I have always preferred going barefoot. But it wasn’t until about five years ago that I learned that wearing shoes can actually be bad for you. According to Women’s Sports & Fitness (Cheryl Sacra, August 1994, cited in Society for Barefoot Living):
“[T]he skin on the soles of your feet resists abrasions and blistering and that going barefoot is beneficial to the musculoskeletal structure of your feet and ankles…. Kicking off your shoes can help prevent a host of foot injuries: bunions, heel spurs, and bone deformities, among others. ‘Shoes act like casts, holding the bones of the foot so rigid that they can’t move fluidly,’ [Steven] Robbins [MD and adjunct associate professor of mechanical engineering at Concordia University, Montreal] explains. ‘The foot becomes passive from wearing shoes and loses the ability to support itself.'”
Then I learned about Vibram Five Fingers, one of the original “barefoot” or minimalist shoes, which “allowed the foot to move and work in a completely natural way, while providing grip and protection over a variety of surfaces” (from their web site). I immediately decided that this would be my ideal shoe. At the time, there were three kinds: the Classic, Sprint, and KSO. I went with a pair of grayish/tannish/taupe-ish Sprints.
Once I got them onto my feet, I was in heaven. They were like gloves, or really suped-up socks: sturdy, supportive, flexible—shoes for people who hate shoes! I felt both free and protected—the freedom of being barefoot with the protection that shoes provide. It was the best of both worlds, without the burdens of either.
That first pair of “toe shoes” held up beautifully for years, until a widening hole in the sole forced me to retire them. Last summer I bought my second pair: black KSOs this time. They cover more of the foot, and with toe socks, I can wear them for more of the year.
Me (right) in my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers, which are great for physical theater/performance art. (photo by Aaron Zaremsky)
Some frequently-asked questions:
1. What if your toes are not “normally”-shaped? I have wide feet and weirdly-big big toes (the result of crooked bones). But luckily, with some maneuvering, they fit just fine. The rubber sole is not flexible, but the canvas top is, so they will form to your foot, to an extent.
2. Isn’t it weird, feeling the material between your toes? I’d been almost exclusively wearing Korean toe socks for a few years before getting these, so that was easy to get used to. I tend to prefer things between my toes, but that’s obviously a subjective preference.
3. Does it hurt when you step on sharp things? No, not unless it’s something very sharp. Usually you can just feel pressure, not actual pain.
4. When do you wear them? The pairs I’ve had are like sandals, so they are best in warmer months. As advertised, they are especially good for physical activity: walking, hiking, running (which I don’t do without them), bike-riding, hopping along rock walls at the beach… but I like them for every-day use, too.
5. Do they have arch support? If by “support” you mean allowing your natural arch to be strengthened (like going barefoot, which strengthens the ligaments and tendons in the feet and can help to counter low arches or flat feet) rather than weakened by padding, then, yes, they have “arch support.”
6. Are there any problems with them at all? Oh, sure. Not exactly slip-on shoes, they can be a project to get on (which does get easier as you and they get used to each other), and once on they stay on, formed to your foot. Which is a good thing, but it can be inconvenient. Also, they get pretty stinky. I let them air out in the sun as often as possible.
I always suggest that everybody go and try them on. They’re not for everyone, but if they are for you, you’ll know it as soon as they settle onto your feet.
People are getting more aware and used to these funny-looking shoes. I always get responses to them, which have, over the years, gone from “Look at those shoes! What are they?!” and “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life” to “Oh, you have those” to “Nice Vibrams.” And always, “Do you like them?” To which I reply, “They’re the best shoes I ever bought.” And it’s true.
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