Reflections on Barefooting and Nonconformity
Eight months ago, I decided to stop wearing shoes.
I could rattle off a number of impressive-sounding reasons for doing so. Like that it is an expression of my commitment to a minimalist lifestyle, or that it allows me to be in tune with my surroundings, or that it expresses solidarity with my less fortunate brothers and sisters who must go without shoes. Or I could explain how I think shoes are a largely unnecessary expense in our affluent, labourless lifestyles. Then there’s the argument that no one should have the authority to tell me whether or not I’m allowed to walk around without shoes, and so going barefoot makes a kind of statement.
Then there’s the less-impressive fact that I simply find it fun. Going barefoot feels nice. My feet feel healthier. I never get blisters or foot odor any more. I get to feel grass and concrete and ceramic under my feet, and I don’t have to fuss with laces or straps or Velcro before heading out the door.
But if I’m honest, I’ll admit that my primary motivation for going barefoot is that it’s nonconformist, and that appeals to me. (It may be more common where you live, but where I am in southern Ontario, no one goes unshod. I have not yet run into a single fellow barefooter).
I like being different. I enjoy being the oddball, and getting sidelong glances. I’m not sure if that makes me a self-absorbed douchebag or a courageous trailblazer. And this issue of purposeful nonconformity has been one of my main preoccupations since decided to go barefoot.
I’m torn. On the one hand, I feel like it’s productive to foster self-confidence and an ability to do certain things despite other people’s opinions or expectations. I feel that going barefoot for this purpose is therefore useful.
But on the other hand, I can see the danger in striving for nonconformity simply for the sake of nonconformity – in making lifestyle choices for the sake of sensationalism, attention, and feeling unique. Doing something just because no one else is doing it is just as poor a reason as doing it because everyone else is doing it.
So far, going barefoot has been fun and interesting with no real negative consequences. I left my shoes at home when I took a week-long trip to Montreal with my husband and didn’t run into any problems. I’ve walked into grocery stores, restaurants, museums, churches, hotel lobbies, movie theaters and drug stores without shoes and have gotten no complaints.
Except twice. In grocery stores, both times. I’ve had managers approach me and tell me I was breaching health and safety regulations by going around barefoot. I just told them I would pay for my stuff and leave, and they allowed it. There were no staff members escorting me from the premises or anything.
Because I’ve been approached a couple of times now, I now keep a pair of flip-flops in my car for emergency situations. That means that I now have a choice to make. When I’m about to get out of my car with my reusable grocery bags, I must decide: will I slip on the uncomfortable flip-flops and conform to health and safety codes that I consider superfluous and oppressive, or will I rebel?
It’s not a huge deal, of course. The worst consequence of me following my convictions and walking into the store unshod is that I will be asked to leave. Much more likely, though, no one will say anything, and I will be able to enjoy the pleasure of walking shoeless upon the cold smooth ceramic.
But the whole thing has forced me to reflect on the issue of conformity. How far am I willing to go for my convictions? How much negative attention am I willing to attract for the sake of my beliefs, my rights, my pleasures? Should I be proud of my tolerance for negative attention, or concerned?
I find these questions interesting in light of my Christian faith. We are called to be “in the world but not of the world” – to be aliens in a strange land. Does my decision to go barefoot help me to understand what it feels like to be an outsider, an anomaly? Or does it just fool me into thinking I’m doing something meaningful when I’m not? Is it encouraging an apathy towards the real issues that demand real courage?
Am I getting some valuable practice in, for when issues more serious than my right to be unshod arise? Or am I just being a sensationalist?
I’m not sure about any of these things. All I know is that the decision to go shoeless has provoked some very interesting conversations with friends and strangers alike. I also know that few things are more satisfying than the feeling of sun-warmed concrete on a cool summer evening, or the sight of brown water gurgling down the shower drain after a long day of meandering through a historical city. So far, I think it’s been for the best. But I still wonder.
Kathleen has a charmingly unpretentious blog about marriage called Project M.