Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Letter From Belgium

Dear Dr. Howell,

As soon as I heard about your book I decided it was a Must to read and tried to obtain it. Living in Belgium it took me nearly four months to acquire it through Amazon. It was worth every second of the wait. As soon as I got it I read it through a first time in four hours. WONDERFUL !!!

I find it amazing and a great quality that a scientist is able to get all the scientific information across in simple words that everybody can understand.

The BFB explains so well and in such detail how the human foot functions or is supposed to, and how shoes interfere with the functioning of nature’s creation.

It was, and still is, great to read what shoes are doing to you, from just a benign blister, ouch, to deformities that may require surgery. I never gave a thought to the quantity of chemicals that go into the production of shoes and remain there.

Thank you for debunking the myths, although laws and regulations here in Europe may be different from those in the US, I don’t believe that there are any laws over here that make walking or driving barefoot illegal, but as in the US it’s a widespread belief.

I have been barefoot myself for the last 38 years, that is for about 95% of the time and I still find it a wonderful way of living, walking, hiking. I have been working as a nature guide for the last couple of years and work barefoot for most of the time. This usually raises eyebrows and provokes comments and questions to which I respond to the best of my knowledge. I’m sure that your book will be most helpful in the future to be able to better explain the “why” question.

The only negative comment I could mention about your wonderful book is that it’s pretty hard to obtain it on the old continent. None of the major bookstores could obtain it.

Thank you for your kind comments, dear reader in Belgium! I'm glad it was worth the wait.

[Note: The Barefoot Book is now available for nook and soon for the kindle and other electronic devices. That should make global access much easier!]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Skechers Gets Sued

UPDATE: Skechers is getting into more legal trouble as even more people are getting injured by these shoes. Read about it here.

Skechers, the maker of Shape-Ups toning shoes, is being sued by a woman who claims the shoes severely injured her body. Holly Ward wore the shoes at work and during her leisure time for five months before developing severe pain in her hips. It turns out she obtained stress fractures in both of her femur bones. The femur, incidentally, is the largest and heaviest bone in the body; fracturing that bone is no small feat.

I warn of the dangers of these types of shoes in The Barefoot Book.

Skechers Shape-Ups are modeled after the MBT shoe. Both shoes possess a rounded sole that purportedly offers a workout just by wearing them. Scientific studies have shown that MBT shoes work muscles differently, but there’s no evidence that these shoes ‘tone’ your body, especially the buttocks which are undoubtedly the focus of consumers. However, it is obvious (or at least should be obvious) to anyone who knows anything about the biomechanics of human ambulation that these shoes are dangerous. Not only are MBT and Skechers unstable to the point of risking falls, they alter the human gait so dramatically that injuries are bound to happen. Just ask Holly Ward.

How do toning shoes alter the human gait? They convert the natural stepping motion into a rolling motion. Unfortunately, this is not really unique to toning shoes; virtually all shoes make this conversion, but toning shoes take the ‘rolling step’ to the extreme.

I hope this lawsuit will educate more people to the hazards of toning shoes. Perhaps this will move us one step closer to having warning labels put on shoes that dramatically alter gait.

Now, if only one of those 20,000 women per year put the hospital by high heels would sue their shoe-maker!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Answer To The Question.

I recently received a question from a woman who wants to go barefoot more often but finds it painful. Rather than responding directly to her I want to respond publicly because I think her real issue is not with her feet but with our culture. Consequently, it’s an issue all of us who want healthy, shoeless feet must deal with. Before I respond, let me share with you her comment in its entirety:

“I have very pronate feet, fairly wide hips, and an abnormally large Q angle. When I have gone almost an entire day barefoot, my back, hips, knees and feet are aching and painful for the next day after - there have been nights where I have had trouble falling asleep because of how much discomfort going barefoot inflicted on my body. In other words, for me going barefoot HURTS! I've worn orthotic inserts since I was about ten years old and this has affected the types of shoes I've worn: I have to find wide shoes that accommodate my inserts, I can't wear dress shoes with heels, and I can't wear sandals. Would going barefoot more often help someone like me, in your opinion? Because all it's ever brought me is more pain and discomfort.” – Kaje

Let me start by focusing on the phrase “When I have gone almost an entire day barefoot…”

Walking barefoot is natural; walking in shoes is unnatural. Shoes demonstrably (and negatively) change the way we stand, walk and run and thus create a host of foot problems, not the least of which is muscle atrophy and skeletal deformation since the shoe is essentially a binding cast. Shoes affect more than the feet: the elevated heel found in virtually every shoe demands postural adjustments all the way up the body and the narrow toe box, toe spring, arch support and elevated heel conspire to encourage over-pronation, which also affects your ankles, knees and hips. In addition to shoes, this dear woman has worn orthotics since she was ten years old, but… she has never spent a full day barefoot. What Kaje is saying it similar to: "When I take the cast off my arm for almost an entire day my elbows and shoulders hurt." Unfortunately, this situation describes most of us in ‘civilized’ society and there is no hope that we can ever have strong, healthy feet if that’s the case.

The daily wearing of shoes has wrecked our feet. If you’ve worn orthotics your feet are doubly-wrecked. Our feet have literally been debilitated by footwear and healing can only come by removing the shoes and rehabilitating our feet by miles and miles and miles of barefoot walking and running. For better or for worse, the brutal truth is that the damage done by thousands of hours of shoe wearing cannot be undone by going barefoot a few hours here-and-there on nights and weekends.

Kaje, you say your feet hurt if you spend too many hours barefoot. I predict the pain would subside if you could stay out of shoes for an entire month or two, but can you do that? If you could, your feet would become rehabilitated and stronger and healthier than ever. Will your circumstances permit you to remain barefoot for weeks or months at a time? Will your feet hurt during the rehab process? Probably yes. The soreness you presently feel from going barefoot stems from the fact that you are using muscles in ways you don't use them in shoes; it's similar to the soreness you would feel after a day of skiing. However, if you could commit to spending just several months barefoot [1], your feet will strengthen, your gait will correct itself and your entire body will benefit. (Indeed, with rehabilitated feet and gait your wide hips and Q-angle will probably not be an issue). At the end of the rehab process, putting on shoes will feel so obviously unnatural and awkward you will likely not do it. Welcome to full-time barefooting.

And this is why we as a society must allow bare feet back into the public square. There is a growing number of people who are fed up with the ill-effects of shoes on their bodies and they want to exercise the healthier option of living without shoes as much as possible. Consequently, our culture must adjust. I think our culture will adjust because the barefooting ‘movement’ is growing rapidly and once you’ve experienced the benefits of going shoeless there is no going back! Personally, I’m at a place where I snub the social pressure and refuse to let anyone make me put on shoes [2]. More and more people are adopting this attitude.

Finally, I want to add that it’s high-time podiatrists took the blame for our wrecked feet. Society has told us to wear shoes, but podiatrists have done nothing to oppose this and have in fact endorsed shoe wearing and – even worse – carelessly promoted orthotics. It’s time for podiatrists to apologize [3] to Kaje and inform the public of the many negative consequences of wearing shoes and endorse and promote barefoot living for healthier feet.

So Kaje, the answer to your question – as always – is to ditch the shoes. I hope you can keep them off long enough to rehabilitate your feet and reap the benefits. Let me know how it goes!

1. I say “just” several months barefoot because, after all, you’ve spent years in shoes.
2. The only exception being my boss because – other than the shoe rule – I really love my job. If I didn’t love Liberty University, believe me I would ditch the job and move; there are hundreds of colleges out there that would let me teach barefoot.
3. There is a place for orthotics and maybe Kaje genuinely needs them, but orthotics should always be the exception, not the rule.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Have A Dream

A few weeks ago we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. day. We paused to remember the (peaceful) struggle of American blacks against an oppressive, discriminatory society. We took a day to celebrate a man who dreamed America could be different. I have tremendous respect for MLK, Jr., for his accomplishments and for his daring vision. On MLK day I gathered with my wife and three children around a computer screen to watch his “I have a dream” speech on YouTube. It is with utmost respect for the man and it’s in the spirit of his vision that I modify his words to apply them to my own dream, my own vision of an America free of oppressive discrimination.

You see, I have dream that Americans will one day be free to live barefoot. My dream may seem trivial, but it is not. It is not trivial because at its core it is a struggle against an oppressive attitude toward differences. It is a dream that we will stop shunning those who think outside the box. We say we celebrate such thinking, but we lie. In truth we actively oppress innovative thinking and it’s only through much toil and sweat on the part of such thinkers that real change ever happens among the masses.

I am white. I am educated. Indeed, I am privileged to be among the small portion (less than 1%) of the population with an esteemed doctorate degree – in biochemistry no less, one of those hard sciences that has obtained almost idolistic authority in Western thought. As ‘Dr. Howell, university professor’ I am a respected member of my community. As a barefooter, I have felt the sting of blatant and hateful discrimination: I have been called derogatory names; I have been denied a table at a restaurant; I have been forced off an airplane; I have been escorted by security to the nearest exit. Most ironically, I have been denied a seat on a bus by a black female driver. But I have a dream that one day doing something as healthy – and legal – as going barefoot will be acceptable to my fellow Americans.

I have a dream that little white children and little black children can play together barefoot in the gymnasium. I have a dream that one day employees will be recognized for the quality of their work rather than the price of their wingtips or pumps. I dream of a day when the ‘barefooter’ is applauded for making the more natural and healthier choice to shun her shoes; a choice made not only for the health of her feet but maybe because she also refuses to subvert herself to the role of temptress in high heels in order to be a corporate player.

Truly, I dream of a day when shoes (or the lack thereof) are a non-issue.

They say you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes, but I long for a day when we will be judged by our hard work, our commitment to excellence, our creativity and ingenuity… by the content of our character and not by the shoes on our feet.

Am I insulting Dr. King? Am I trivializing his dream or making a mountain out of a molehill? I don’t think so because ultimately my dream is not about feet, it’s about the end of discrimination in all its forms. It’s about acceptance. It’s about seeing the world a little more like God himself sees it, for we know that “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

So yeah, I have a dream. Won’t you join me? Together we can not only free our feet but we can enlarge our hearts to embrace all people despite our differences.