Barefoot movement

For other uses of "Barefoot", see Barefoot (disambiguation).

Barefoot (also barefooted) is the state of not wearing any footwear. While for functional, fashion, and social reasons footwear is generally worn, the wearing of footwear volitionally is exclusively a human characteristic and is a feature of many human societies, especially outdoors and not in an exclusively private context. Many people do not wear footwear in their home, and some expect visitors to do the same.

Many people regard the wearing of footwear as a sign of civilization and being barefoot as a sign of poverty. Even when poverty is not relevant, some choose to be barefoot, at least in some situations.

There are health risks and benefits associated with going barefoot. Footwear provides protection from cuts, abrasions, and bruises from objects on the ground, as well as from frostbite and parasites like hookworm. However, some shoes can limit the flexibility and mobility of the foot and can lead to higher incidences of flat feet or toes that curve inward. Walking barefoot results in a more natural gait, allowing for a more rocking motion of the foot and eliminating the hard heel strike and generating less collision force in the foot and lower leg.

Many stores, restaurants, and other public venues in the United States have dress codes against bare feet. While private business owners are free to set their own policies, many cite nonexistent health regulations, though these typically are requirements that pertain to employees, not customers. Many people believe that it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle barefoot, though there are no laws in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other places against it.

There are many sports that people play barefoot, including running, water skiing, beach volleyball, gymnastics, and martial arts. In modern language, someone who prefers not to wear shoes in public is known as a barefooter. The term may be used to describe someone participating in certain sports, such as barefoot skiing or barefoot running.[1][2]

Historical and religious aspects

Many people in ancient times, such as the Egyptians, Hindus and Greeks, saw little need for footwear and, most of the time, preferred being barefoot. The Egyptians and Hindus made some use of ornamental footwear, such as a soleless sandal known as a "Cleopatra", which did not provide any practical protection for the foot. Athletes in the Ancient Olympic Games participated barefoot – and naked.[3] Even the gods and heroes were primarily depicted barefoot, the hoplite warriors fought battles in bare feet, and Alexander the Great conquered his vast empire with barefoot armies.

The Romans, who eventually conquered the Greeks and adopted many aspects of their culture, did not adopt the Greek perception of footwear and clothing. Roman clothing was seen as a sign of power, and footwear was seen as a necessity of living in a civilized world, although the slaves and paupers usually went barefoot.[4] There are many references to shoes being worn in the Bible. During weddings of this period, a father would give his son-in-law a pair of shoes to symbolize the transfer of authority.[5]

During the Middle Ages, both men and women wore pattens, commonly seen as the predecessor of the modern high-heeled shoe,[6] while the poor and lower classes in Europe, as well as slaves in the New World, were barefoot.[4] In the 15th century, chopines were created in Turkey and were usually 7-8 inches (17.7-20.3 cm) high. These shoes became popular in Venice and throughout Europe as a status symbol revealing wealth and social standing. During the 16th century, royalty started wearing high-heeled shoes to make them look taller or larger than life, such as Catherine de Medici or Mary I of England. By 1580, even men wore them, and a person with authority or wealth was often referred to as "well-heeled".[6]

The phrase Barefoot and pregnant is now used to illustrate a woman's traditional role as a homemaker and thus her lack of opportunities to socialize or to have a career outside of the home.[7] It was first used in the early 20th century, possibly by Dr. Arthur E. Hertzler (also known as the "Kansas Horse-and-Buggy Doctor"[8]), promoting a hypothesis that:[9]

Bare feet have come to symbolize innocence or childhood. The connection to childhood and innocence, as well as the simple joys of country life, are embodied in the poem "The Barefoot Boy" by John Greenleaf Whittier, published in 1855.[10] Additionally, the book Dancing Barefoot by Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton features five short stories that chronicle his journey from childhood and youth through to maturity and self-acceptance.[11]

Religious aspects

In many religions, bare feet are often seen as a sign of humility and respect, and some religious practitioners may have taken a vow of poverty. The art of many cultures throughout the world shows a person without shoes symbolizing poverty.[12] In Thailand, Master Jinshen, a Buddhist monk, walks 20 kilometers (12 mi) per day barefoot as a reminder to others who pursue a material life to protect and be concerned for Mother Nature. He states that he does this to follow Buddhist rules, to lead the people to the path of virtue, and to develop his Buddhist spirit.[13] It is customary in Judaism and some Christian denominations to go barefoot while mourning.[12] Some Christian churches practice barefoot pilgrimage traditions, such as the ascent of Croagh Patrick in Ireland at night while barefoot (although the nighttime part is no longer encouraged).[14]

In many religions, it is common to remove shoes when entering a place considered holy. For example, in the Book of Exodus, Moses was instructed to remove his shoes before approaching the burning bush:

Everyone entering a mosque or a Hindu temple, including visitors, is expected to remove his or her shoes; racks for the storage of shoes are usually provided at the entrance.[15][16]

Foot washing, or the ceremonial washing of others' feet, is associated with humility in Christianity, and Jesus Christ is recorded in the New Testament as washing the feet of his disciples as a way to serve them during the Last Supper. Christians that practice foot washing today do so as a way to bring them closer to Jesus and to fill them with a sense of humility and service. Muslims wash their feet before entering a mosque or other place of worship, as well as before prayers. Roman Catholics show their respect and humility for the Pope by kissing his feet, in a similar manner in which Hindus show their love and respect to a guru by touching his bare feet (called pranam). It is customary to show one's respect by walking barefoot around Raj Ghat, the monument to Mahatma Gandhi.[12] Both United States President George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II paid him this honor.[17] During the Imperial Japanese period, removing one's shoes in the presence of a person of higher status was a sign of showing one's own humility and respect towards their status.[12]

Christian congregations of men and women that go entirely barefoot or wear sandals include the Discalced, like the Discalced Carmelites (1568), the Feuillants (Cistercians, 1575), the Trinitarians (1594), the Mercedarians (1604), and the Passionists.[18]

Cultural aspects

Incidences and attitudes towards barefoot walking vary between countries and cultures. In the early 1900s, Russian immigrant Samuel Sugarman, a.k.a. "Barefoot Sam" or "Shoeless Sam", became famous in Hartford, Connecticut, for going barefoot all year long, even in snow and ice, until his death in 1954 at age 80. Samuel Sugarman was the son of noted health advocate Prof. Louis Sugarman of Little Falls, New York, who became famous for walking barefoot in the snow and bathing in the icy Mohawk River in the middle of winter. According to a February 22, 1950, interview in the Hartford Courant ("Of Many Things" by Thomas Murphy), Shoeless Sam felt walking barefoot was better for the feet and claimed it was as natural for him to go without shoes as it was for others to wear shoes. Despite this, he was seen as an eccentric (see also photo link at footnote).[19][20]

In some parts of the United States, where taboos against barefoot walking are strongest, it is not unusual for people to wear the same shoes indoors and outdoors, and for guests to keep their shoes on when visiting other people's houses. In contrast, in many cultures such a behavior is considered inappropriate, if not rude or indeed unacceptable. It may be acceptable to wear outdoor shoes in public places (e.g., museums or libraries), but people are usually expected to go barefoot, or wear socks or slippers, inside dwellings. In some countries, such as Japan[21] and India,[22] the host is expected to provide light slippers for all visitors. Amongst other things, this practice serves the purpose of minimizing the amount of dirt and mud brought in from the outside.

In many branches of Romani culture across the world, it is traditional for women to dance barefoot.


Firewalking is the practice of walking barefoot over hot coals. It has been practiced by many people and cultures in all parts of the world, with the earliest known reference dating back to Iron Age India – c. 1200 BC.[23] It is often used as a rite of passage, as a test of an individual's strength and courage, or, in religion, as a test of one's faith. Today, it is often used in corporate and team-building seminars and self-help workshops as a confidence-building exercise. Firewalking implies the belief that the feat requires the aid of a supernatural force, strong faith, or on an individual's ability to focus on "mind over matter".[12] Modern physics has largely debunked this, showing that the amount of time the foot is in contact with the ground is not enough to induce a burn, combined with the fact that coal is not a very good conductor of heat.[23]

Slavery and imprisonment

It was an integral part of most slave laws ("slave codes") to mandate that slaves have to go barefoot as a matter of course. For example, the Cape Town slave code states that, "Slaves must go barefoot and must carry passes."[24] This was seen in states that abolished slavery later in history, such as Brazil, as most images from the slavery period suggest that slaves were barefoot.[25] In Zimbabwe, prisoners must be barefoot as well.[26] Shoes have been considered as badges of freedom since biblical times:

Arts and entertainment

Many singers and dancers perform on stage barefoot. The classical dance of Cambodia had its roots in the holy dances of the legendary seductresses (apsaras) of ancient Cambodia and attained its high point during the Angkor period in its interpretations of the Indian epics, especially the Ramayana. Cambodian dancers were well-born women of the king's harem and danced barefoot, with the feet turned outwards and the legs slightly bent at the knee to cushion the movements of the upper body. The unimpeded movement of the foot was essential to the art. When the land was invaded by the Thai, the dancers were taken to the Thai court, where their art was adapted and continued to flourish.[27][28]

The barefoot dance movement of the early 20th century challenged the received laws of classical dance and the broader laws of social decorum. For decades, the bare foot had been perceived as obscene, and no matter how determined barefoot dancers were to validate their art with reference to spiritual, artistic, historic, and organic concepts, barefoot dancing was inextricably linked in the public mind with indecency and sexual taboo. In 1908, Maud Allan shocked and fascinated London theatre-goers with her barefoot dance of desire in Salome, and scandalous tributes positioned her as the embodiment of lust. For many, barefoot dancing represented not only the freedom and horror of modern sexuality but the progress and decline of high culture.[29]

Californian Isadora Duncan revolutionized dance in the Western world by jettisoning the tutu and the pointe shoe of classical ballet and scandalized audiences by performing works of her own choreography in flowing draperies and bare feet. She anticipated the modern women's liberation movement by urging women to rid themselves of corsets and matrimony.[30] Duncan divorced the bare foot from perceptions of obscenity and made a conscious effort to link barefoot dancing to ideals such as "nudity, childhood, the idyllic past, flowing lines, health, nobility, ease, freedom, simplicity, order, and harmony". She believed her utopian dance vision and program would ameliorate the perceived ills of modern life and restore the world to the imagined perfection of Ancient Greece.[29]

The 1954 film The Barefoot Contessa tells the fictional story of Maria Vargas (portrayed by Ava Gardner), a Spanish cabaret dancer of simple origins who frequently went barefoot. She was cast in a movie by writer and director Harry Dawes (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) and became a major star. In 1978, Ina Garten purchased a specialty food store in The Hamptons named Barefoot Contessa, after the movie. She liked the name because it went well with her simple and elegant cooking style. She sold the store in 1999 and wrote her first book, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, which became one of the best-selling cookbooks of the year. She would go on to write more cookbooks and, in 2002, started production of a television show on the Food Network, also named the Barefoot Contessa, which continues to run.[31]

In the latter half of the 20th century, many singers have performed barefoot. One of the first singers to become well known for singing barefoot on stage is Sandie Shaw, who became known as the "Barefoot Pop Princess of the 1960s."[32] Jimmy Buffett is known for performing barefoot at concerts, promoting an island/beach bum lifestyle,[33] and Cesária Évora of Cape Verde was known as the "Barefoot Diva" for her habit of performing sans shoes.[34] Other performers include Shakira[35] and Gwen Stefani.[36] Some singers may believe that being barefoot allows them to channel their vocal energy better – a theory based on the teachings of the alternative medicine of reflexology. Others may do so to provide a more relaxing atmosphere and to calm them down.[36]

Tony Meléndez and Mark Goffeney have played the guitar on stage barefoot, with their feet, since they were born with no arms.[37][38][39] Similarly, in 2008, Jessica Cox became the first person with no arms to use her bare feet to fly an airplane.[40] There are armless artists who use their bare feet to paint, including Simona Atzori, who is a dancer.[41][42]

Health implications

There are risks and benefits associated with going barefoot. While footwear provides some protection from puncture wounds from glass, nails, rocks, or thorns as well as abrasions, bruises, and frostbite, studies of people who habitually walk barefoot have consistently found that these problems are minimal, with only about 0.89% of barefoot people having any kind of foot complaint which could be linked to walking barefoot (including temporary conditions such as abrasions) or having the tops of the feet uncovered. Feet that have never worn shoes never exhibit problems such as bunions, corns, and 'fallen arches', as well as having a much reduced incidence of problems such as callouses.[43]

Walking barefoot results in a more natural gait. People who are used to walking barefoot tend to land with the forefoot or mid-foot, eliminating the hard heel strike and generating much less collision force in the foot and lower leg.[44][45] A 2006 study found that shoes may increase stress on the knee and ankle, and suggested that adults that walked barefoot may have a lower rate of osteoarthritis,[46] although more study is required to elucidate the factors that distribute loads in shod and barefoot walking. A 2007 study examined 180 modern humans and compared their feet with 2,000-year-old skeletons. They concluded that, before the invention of shoes, humans overall had healthier feet.[45] A 1991 study found that children who wore shoes were three times more likely to have flat feet than those who did not, and suggested that wearing shoes in early childhood can be detrimental to the longitudinal arch of the foot.[47] Children who habitually go barefoot were found to have stronger feet, with better flexibility and mobility, fewer deformities like flat feet or toes that curve inwards, and fewer complaints.[48] Walking barefoot enables a more natural gait, eliminating the hard heel strike and instead, allowing for a rocking motion of the foot from heel to toe.[45] Similarly, barefoot running usually involves an initial forefoot strike, instead of on the rear of the foot, generating smaller collision forces.[49]

Since there is no artificial protection of the bare foot, some of the possible issues include cuts, abrasions, bruises, or puncture wounds from glass, nails, rocks, or thorns, as well as poisonous plants, animals, or parasites can enter the body through the cuts on an injured bare foot.[50] In people who are not habitually barefoot, Athlete's foot is spread by fungal spores coming into contact with skin that has been weakened and made moist. The fungus is known to only affect around 0.75% of habitually barefoot people and can be prevented by reducing shoe use and keeping the feet dry, particularly after walking through a damp environments where people communally walk barefoot as the fungus only develops under the right conditions, such as when people fail to properly dry their feet after swimming or showering and then put on shoes.[51] As such, the fungus is very unlikely to develop on a person who goes barefoot all the time.

The Hookworm parasite, found only in warm, moist, climates where human feces contaminated with Hookworm larvae has been left in places where it might come into contact with human skin, can burrow through a bare human foot (or any part of the body that comes into contact with it).[52] However, as the parasite tends to be found mainly in mud and cesspools, its spread cannot be stopped by most standard shoes since the larvae can penetrate fabric and small holes. The parasite may spread through contaminated material coming into contact with any part of the body, such as through flecks of mud splashing on an ankle or leg.[53] The Hookworm parasite is relatively mild, has few symptoms, and can pass completely unnoticed when the infestation level is low enough. Since the hookworm infection is very cheap and easy to treat, and since it requires infected feces to come into contact with human skin within a particular time period, eradicating hookworm is mainly a matter of hygiene (including the building of proper toilet and waste-disposal facilities) and mass-treatment. In very cold weather, shoes can provide thermal insulation, protecting against frostbite.

Issues that can develop as a result of someone who has always worn shoes going barefoot include calf pain or Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis due to shortening of the Achilles tendon and the foot being underdeveloped, due to regular use of shoes. A careful transition will ease or remove the symptoms, which will quickly vanish as the foot adapts.[54][55] Blisters on the feet may occur in the first few weeks of going barefoot, until the skin has become more robust.[54] In addition, individuals with diabetes or other conditions which affect sensation within the feet are at greater risk of injury while barefoot.[56]


A number of myths have existed from time to time about regulations requiring the wearing of footwear. In the United States, during the period of the counterculture movement of the 1960s, business establishments would deny admittance to barefoot hippies arguing that health regulations required that shoes be worn.[57] This led to a belief by many in nonexistent OSHA or local health department regulations preventing people from going to stores, restaurants, and other establishments without shoes. However, those regulations that exist apply only to employees, and not customers.[58] Specifically, the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to "ensure that each affected employee uses protective footwear" when there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects, objects piercing the sole of an employee's foot, and where an employee's feet may be exposed to electrical hazards.[59] Additionally, employee footwear, where required by OSHA, must comply with one of the standards described in OSHA's regulations.[59] State and local laws may dictate when and where an employee must wear shoes.[59]

There are no state health codes that require customers to wear shoes, as was demonstrated by a project undertaken by The Society for Barefoot Living in 1997, and again in 2002.[60] Individual businesses, however, are free to refuse service to customers without footwear or clothing that they deem inappropriate, as stated on "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service" (or similar) signs. Individual cities and towns may require certain footwear in public places. In August 2009, Burger King admitted that it took this rule perhaps a bit too far when employees at a Sunset Hills, Missouri restaurant asked a woman to leave because her six-month-old baby was barefoot.[61]

It is not illegal to drive a motor vehicle while barefoot. Some people speculate that driving barefoot increases the risk of an accident if bare feet slip off the pedals.[62] It is legal throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to drive barefoot.[62][63][64] However, in some jurisdictions, police officers may ticket you for other things if the fact that you were driving barefoot or in flip-flops/high heeled shoes hindered your driving and/or resulted in an accident.[65]

Sports and recreation

There are several recreational activities one can participate in while barefoot. Those involved in water sports such as swimming and water polo almost always participate barefoot due to the difficulty of swimming with footwear.

Other common activities performed barefoot include hiking, running, water skiing, beach volleyball, surfing, tubing, gymnastics, and martial arts. Wrestling can be done barefoot. Although most modern Greco-Roman and WWE wrestlers wear shoes, sumo wrestling, Yağlı güreş (oil or "Turkish" wrestling), and mud wrestling are commonly done while barefoot. Fijian wrestler Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka of the WWE has wrestled barefoot as well.[66] American football is not traditionally a barefoot sport, though several placekickers have preferred to kick barefoot, including Tony Franklin of the Philadelphia Eagles and Rich Karlis of the Denver Broncos.[67][68] The two schools of thought involved in barefoot placekicking were that the lack of a shoe provided the kicker with a better "feel" for the ball and greater control over its trajectory. The second theory is that shoes and socks absorbed kinetic energy, and kicking flesh-to-leather created more torque.[69]


People of all ages all over the world can participate in barefoot hiking, gathering for walks through forest and hiking trails sans footwear. Barefoot hikers claim that they feel a sense of communion with the earth and enjoy the sheer pleasure of feeling more of the world with their feet.[70] There are several clubs throughout North America practicing regular barefoot hikes, including the Barefoot Hikers of Minnesota, Seattle Barefoot Hikers, East Bay Barefoot Hikers, the Barefoot Hikers and Grass Walkers of Greater Kansas City, and the Barefoot Hikers of Connecticut.[70][71][72][73] Two sisters, Lucy and Susan Letcher, hiked approximately two-thirds of the 2,175-mile (3,500 km) Appalachian Trail barefoot from June 21, 2000, to October 3, 2001.[74][75] On November 12, 2010, 2,500 people in Mahabubnagar, India, participated in a barefoot walk, which was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world's largest.[76]

In European nations, including Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, there are barefoot parks or walks.[70][76][77] These parks are kept clean and maintained on a regular basis, so that barefoot hiking can be done in an environment suitable for people who are habitually shod. Barefoot parks usually include a lot of adventure stations, allowing visitors to experience the feeling of soil textures underfoot; to wade through rivers, mud, brooks, or ponds; and to exercise foot gymnastics, balancing and climbing. The Barfußpfad (barefoot trail) at Bad Sobernheim in Germany attracts over 100,000 visitors annually and has seen approximately 1 million visitors since its inception in 1999.[78]

This concept was first developed in the 19th century by Sebastian Kneipp, one of the founders of the Naturopathic medicine movement. He believed that applying your feet to a range of natural stimuli would have therapeutic benefits. This is related to the ancient practice of reflexology, practiced in China for thousands of years for relaxation and to promote longevity.[79]

Seoul, South Korea, has 158 barefoot parks, allowing people to relax in a natural environment.[80]


Main article: Barefoot running

Many leisure and competitive runners have been known to run barefoot, including well-known athletes Zola Budd of South Africa and Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia.[81] Todd Ragsdale, of Talent, Oregon, set the world record (pending confirmation by Guinness World Records) for the longest distance run barefoot on June 5, 2010, as part of the Relay for Life fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. He logged 102 miles (164 km), or 413 laps on the South Medford High School track, barefoot.[82] The fastest person to run 100 meters (325 feet) on ice while barefoot is Nico Surings of Eindhoven, Netherlands, who ran that distance in 17.35 seconds on December 8, 2006.[83] Laboratory studies suggest that, due to the lack of extra weight on the feet, the energy cost of running barefoot is reduced by 4%, resulting in lower oxygen consumption.[81] There is evidence that wearing traditional shoes while running leads to heel strike gait that, in turn, leads to higher impact as well as a greater risk of injury.[49] Barefoot running encourages the runner to switch to forefoot strike and may reduce the risk of knee damage.

Barefoot running can be dangerous, especially to runners who do not adequately prepare or give their feet time to adapt to the new style. Many injuries are possible, such as injuries to the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia, or stress fractures in the metatarsal bones or lower leg. Barefoot runners who do not prepare their bodies could provide, "a stimulus plan for podiatrists, orthopedists, and physical therapists."[84]

The official position on barefoot running by the American Podiatric Medical Association states that there is not enough research on the immediate- and long-term benefits of the practice and that individuals should consult a podiatrist with a strong background in sports medicine to make an informed decision on all aspects of their running and training programs.[85]

One alternative to barefoot running is to wear thin-soled shoes with minimal padding, such as moccasins, plimsolls, or huaraches, which result in similar gait to going barefoot but protect the skin and keep dirt and water off.[86] Some modern shoe manufacturers have recently designed footwear to maintain optimum flexibility while providing a minimum amount of protection. Such shoes include the Feelmax, Vibram FiveFingers,[87][88] the EVO shoe by Terra Plana,[89] and the Nike Free.[90] Sales of minimalist running shoes have grown into a $1.7 billion industry. Sales of Vibram FiveFingers alone grew from $450,000 in 2006 to $50 million in 2011.[91]

Water skiing

Main article: Barefoot skiing

Barefoot skiing originated in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1947, when slalom skier A.G. Hancock tried to step off his ski.[92] The same year, in Cypress Gardens, Florida, competitive skier Richard Downing Pope, Jr., became well known in the sport of barefoot skiing.[93] The first barefoot skiing competition was held three years later, at the 1950 Cypress Gardens Dixie Championships.[94] In 1978, skiers from ten nations competed in the first World Barefoot Championships in Canberra, Australia. The same year, the American Barefoot Club (ABC) was formed, which governs competitive barefoot skiing events in the United States.[92]

See also


External links

  • Society for Barefoot Living