves. Of course, you should keep your car floors clean of debris, but you should do that whether you drive barefoot or in shoes.
4. Shoes improve your gait.
Shoes definitely seem to change your gait, but those changes are likely not improvements to the barefoot style. The higher the heel, the more the shoe will modify your gait (alter stride length, weight distribution in your feet, which muscles are active and when, etc.). Other shoe features will impact your gait, as well, such as the toe spring, arch supports, motion control, side panels, and so on. Probably you have heard about the barefoot running debate. There is a lot of research being done these days that indicate running barefoot is healthier than running in shoes. Logically, the same goes for walking.
5. Shoes correct bad posture.
Again, no. Indeed, shoes create bad posture and, once again, the higher the heel, the greater the impact of the shoe. If your body was rigid, only a 1-inch heel would suffice to tip you over (and virtually every shoe has at least a 1-inch heel). You do not tip over because you make postural adjustments to remain upright. In 3-inch heels, your pelvis tilts about 15 degrees and this puts strain your back and hip joints. In heels, more of your body weight is carried by the front of your knee and this may be why women suffer from knee osteoarthritis 4x more often than men. Also in 3-inch heels, about 90% of your body weight is supported by your forefoot and the weight-distributing arches are rendered useless. Back pain, hip pain, knee pain, and foot pain can all be traced back to your shoe and bad posture.
6. Shoes are required by health codes.
This is widely believed, but it’s another myth. Health departments regulate eateries, not their customers. The health department is concerned primarily with three things: how the restaurant stores their food, how the restaurant handles their food, and how the restaurant cooks their food. Health departments exist to protect the customer from the restaurant, not to regulate customer behavior. Health departments do not require customers to wash their hands, take a bath, brush their teeth, or wear clean clothing (or any clothing at all) in a restaurant. Nor do they require shoes.
7. Shoes are required by OSHA.
Yes and no. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) does require footwear for some occupations, but shockingly few. Indeed, OSHA is one of the last government agencies which gives wide discretion to the business owner / manager to decide what is best for the employee (in this case, whether shoes should be required or not). And certainly, OSHA regulations pertain only to employees, never to customers.
8. Shoes are required for reasons of liability.
Not usually. Most retail stores have nothing to fear from bare feet. A shopping mall and its stores, for example, is probably a very safe place for feet. Lawsuits from a barefoot patron due to a foot injury are exceedingly rare, and judicial victory even more rare (I found two in the past 50 years). On the other hand, 20,000 women per year go to the hospital from high-heel injuries, and lawsuits involving shoe-related falls and injuries are too numerous to count (well, there’s a lot). To my knowledge, there are no insurance riders or other requirements for customers to wear shoes for any business, not even car shops (though customers are often not allowed in a commercial garage without an escort). Bottom line, shoes are more of a liability than bare feet.
9. My boss requires it.
Okay, that’s a valid reason if you want to keep your job, but be aware that this is a cultural reason, not a legal, physical or health reason. Shoes are unhealthy and are not required by law or health codes. Given the health benefits of going barefoot, our culture should ease up when it comes to shoe rules. If you are the boss, please let your employees work barefoot!
10. Shoes make the outfit.
Well, maybe they do sometimes. But in my opinion, bare feet go with everything!
*There are references for all my claims in The Barefoot Book. I was too lazy to pull them out again for this blog post. :)