Archive for the ‘Media Coverage’ Category

Uncontacted Amazonians

February 2, 2011

There have been a couple of stories in the news about some recent pictures of uncontacted Amazonian tribes. Here’s the story on Yahoo, and here’s the original press release.

There is a lot I could say about the issue, but since this is a barefooting blog, I will restrict myself to just commenting on their feet.

Here is the primary photo, taken from the air:

Uncontacted Amazonian Tribe

Uncontacted Amazonian Tribe

One thing I noticed, more visible in this cropped version,

Better view of their feet

Better view of their feet

is the shape of their feet. Even from the air we can easily see the natural separation of the big toe, and even pretty good separation between all the toes.

This is what natural human feet look like. This is what feet that do their natural job look like. Compare that to what feet look like after a lifetime of being stuffed into high heels, for fashion’s sake (the condition you see below is called hallux valgus):

Hallux Valgus

Hallux Valgus

Enough said.


HuffPo? HuffGo!

December 31, 2010

OK, after trashing The Huffington Post for this article with ridiculous statements about barefoot running, I have to do the opposite for the article they published today: Barefoot Shoes? The Primal Reason You Want to Take Off Your Shoes.

The article is by Mark Sisson, described as “former elite marathoner and triathlete, author of the best-selling health and fitness book, The Primal Blueprint.”

He notes how we evolved (and did just fine doing so) with bare feet, and goes on to note:

We’ve still got those same feet, but we don’t use them anymore. Instead, we cover them up. We wear shoes that alter the structure and function of our feet, and that weaken the myriad tendons, muscles, and ligaments through disuse. We strap on rubber soles that sever our proprioceptive connection with the ground and restrict our nervous system’s ability to subconsciously respond to changing environments and protect us from tripping or turning an ankle.

He also describes our favorite Philip Hoffman study, “Conclusions Drawn From a Comparative Study of the Feet of Barefooted and Shoe-Wearing People”.

His call? “Go barefoot as often as possible. It’s as simple as that.”

Here, here.

And for some of us, that is all the time. Admittedly, everybody cannot do that, and Sisson also acknowledges that. I’d add that one reason everybody cannot do that is nothing more than cultural expectations, and one of the things that the Society for Barefoot Living is doing is trying to change those expectations and make going barefoot more acceptable. Sixty years ago jeans were restricted to farmers, and then hippies or college students. But today jeans can be worn nearly everywhere. There is no reason the perception of bare feet cannot change the same way.

Sisson also includes a reasonable caveat:

As with any muscle you haven’t been using for an extended period of time, your feet are probably weak, and rushing into mile runs or two hours hikes in unprepared bare feet will be painful and potentially dangerous. Ease your way into it, especially if you’re habitually shod.

Good advice.

It is nice to see many of the arguments we have made over the years make it into more mainstream media, and that the barefooting movement is not just us barefooters talking amongst ourselves.

HuffPo HuffPoo

December 28, 2010

The Huffington Post has a bit of a reputation among real scientists for promoting quackery, or at least promoting “medicine” that is not backed up by science. See, e.g., The Huffington Post’s war on medical science is noticed, Why is there so much medical misinformation in The Huffington Post?, and A science section for the Huffington Post? More like a pseudoscience section! (2010 edition). Now they have an article on barefoot running from Dr. Robert Kornfield, an “alternative medicine” advocate: Barefoot Running Shoes: How Effective Are They?. Dr. Kornfield is a DPM (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine), and I’m afraid his article reads much the same as others we hear from a lot of other podiatrists who are unfamiliar with barefoot or minimalist running.

As far as he is concerned, barefoot running (or, in this case, running in minimalist shoes) is a fad.

Barefoot running shoes are designed to re-create a “natural,” barefoot running dynamic on “unnatural” surfaces like concrete, asphalt, red top, black top, etc. How can we have a barefoot running shoe? Doesn’t barefoot denote without shoes?

Choosing to run on non-yielding surfaces without the protection afforded by proper running shoes can be harmful to the foot and ankle and cause even more problems downstream from compensation patterns. So what really are these pedal marvels and why is everyone running to take their shoes off?

Hey, at least he recognizes that a “barefoot running shoe” is not “barefoot.” But he also starts off with misconception number 1, that there is something different about “unnatural” surfaces. He goes on to say

Barefoot running shoe manufacturers believe that the human foot, unimpeded by synthetic surfaces and restrictive running shoes, should function at its best. That is a correct assumption, save for the fact that the human foot was designed long before the paving of roads. In fact, uneven, grassy surfaces are the most natural surface for the human foot because it helps the body navigate and respond to uneven terrain, while at the same time absorbs shock, stabilizes weight and propels the body forward. In order for this to occur successfully, most of us are born with a flexible forefoot and a rigid or stable rearfoot. In other words, at heel strike — when your heel hits the ground — your leg from the hip down is aligned for optimal function and is stabilized during normal walking.

OK, stop right there. He somehow seems to think that the human foot evolved in some sort of grassy park. Has he never gone hiking? You know, out in nature? There are all sorts of surfaces, from mud to sand to grass to rocks to hard pan. Those latter two are not all that different than asphalt or concrete. They also tend to occur a lot in the parts of Africa we all came from.

And then he talks about heel strike. I guess he just hasn’t heard about the research from Dr. Lieberman at Harvard. Barefoot runners who have been doing it any length of time don’t heel strike. What he does is introduce some sort of false dichotomy about heel strike: that is has something to do with whether you run on a natural or unnatural surface:

The lack of heel strike on unnatural surfaces is not mimicking the way the foot would perform barefoot on natural surfaces. For this very reason, these shoes will eventually come up short, as the foot requires either cushioned heel strike on an unnatural surface or minimal heel strike on natural surfaces.

No. When you run barefooted you simply do not heel strike, regardless of the surface (and if you do heel strike, you are doing it wrong, keeping the lousy habits you picked up from wearing shoes, in which the elevated heel guarantees a heel strike).

He then tries to give us a demonstration of this at work, and tells us that this decreases the propulsion of the big toe:

Try this. Hold your first metatarsal and pull it up as hard as you can, then with your other hand try to pull your big toe upward toward your ankle. You will find the joint will jam up and feel restricted. Now, hold your first metatarsal and apply pressure down toward the floor, then with your other hand, pull your big toe up toward your ankle. You will find a dramatic increase in the upward range of motion of the big toe — this is normalized function.

Huh? Ok, you can test this. The first metatarsal is the long bone just behind the toe bones. It runs from around the ball of your foot back to near the ankle bone (and of course, you have one for each toe). The one he is talking about is for the big toe, which does most of the work, which means its the one at the highest part of your arch.

So, go ahead, do what he says. Just inside your arch, pull up as hard as you can, then see if you can pull you big toe up. It’s really hard, isn’t he. So he is right about that. And if you let go of that first metatarsal, it’s really easy.

But what does this have to do with hard surfaces versus soft surfaces? Absolutely nothing. You see, under your first metatarsal there is a tendon (the one for pulling your toe down and applying force when you are running). When you press the tendon against the metatarsal, that prevents it from moving (you can feel it trying to work as you hold it down). So of course that prevents the big toe from moving against it. Duh.

However, there is a situation in which pressure is regularly applied to the bottom of your arch there (and which would then lead to decreased propulsion). That’s right: when you are wearing a shoe with arch supports, which nearly all running shoes do. The embedded arch presses the tendon against the metatarsal, reducing its range of motion. I have rather flat feet, and back when I wore shoes, those embedded arches always gave me a lot of discomfort as they severely restricted decent (and natural) motion.

And then he finishes with our favorite shibboleth: that only “special” people with “special” feet can get away with running barefoot. Because everybody else evolved with the shoes they came out of the womb with. Right. Oh, and for all those non-special people?

you can safely wear conventional running shoes manufactured by companies who have spent years on research and technology with the addition of a proper running orthotic.

(Emphasis added.)

Yup. Prescribing more orthotics to try to fix the problems that the shoes themselves cause. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these podiatrists have never seen feet that have not been damaged (and had that damage perpetuated) by shoes. They have no idea what a strong foot looks like, or what a strong foot can do.


December 23, 2010

From the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, May 10, 1916 (Deborah Rush appears to have been the “Dear Abby” of the day):

Dear Deborah Rush—I am a young woman of 24. I live with my mother and my sister, aged 29. My sister is very good looking and stylish and is looked on as a leader of her set. She is a graceful dancer. She has taken up the fad of barefoot dancing and dances in this way a great deal. More than this, she goes barefoot about our home and has no hesitation in appearing before strangers in this way. I cannot help thinking this improper, but my pleading with her is in vain, as she insists there is nothing immodest about bare feet. Do you thing this is bad form on her part?

                                                L. S.

There is certainly no reason why a young woman should not take up the barefoot dancing. If one is graceful and supple there is a decided charm about the aesthetic dance. Of course, it is in execrable form to go about the house in bare feet, especially to appear in this manner before strangers. There is, as the young lady states, nothing immodest about bare feet, but it is not ladylike to appear in them except when engaged in that kind of dancing.

Oh, the horrors!

“The Barefoot Book” on The Today Show

December 2, 2010

Here’s a heads up. Daniel Howell, author of The Barefoot Book is scheduled to be a guest on The Kathie Lee and Hoda segment of The Today Show. He will be appearing tomorrow, Friday, December 3 at 10:00am (EST, and whatever that translates to in other time zones).

Time to set up those VCRs and DVRs.

One thing about these various interviews: the news media consider bare feet just odd enough, and interesting enough, that appearing on one show will often generate a request to appear on another show (and they do have to fill those time slots). When I have occasionally been on the news, it seems that one appearance can lead to another appearance.

I’ve never hit the big time like Daniel has, though.

[Update: Word is that Daniel boarded his flight to NYC to appear on the show, but was then escorted off the plane because he did not have shoes. I don’t know anything more at this point. Check in later for further updates.]

[Further update: Daniel’s appearance was entertaining, informative, and charming!]

[Update X 3: From the comments, here’s a link to the video of the segment.]

Shoeless Revolution in Toronto

October 31, 2010

A week or so ago there was a nice story on “Global News” in Canada. You can see it here. (Sorry, I was not able to embed the video. Also, I’m afraid there is an ad you have to sit through first.) A bit of a fluff piece and filler, but I thought both of the people interviewed (Barefoot Moe and Dale Blacker) did a very nice job talking about some of the issues that concern people.

One nice thing about the interview is that, at the end, Dale did manage to get the reporter to try walking around the city street a bit. I really think that lends an air of authenticity; it shows that going barefoot is not that big a deal and that anybody can do it.

Quite a few years back, I was in a story about barefoot hiking, along with fellow blogger Greg Morgan. For the life of us, we could not get the reporter to hike along with us barefoot. He said that he was game, but that the folks in his office told him he shouldn’t “for insurance reasons.” We all know that that is just bunk, but we could not sway him. Nonetheless, a pretty nice story came out of it, which you can see here.

Location, Location, Location

October 29, 2010

I’ve written a few times about the 1903 story of Victor Smith, the New Jersey boy who wanted to be able to go to school barefoot. In this entry, we got the story of his father specially asking the Newark School Board for permission. And, in this followup story, we saw that that permission was granted.

But what a difference location can make. We know that throughout the south during that period, there were barefoot schoolchildren all over the place. The big issues for those schools was just getting a schoolhouse built and supplied, not whether their students wore shoes or not.

Location also makes a difference in how the Victor Smith situation was perceived. In a place like New Jersey, a barefooted schoolchild was a big deal. But even in another big city like Chicago, not so much.

All this is just a long lead-in to another story I found about Victor Smith. This story was in the November 7, 1903 Chicago Eagle, page 4. They (somewhat cleverly) titled their news snippets from all over as “Eaglets”, and here is what they say:

A New Jersey board of education has recently decided that a boy may go to school without any shoes on if he desires. The school trustees in many a small district would be more astounded at having any one doubt the right of a boy to go barefoot than was the board in the New Jersey city at the request that this youngster might not be compelled to wear shoes.

The Barefoot Book on MSNBC

October 28, 2010

Daniel Howell, author of The Barefoot Book, was on the Dylan Ratigan show on MSNBC on October 19. As to be expected, Daniel did a great job.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Dylan Ratigan Show: Are shoes bad for your health

I thought Ratigan rather over-hyped it, and really tried to go for the sensational. However, Daniel kept his cool throughout. When Ratigan asked about those “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” signs, it was great that Daniel, right off the bat, called them “unwelcoming.” Because that is what they are. And then Daniel went on to discuss how the signs were a remnant of anti-hippie sentiment.

Another point that was interesting was how there is some evidence that walking around in the dirt may raise serotonin levels, thus improving our mood.

The last question was rather amusing (and many of us barefooters have gotten the same or similar question): “What does your mother think about this?” As he says, those around us get used to it.

Followup to “A Barefoot Schoolboy”

October 12, 2010

A few days ago we read the 1903 story of the Jersey City schoolboy who asked permission to attend school there barefoot. There was a followup story that appeared in the Sept. 20, 1903 New York Times. Here it is


Boy Friends Do Not Go to Class Rooms That Way Yet; But They All Drop Their Shoes at Play-time Now — Problems of Attire for School Officials.

CITY SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT SNYDER was not so rudely shocked as many may have supposed, when, at a recent meeting of the Jersey City Board of Education, he heard read Mr. Smith’s letter asking permission to send his ten-year-old boy, Victor, to school without either shoes or stockings. Mr. Snyder had gone to school barefooted and barelegged himself. But that was in a country district. The sight of the farmer’s boy trudging to the little white building on the knoll with his books under his arm and his sun-burned extremities unclad is not an unusual one. Even when parents with aristocratic notions in their rural surroundings refuse to countenance such a departure from the conventionalities, the more mischievous scions of their flocks were wont to keep their feet covered only until the parental eye was removed from them, and then they hid their gaiters under the bushes for a day of rollicking, barefoot freedom.

Even into the great city schools under Mr. Snyder’s supervision a barefooted urchin sometimes crawls. But conditions are different in the city. There it is not “the thing,” of course. But it happens once in a while. Superintendent Snyder has known of such cases. But the absence of shoes in city schools is always set down to poverty. Little Barefoot becomes an object of commiseration and sympathy the moment he puts in an appearance, and there is a mystic Masonry in the schools that finds coverings for the exposed feet and gets them to the child with a delicacy of method that robs the mercy of the sting and humiliation of a charity. It does not stop at shoes, either — this little touch of humanity. It goes to everything a child needs, but has not, to keep in countenance with classmates. No organization exists to extend these graceful helps to the needy, but it works just as effectually and much more unobtrusively.

Neither Mr. Smith nor his boy comes, however, within this category. Mr. Smith is a comfortably situated gentleman. It is easy to see, from his bearing toward his child, that he is also a considerate father. He has the means and the disposition to provide his son with all he thinks the boy should have. Up to three months ago, the family had lived in New York. For a few months before the close of the schools for vacation the boy had attended one in Manhattan.

“He wore shoes.” Mr. Smith explained, “because I suppose they would have turned him away if he hadn’t.”

At the beginning of the Summer the family moved to a neat detached cottage on West Side Avenue, Jersey City. It is an unusually comfortable little home in the Bergen section, well appointed, “neat as a pin,” with a wholesome family atmosphere all over it. The Smiths had scarcely settled before the father told the boy that he might toss his shoes into the attic and romp barefooted to his heart’s content. That was a liberty the boy was not likely to neglect long. Off went the shoes! It is so long since he last saw them that he forgets what they look like — whether they are low-quarters or high-quarters, or even quarters of any stature.

A barefooted boy, who was not also a ragamuffin — a barefooted boy with clean, bright face, and the picture of neatness from the crown of his head to the hems of his knee breeches — was a novelty in the locality. It was not long before all the nice little boys around him wanted to go barefooted, too. There were particularly impressed by the ease with which little Victor could guide the buckboard on which they all coasted the hillside with his bare feet. He could grasp the guiding axle with his toes as firmly as they could with their fingers. They could not do that with their shoes on — and so off went their shoes, too, till now there are so many bare feet around that the locality has come to be know as “Barefoot Hill.”

The boy became so rugged and healthy and hardy without his shoes that his father became quite captivated by the idea of keeping him shoeless. He recalled the incident of a beautiful Countess — a relative of Dom Pedro — whom he had once met, unslippered, at a like entertainment he attended. She had beautiful feet, of course, and of course, too, she had to set them off, as her sisters did their beautiful hands, with rings and jewels. So he became quite a convert to the barefoot idea, and regretted the approach of the school season, when he must put shoes on Victor’s feet to keep him in line with those he would meet in the classrooms — or keep him home.

Perhaps he might arrange it with the school authorities, he thought. He first bought a pair of shoes for the lad — many sizes too big — and held them for an emergency, and then sent his letter to the Board of Education to ask if it might be as he desired. The board members stood aghast at the unusual suggestion. It was one thing to close the eyes to the case of a little fellow whom poverty drove to school without shoes. It was quite another thing to commission one who could afford them to make so public an appearance without them. Perhaps the boy would be shamed by shoes all around him into wearing them himself. But then perhaps the idea would so “take” among the others that they would all want to discard their leathers, and Jersey City might become a city of barefooted schools. So it was quite a serious proposition, as the Jersey City educators saw it. But there was no rule against it, and they decided at the end to take the risk.

So Victor went to the school on Duncan Avenue, and has been there a week. The boys make less sport of him than even he expected. Indeed, they rather envy him. They only wish that they could take off their shoes, too! But the week has gone, and they all have their shoes on yet. Thus, the dire forebodings with which the board extended its consent to the innovation seem doomed to come to nothing!

The incident has, however, aroused a general discussion as to the regulations — written regulations — concerning the garb of school pupils. The School Superintendents have to deal with the problem in every conceivable phase, almost every hour of the day. The rules in the rule books are very general and unspecific. They merely exact neatness and cleanliness. An instance is recalled where a boy was once sent home from a Newark school for a change of clothing. He was not an agreeable companion to those around him, and it was discovered that his clothing had been sewn on him by his mother. He slept in them and worked in them and studied in them. At the beginning of the Summer the boys were disposed to throw off their jackets. Grimed undershirts were neither sweet nor pretty, and a stop had to be put to that. Superintendent Snyder intimates that he had been called upon recently to rule on even so delicate a question as whether the hair of a certain little Miss was not done up in such a way as to exclude her from the recitation room. But he declined to go into particulars.

A year or two ago a fierce public agitation was aroused in Jersey City by the act of a teacher who sent a little girl home for better clothing. It was resented everywhere as an insult to the class who could not do better. In Newark, Mr. Gilbert, when he was Superintendent there, attempted to lay down regulations as to commencement garbs. So that the rich might not outshine the poor he wanted plain gowns only. The interference raised such a has since thought it prudent to repeat it.

I like the part about how his friends then started playing barefoot. It is infectious.

A Barefoot Schoolboy

October 8, 2010

These days practically all schools require shoes. That’s just the way it is, and I suspect it is that way just because . . . that’s just the way it has been.

A lot of that is just cultural. Here’s a story from the September 12, 1903 New York Times about a father petitioning the school to let his son attend his Jersey City school barefoot. Just the thought was enough to make the news . . . in New York City. Meanwhile, in rural districts all over America, large numbers of children were attending school barefoot without their school districts batting an eye.

Anyways, here’s the story:


Father of Boy Who Was Never Shod Asks That Son Attend School Barefooted.

September 12, 1903

Victor Smith of 641 West Side Avenue, Jersey City, has made application by letter to the Board of Education for permission for his son to attend school in his bare feet. Mr. Smith said the boy had gone barefooted Winter and Summer all his life. He asked that the boy be allowed at least to go shoeless to school until cold weather sets in. The matter was referred with power to Dr. Murray E. Ramsey, who is a member of the board.

Dr. Ramsey said yesterday that he would see the boy and his father before giving a decision. Personally he thought it might be a good thing for boys to go barefoot, provided they kept their feet clean at all times, but he feared that if one boy were given the privilege asked for other boys might want the same favor.

Mr. Smith, who is connected with a New York morning newspaper, when seen at his home, said that his boy had gone without socks and shoes all his life.

“He can walk on tacks,” said Mr. Smith, “and even broken glass does not cut his feet. He coasts down hill and uses his bare feet as other boys use their shoes. He can sleep out doors in any kind of weather, and has never had a cold or a day’s illness.”

Oh, and look at the possible horrible implications if they let the boy go barefoot to school: other boys may want to do so too. Horrors!

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