Barefoot Tales: putting my foot down

  Standing on glass with impunity I have become more convinced over the years that the common prejudice against not wearing shoes in various public settings is nothing more than that, just outdated social stigma and groundless discrimination.  Nowadays the numerous health benefits of going barefoot are well known, and the internet has allowed people experienced in the shoeless lifestyle to communicate with a wider audience.  Personally I've been mostly barefoot since 1980 or so, including in all my places of employment, over as much of each year as I can manage while living in New England.  It is *so* much more enjoyable, freeing, and convenient than feeling obligated to cram myself into shoes all the time.  And yes, quite safe for those accustomed to it, which in fact only takes a few months to achieve starting from "tenderfoot" status.  I walk over bits of broken glass and similar debris all the time, and it doesn't bother my well-conditioned "dog pads" at all.

johnhartstudios.com (2016)
      (Reprinted with the permission of John Hart Studios)
However, far too often I wind up throwing on a pair of the cheap, flat-soled Chinese style "kung fu" shoes for stores and restaurants and event spaces under the assumption [or reality] that I'll get hassled for being barefoot otherwise.  [The "flats" slip conveniently into a back pocket for those refreshing times when I do not.]  It is rather ridiculous that I run into any need to acquiesce to the ignorant, as there is nothing logically or legally mandating me to have footwear in such places; and by making the choice to enter I've already demonstrated taking my own responsibility for any conceivable personal safety issues.  In fact, I've clearly assumed my own "sole risk" the moment I step out of the car in their parking lot.  In the vast majority of such venues, there's no cause for concern and no need for its staff and workers to even look down, let alone make some negative point about it.  My hands and head are uncovered; my feet should not be thought of any differently.

And for anyone to try and tell another what may be "offensive" or not is presumptuous at best, not to mention highly unprofessional on the part of store or restaurant personnel.  Ask the kid with the piercings and six-inch purple mohawk about personal choices, or the woman across the room in full hijab, or the identically white-bonneted busload of Mennonite girls who just arrived for lunch.  Try telling that overweight lady with too much perfume on that she shouldn't be buying food anyway and needs to leave the grocery store.  They all have the same freedom to enter the same places of business too, legally known as "public accomodations", and receive equal treatment.  The employees and owners cannot predict what any customer may personally like or dislike about other patrons, and it's none of anyone's business to guess about either way.  It's part of going out in public and mingling with other people, where the only restrictions that carry any weight address "indecent exposure", and last I checked my feet are not my genitals.

Barefooting in this country, while not covered specifically by law, lands in a grey area somewhere between discrimination and dress codes that remains annoyingly open to dispute.  Its acceptance is hampered by many misconceptions and flat-out lies formed in long-bygone times, stemming from resistance to the hippie movement and even before that, conservative reactions to civil rights legislation.  It has nothing to do with public or business health and safety codes, but there are still plenty of misinformed haters out there trying to bully us into believing that it does.  Here is a printable text file quoting the applicable law in Massachusetts against discriminatory practice in public establishments, and clarifying how business owners can think more sensibly about the issue and change their outward policies for the better.  Laws and regulations are likely similar in most other states.

There are numerous websites where interested parties and facility administration alike can find all the information they need on the "barefoot movement", including full and factual debunking of the typical timeworn myths.  Here are a very few to get started:

Or just conduct your own investigation!  Many other resources and facts can be found with a few simple search-term combinations that cover the most common concerns and excuses:
  health barefoot
  safety barefoot
  liability barefoot
  barefoot running
  barefoot hiking


In early 2016 I began to correspond with some of the other online barefoot advocates in my area, and participate in various group activities like hikes and dinner gatherings.  I viewed this as further support in my own journey, particularly with helping bring awareness and reason to typically stodgy organizations that harbored some unreasoned sixties-holdover fear and loathing for bare feet.  In keeping with my own personal tradition of advising any number of companies on best customer-facing practices in the online world, it seemed a short step to use those same techniques and reach out to them to discuss customer and client policy decisions about footwear in an escalated and educational fashion.  It takes a bit of a shift for them to understand that their duty of care ends where my personal rights begin, and that nobody is worse off for it.

While my past efforts to inform have met with an entire spectrum of successes and failures, I've chosen this point in time to start bringing it to the web and chronicle some of the major interactions.  Most businesses can correspond with their customer bases via email these days, so addressing complaints or encouragement to people on their corporate ladders has become easier and copies can be placed online for public consumption later.  In general, their falling silent or failure to respond simply indicates that they can come up with no logical argument against barefooting, so they just rely on the ivory-tower corporate cop-out.  Whether they answer or not, change their attitude or just blow me off, the full exchange can likely be found here afterward, and the potential effects of that on reputation should not be ignored.  Discerning viewers can then make their own judgements and gather ideas.  The same message can be presented in so many different ways -- set my piggies free

There is no question that general awareness of the barefoot lifestyle is increasing, so if you've always wanted to kick off your shoes and exercise your own rights as a citizen, to walk where you want and how you want, now's the time!  Narrow-minded infringement by others on one's personal choices is simply unacceptable.  It has no place in a polite, well-informed society whose members want respect for their individual freedom, not misguided babysitting.


To that end, here is the list, roughly color-coded by success status, fairly short in its early presentation but I expect to continue adding to this as the adventure continues.  [I would also be happy to add the experiences of others if they don't have their own forum or site or means to put material on the internet -- and also note that there are several rather active facebook groups and other participatory resources out there as well.]
NEFFA folk festival -- "food fear" finally fixed (prior, spring 2015)
American Home Shows -- asked nicely in advance, reactions were rather extreme.  (Feb 2016)
Balticon 50 -- Renaissance Harborplace hotel, Baltimore, final resolution negative   (Mem-day weekend 2016, May 2017)
REI -- Recreational barefooting is okay with them!   (June 2016)
Jordan's Furniture -- Prevailing at the local level, at least   (July 2016)
Big Y says "N" -- When small food chains turn blindly corporate   (Aug 2016)
China Pearl -- Authentic Chinatown food, and THE place for Dim Sum   (Sep 2016 and subsequent)
Stop&Shop -- says "stop & SHOE", despite supposedly progressive European corporate ties   (Jun, Oct 2016)
Interlude: something frightening seen on a highway   (March 2017)
Virginia caverns -- A mixed bag of survey results, with one   notable positive     (March 2017)
Nix on Publix -- Major southeast grocery chain, still working on it   (Mar/Apr 2017)
Shell game -- Shell Oil branded locations aren't consistent, so we'll just wing it for now   (Feb/Mar 2017, written up later)
Market Basket-case -- Local food store chain refuses to accept the facts   (winter/spring 2017)
Interlude: a pleasant springtime high-energy hike in the Blue Hills --
    where the Shoe Cops fear to tread!   (May 2017)
Newport Nonsense -- Elegant mansions shouldn't need shoes inside, but obstinate custodians disagree   (June 2017)
At Trader Joe's, "no policy" is good policy!   (July 2017)
Harvard Museum was enlightened!   (Oct 2017)
A paper letter to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, an appeal for some legislative sanity   (Nov 2017)
A hike up Breakneck Ridge in NY, shortly before the park was likely to close for construction   (Dec 2017)
Barefoot Auto Repair is true to its name   (Dec 2017)
"BarefootPoetAdvocate" refused to publish my interview, so it's here   (Dec 2017)

_H*   171213