Archive for the ‘Myth’ Category

Reebok being sued for false claims

December 7, 2010

A couple of weeks ago Reebok was sued for making false claims about their EasyTone “fitness” shoes. The lawsuit asks the court to make it a class action lawsuit. According to a story in the Quincy, MA, Patriot Ledger:

A lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of Massachusetts consumer Sandra Altieri claims Reebok made false claims about the efficacy of its toning shoes in delivering more of a workout to leg and butt muscles than a typical shoe.

Supposedly, the way they work is to create an instability when walking, causing the muscles to work harder. Reebok claims 28% harder.

Toning shoes are presented as a way to improve muscular definition by using an unstable sole design. Companies such as Reebok that sell toning shoes say this instability causes leg and butt muscles to work more vigorously than they would if the wearer was using a typical sneaker.

(Whole article here.)

The problem is, a study by the American Council on Fitness found no such benefit.

From a barefooters point of view, the whole idea is insane. Why would you want to create an instability when you walk? One of the real joys and benefits of walking barefooted is the great feedback and proprioception that it gives you. When I’m working in the kitchen, some of the joy of barefooting is the feeling of dancing from counter to counter. I rise up on the ball of my foot and pivot. I shift weight from one side of my (bare) foot to the other. It gives such a feeling of control, of awareness. The same applies when I play tennis, or do a number of other activities. And along the way, this is strengthening my foot. It’s making my foot do its normal function!

Compare that to the false sense generated by the EasyTone. Bah!


Flying Barefoot

December 3, 2010

Since Daniel Howell was escorted off his plane yesterday for being barefoot, I thought I’d go over the situation for that.

Daniel was flying to NYC to appear on The Today Show to talk about The Barefoot Book. He had actually boarded the plane, and after he had his seat belt on, he was approached and asked if he had any shoes with him. He didn’t, so they tossed him.

Is that legal? Yes, it is. Your airline ticket is basically a contract with a private company, and the terms of that contract are detailed in that airlines “Contract of Carriage.” You can easily use Google to find the contract for any airline you are interested in flying. But it is probably not worth it. Practically every airline has a barefoot rule.

Daniel was flying US Airways, and you can see their Contract of Carriage can be found here (click on the PDF). The relevant section, for any airline, is under the heading “Refusal to Transport”, and for US Airways it says:

US Airways may refuse to transport, or remove from any flight, any passenger for the following reasons: Any passenger who may pose a threat to the comfort and/or safety of other passengers or employees including (but not limited to) passengers who: Are over the age of five (5) and barefoot, or otherwise inappropriately clothed, unless required for medical reasons;

Notice that they say that they may refuse to transport, not that they will, which really makes it a crap shoot depending on the employee who sees you. Also notice that they say the rule is for “comfort and/or safety.” That’s not a crap shoot; that’s just crap. Of course it is more comfortable to be barefoot, and medical experts actually suggest removing your shoes when flying to help keep the blood flowing. Now, maybe they don’t care about your comfort, but thing that the other customers might not be comfortable seeing bare feet. Crap there, too: they don’t ban flip-flops, which show the same amount of foot. And if were really about safety, then there would not be the exception for children under 5 years old, unless the airline wants to go on record saying that they don’t care about the safety of young children. (Think about that!)

It’s all just more mindless following the herd.

The origin of the rule predates the airline deregulation in 1978. Back then, flying was regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board, and they dictated the Contract of Carriage. That Contract had the barefoot rule (but without the exception for children). After deregulation, most airlines just kept the original Contract, though over the years, many have slowly modified them. (You can see remnants of the CAB rules in that Refusal to Transport is still often called Rule 35.)

Some airlines (a very few) removed the barefoot restriction, Aloha Airlines being one of them. Unfortunately, Aloha ceased operating in 2008. Non-US airlines base their Contracts of Carriage (actually called “General Conditions of Carriage”) on a different model, and generally do NOT have a barefoot clause.

As I said, different airlines have modified the rules, so there are slightly differently worded versions.

Hawaiian Airlines:

Persons who do not meet HA standards for dress and attire: . . . For safety reasons, footwear must be worn unless the passenger is unable to do so due to a disability or physical condition that prevents them from wearing footwear.

Delta Airlines:

Delta may refuse to transport any passenger, and may remove any passenger from its aircraft at any time, for any of the following reasons: Delta may refuse to transport any passenger, or may remove any passenger from its aircraft, when refusal to transport or removal of the passenger is reasonably necessary in Delta’s sole discretion for the passenger’s comfort or safety, for the comfort or safety of other passengers or Delta employees, or for the prevention of damage to the property of Delta or its passengers or employees. By way of example, and without limitation, Delta may refuse to transport or may remove passengers from its aircraft in any of the following situations: When the passenger is barefoot.


AirTran may refuse to transport or may remove from any flight any passenger for one or several reasons, including but not limited to the following: If a passenger’s conduct is disorderly, abusive or violent, or the passenger: Is barefoot, or is clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers.

Grand Canyon Airplane Tours:

In addition to persons who may be refused transportation on Carrier under Section 6 above, refusal to transport or removal of the following Passengers may be necessary for the comfort and safety of the affected Passenger or other Passengers: Persons over two years of age who are barefoot;

So, how do you fly barefoot? Society for Barefoot Living members have developed a few strategies. Often you can just board barefoot, since the employees are really pretty busy. Don’t look down at your feet, but keep looking directly into the eyes of the employee, particularly when handing over your ticket, and when passing by the flight attendant as you enter the plane. Once you are seated, you are probably fine if they didn’t see you come in, because, as I noted earlier, many people do take off their shoes once they are seated.

However, carry a pair of flip-flops, or something else you can put on for just a moment if challenged. Put them on, pass the person challenging you, and then just take them off again. Yeah, it’s a hassle (I personally hate to have to carry footwear just in case, and rarely do so), but at least then you don’t miss your flight.

One time, on Southwest Airlines, an otherwise very friendly airline, I’d boarded and flown barefoot without being challenged. (They have the “comfort and safety” excuse with an exception for those under 5.) However, on getting off the plane, I was noticed by a flight attendant who went ballistic, telling me I couldn’t be like that. OK, I’m leaving. I think part of his frustration was that there wasn’t a darn thing he could do about me. Hah!

Athlete’s Foot

December 1, 2010

Those concerned about bare feet always seem to mention athlete’s foot. Here is part of a Question and Answer from Dermatology Insights, Volume 3, Number 1, page 30 (2002). It was published by American Academy of Dermatology. I’ve emphasized some of the text:

Q: Why does athlete’s foot develop?

A: Athlete’s foot is a term used to describe a fungus infection of the feet. The correct term for athlete’s foot is tinea pedis. The fungi that cause athlete’s foot grow in moist, damp places. Sweaty feet, not drying feet well after swimming or bathing, tight shoes and socks, and a warm climate all contribute to the development of athlete’s foot. It’s commonly believed that athlete’s foot is highly contagious — that you can easily catch it from walking barefoot in the locker room. This is not true. Experiments to infect healthy skin with athlete’s foot have failed and often one family member may have it without infecting others living in the same house. It’s not clear why some people develop athlete’s foot and others don’t.

. . .

Q: How can you prevent athlete’s foot?

A: Wash your feet daily, and always dry your feet thoroughly, especially in between your toes. Avoid tight footwear, especially in the summer. Sandals are the best warm weather footwear. You should also use an anti-fungal powder on your feet and in your shoes during the summer. Alternate shoes so that they have a chance to dry out at least 24 hours before re-wearing them. Cotton socks (or socks made of a material that takes moisture away from the skin) are best and you should change them if they become damp. Whenever possible, go barefoot at home. Athlete’s foot does not occur among people who traditionally go barefoot. It’s moisture, sweating and lack of proper ventilation of the feet that present the perfect setting for the fungus of athlete’s foot to grow.

I might add that going barefoot all the time, not just at home, is even better.

Also, this is the source of the quote about athlete’s foot on the web page of The Society for Barefoot Living.


November 16, 2010

There is a myth that even table legs had to be hidden in Victorian times. According to this Wikipedia entry, there was no evidence of that. The article even says:

Some current historians now believe that the myth of Victorian repression can be traced back to early twentieth-century views, such as those of Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, who wrote Eminent Victorians.

Yet, that attitude was, at least to some extent, adopted in America, even to the point that bare feet were considered shockingly vulgar, at least to city folk. This was during the time that, all over rural America, kids would regularly go barefoot to school.

I found evidence of this in the April 1936 issue of “Boy’s Life,” in an article by Dan Beard entitled “Leadership — A Rib-Tickling Story of Dan Beard’s Boyhood.” Interestingly, I’ve stayed in the “Dan Beard” cabin while camping with the Boy Scouts at Camp Oyo in Shawnee State Forest in southern Ohio. For about 10 years I always led my boys’ troop, barefoot of course, on the hike they did for their crossover scouts. Anyways, here’s a snippet of that article:

In the almost forgotten days, the happy days of the so called Victorian period, that is when Queen Victoria of England was the Emily Post, so to speak, of the world, I used to write and illustrate for that wonderful young folks’ paper, “The St. Nicholas’ Magazine,” edited by Mary Mapes Dodge, a magazine which could only be equaled by “Boys’ Life” of to-day.

People than and now made fun of both of these distinguished leaders but the good Queen Victoria kept society people respectable and Mary Mapes Dodge made the artists and writers for her publications toe the mark; so that not only nothing coarse or vulgar appeared in her magazine but nothing which was the least bit indelicate passed the watchful eyes of the Queen Victoria of American juvenile literature, Mary Mapes Dodge!

. . .

We were so extremely genteel in those days that Mrs. Doge, God bless her memory, made me cut the udders off of a picture of a cow that I had drawn for her, because forsooth it was most indecent for a cow to have such things, and for an artist to show them in a picture. I also was told to cut the feet off of a diagram of a woman kite for that too, was shamelessly immodest.

Oh, Me! Oh, My! We artists had a hard line to hoe in those days, but when I was commissioned by the same magazine to illustrate that delightful story of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Abroad I was happy, because I thought that here at least was a story that was so clean there could be nothing wrong with the illustrations, but I was woefully mistaken. My first picture of Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Nigger Jim came hurtling back to me with the terse command to put shoes on all three, that bare feet were shockingly vulgar!

So, he was forced to redraw the pictures for her. Here is the
picture that appeared not only in the magazine, but also in
many of the editions of the book.

Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Jim: all shod

"Approved" illustration from "Tom Sawyer Abroad"


Only One of my Appendages is Cold

November 7, 2010

Continuing on with the “coldfooting” theme, today I was doing just a short hike at a local park. I did get the inevitable question, though. Here’s how I answered:

“Only one of my appendages is cold. It’s this hand (my hand that was not holding my hiking stick). You see, my other hand squeezes the stick every time I put it down, and that pushes warm blood into that hand. My cold hand gets none of that.

“My feet get that same push of blood. A foot in a shoe is really quite restricted in its movement, so it’s hard for it to get that blood and therefore gets cold. But my feet don’t have that problem and stay warm.”

They all “got it.”

By the way, once my cold hand gets too cold, I switch my hiking stick to it for a while.


November 4, 2010

I came across something at The Barefoot Runners Society that I think is spot on. In one of their forums there is a discussion about podiatrists, and I think “stomper” nails it. He says:

I believe that practically all medical professionals honestly are interested in helping their patients. But my experience suggests that they mostly do so using habits and tradition–i.e. what they’ve been taught to do–and not on the basis of what research does or doesn’t say.

I’m used to reading scientific articles from my work, and occasionally have had to inform my caregivers about things they were doing that were based in tradition and not research. That doesn’t mean they’re especially bad caregivers, just that they’re more concerned with interacting with their patients than understanding the intellectual part of medical practice.

See more here.

By the way, one of the podiatrists who is accepting of the science is Dr. Nirenberg of America’s Podiatrist. Over in the UK, there is also Dr Stephen Bloor at the Runright Stepfree Podiatry and Chiropody Clinic.

Out and About

October 18, 2010

In a comment to Fall Hikes, Ben asks

[D]o you also walk barefoot in your daily life? I have done so for the past month but the reaction I get, especially now it is getting winter here, are not so positive. Any thoughts on that?

I’m going to pull it up here as a full entry since I think it is an interesting question.

Yes. Aside from the time I inline skate (I haven’t figured out how to do that barefoot), I probably wear footwear about 5-10 hours a year (yes, that’s “year”). In this older entry, Resisting Social Pressure, I talked a bit about how going barefoot strengthens the soul (along with the sole — HA!). But after a while it also gets easier with the public, too.

Yes, as you start going to new places like stores, you might have problems. Of course, don’t forget to carry with you the letter from your state’s Health Department, available here from the Society for Barefoot Living, that demonstrates no health code requiring shoes. But what I have found happens is that, for the stores you frequent regularly, they very quickly “adopt” you. They recognize you. You are their barefooted customer. They’ll greet you (moreso than when you used to enter shod).

So, I’ve ended up giving a lot of business to places that are friendly to me, and none to those who have given me problems. And they are positive experiences.

Regarding winter, about all I get is curiosity. Folks want to know if I put on shoes for the winter. The answer is no, and my ready response: “If I don’t need gloves, I don’t need shoes.” I certainly don’t put on gloves walking from my car in a parking lot into a store, so why would I need shoes? Yes, the ground conducts cold better than the air, but I have pretty thick soles that provide more insulation.

It can provide some interesting reactions though (and don’t consider these negative, but savor them). Last winter I exited a PetSmart and deliberately walked through a melting snowdrift (maybe 6 inches deep) for about 6 feet (felt like ice cream). Behind me I heard this audible gasp. I just grinned to myself.

A New Library Excuse

September 18, 2010

You may remember the effort by Matthew McNatt to get the Reddick, IL library to remove its ban on bare feet. When I blogged about it in “A Library Attempt”, I said:

I can predict what will happen. First, the board will say they need to retain their rule for reasons of “decorum”. And then, if McNatt presses further, the board will suddenly switch to an excuse about how dangerous bare feet are (while ignoring the dangers of, say, high-heels).

Well, I was right. But I was also so wrong.

Last Monday night the Reddick Library Board decided to keep their barefoot policy. You can read about it in “Library toes the line on shoe policy — Patrons will not be allowed to go barefoot”.

I was right in that they cited that bare feet were dangerous:

In addressing McNatt’s request Monday, Library Director Kathy Clair said she had called the library’s insurance carrier and was told allowing patrons to go barefoot would lead to “heightened liability exposure.”

“We know this is a litigious society,” she added.

I do question the bit about the library’s insurance carrier. The Society for Barefoot Living has amongst its members independent insurance agents, and they have never seen a policy that even mentions footwear or bare feet. I have also seen the policies for a couple of different libraries, and again I can confirm no mention of bare feet. (This is also true about business policies.) So, why would the library’s insurance carrier say it would lead to “heightened liability exposure”? I can think of two possibilities: First, the Library Director may simply be lying. I’ve had other library directors do it to me before. But more likely is that the Director did call the library’s carrier, and the two just swapped myths. By that I mean they both just assumed the answer without actually checking first. And, of course, as I mentioned before, if they were really concerned about litigation due to injury, high heels would be a real target. In regard to injuries, the Director also pulled out another non sequitur, or at least poor reasoning:

Clair further noted library staff must wear shoes, one reason being safety,in case objects — book carts in particular — fell onto staff, which has happened in other libraries with serious injuries.

Yeah? So is everybody, patrons included, required to wear steel-toed shoes? Are patrons also prohibited from wearing flip-flops in case a book falls on their foot? I didn’t think so.

I don’t think I was really wrong regarding “decorum.” That’s never the excuse for public consumption, but I’ve had enough experience with libraries to strongly suspect that that is lurking in the background.

But where I was really, really wrong was in the new excuse. I’ve never seen this one before, and it demonstrates some real originality from the library board:

Board member Jameson Campaigne pointed out he researched the subject, finding that bare feet could increase floor cleaning costs.

I’d sure like to know what sort of research he did. In looking around, I found a few sites, here (Shine from Yahoo), here (Blueagle Carpet Cleaning), and here (Michael’s Professional Carpet Cleaning; click on “Can I walk on my carpets right after it has been cleaned?”), that say that bare feet have natural oils on them that attract dirt. (Yet the second one says that same about not having stockinged feet, for the same reason.) Then there is another site (Dynamic Carpet Care) that notes that shoes also have stuff on them:

If you enjoy going barefoot, or even if you don’t, kick your shoes off at the door. Why remove your shoes? If you have a rough board that needs smoothing, you grab a sheet of sandpaper for the job. Guess what’s on the bottom of your shoes? Sand and dirt grind away at the fibers in your carpet, leading to an early death.

Take a closer look at the bottoms of those shoes and you’ll find oil, dirt and heaven only knows how many bits of leftover dog deposits. Small wonder why your carpet stubbornly refuses to come clean. Do wear slippers or socks inside. The oil from the bottom of your feet also dirties the carpet.

So this one contradicts Blueagle about stocking feet. And yet another, answers the question, “Is it true that going bare-foot will leave oils in the carpet?” by saying:

Yes, BUT shoes do far more damage than bare feet. Shoes bring in whatever the cat didn’t, along with oils from the street and particulate soil. Taking off your shoes when coming into your home is probably the easiest and best way to prolong the life of your carpet. It is also better to wear socks, but skin oils are usually removed easily. Come on guys, take those shoes off. (Emphasis added.)

And then there are others, here (A Clean & Tidy Carpet Cleaner), here, (Clean it), and here (Premium Rugs) that say:

Bare-foot or sock-foot traffic is much gentler to a rug than a hard outdoor-shoe sole (or spike heel), and leaving your outdoor shoes at the entrance to the house tracks in much less dirt.

Since they all use the exact language, I suspect it all come from some common source.

But this rather highlights how these things spread. Somebody, without actually doing real research, makes a guess of some sort, and next thing you know, it becomes the common wisdom.

It looks to me as if the oils on bare feet might help soil rugs. But so will stuff on shoes. And I think it pretty clear that shoes in general will wear down a rug quite a bit faster than bare feet.

However, of course, Board Member Campaigne was very careful not to mention overall carpet maintenance and replacement, but only cleaning costs, since that is the only item that he could use to reinforce his prejudice (and probably his gut feeling that “decorum” requires shoes).

Get a Grip

September 4, 2010

Toes are wonderful things.

In another of the Dual Survivor episodes with Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury, we get another of those statements that show the producers are just not familiar with going barefooted, or are trying to (falsely) create more drama.

In “Out of Air” they start out in a cave, and head upstream to find the place that the water is entering from. This is their escape route. Where the water is coming in, there is a waterfall that they have to climb up next to. The narrator says, “The fast moving current of the waterfall makes the rocks more slippery than anywhere in the cave, and put Cody’s bare feet to the test.”

Well, that may be the case, but the same conditions also put Dave’s shod feet to quite a test, too. In fact, Cody was probably in less danger. For one thing, with his toes he could feel how good a grip he was getting, and if he didn’t like the feel, he could re-adjust it until he did like the feel. You don’t have that option wearing boots like Dave was. Furthermore, toes can be used like fingers. You really can use them to grab hold of pieces of rock (or whatever) to increase your stability.

This point was completely missed by the show.

The other day I was hiking again at Great Seal State Park and decided to go off-trail to ascend to the top of Bunker Hill (this is no great feat—the trail runs about 400 feet below the “peak”). As I was climbing through the leaf detritus, my toes were the thing that made it really easy. I was constantly using them to test my toehold and my grip. That made it a real joy.

Toes are wonderful things.

Driving Barefoot

September 2, 2010

Society for Barefoot Living members are well aware that it is completely legal to drive barefoot. The home page even links to research done way back in 1994, by Jason Heimbaugh, in which he contacted each of the 50 states. Yet, it still remains a common myth.

So it is nice to see a new article in the Wisconsin State Journal that asks, “Is it legal to drive barefoot in Wisconsin?”

The answer is of course, “YES!”

In fact, the state trooper they ask the question to, Jim Larson, even goes so far as to say:

For drivers who wear heels or other shoes that make driving difficult, Larson even said he’d encourage them to drive barefoot.

It is nice to see this sort of common sense.

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