Barefoot in the Park, Maybe?

Since we’ve been sheltering in place, I am learning to go barefoot. No need for shoes if you never leave home, right? Except I’ve always hated going barefoot. I don’t even remember going barefoot as a little kid, except maybe once and the ground was hot and I didn’t like it and wanted my shoes. Not even at home. I always wear my “house shoes” indoors. House shoes are usually a ratty old pair of clogs that I replace every few years, maybe flip- flops if it’s a really hot day and I’m feeling daring.

Current clogs, only a year old so not worn out yet. They put 2″ between me and whatever lurks beneath my feet.

Until this summer. I’ve been wandering around the house with naked feet. Like Paul in Neil Simon’s 1963 play Barefoot in the Park (film version in 1967), I really need to learn to lighten up, be more free, not bow to the conventions of society. Robert Redford originated the role of Paul on Broadway and then went on to star with Jane Fonda in the movie. The plot revolves around newlyweds Paul and Corie. He’s the anxious, practical, worrywort of the duo, she’s the free-spirited optimist. She wants him to lighten up, learn to be easy-going, do things like going barefoot in the park.

I think Paul is unfairly portrayed here. He’s being sensible. Would you go barefoot in Central Park? I can’t even think of all the things that might have happened on the grass there, and I don’t want my bare skin touching anything down on that seething, germy, mat of who knows what. Corie could be in danger with her free-spirited shenanigans.

According to healthline, while there are benefits to going barefoot:

“The most straightforward benefit to barefoot walking is that in theory, walking barefoot more closely restores our ‘natural’ walking pattern, also known as our gait,” explains Dr. Jonathan Kaplan, foot and ankle specialist and orthopedic surgeon with Hoag Orthopaedic Institute.

Other benefits of walking barefoot include:

  • better control of your foot position when it strikes the ground
  • improvements in balance, proprioception, and body awareness, which can help with pain relief
  • better foot mechanics, which can lead to improved mechanics of the hips, knees, and core
  • maintaining appropriate range of motion in your foot and ankle joints as well as adequate strength and stability within your muscles and ligaments
  • relief from improperly fitting shoes, which may cause bunions, hammertoes, or other foot deformities
  • stronger leg muscles, which support the lower back region

All well and good and I want all of these things. But there’s the dark side, and that’s where my mind gets stuck:

Walking barefoot in your house is relatively safe. But when you head outside, you expose yourself to potential risks that could be dangerous.

“Without appropriate strength in the foot, you are at risk of having poor mechanics of walking, thereby increasing your risk for injury,” explains Kaplan.

This is especially important to consider when you’re beginning to incorporate barefoot walking after having spent much of your life in shoes.

He also says that you need to consider the surface being walked on. While it may be more natural to walk or exercise barefoot, without additional padding from shoes, you are susceptible to injury from the terrain (like rough or wet surfaces or issues with temperature, glass, or other sharp objects on the ground).

You also take the chance of exposing your feet to harmful bacteria or infections when you walk barefoot, especially outside.

ESPECIALLY OUTSIDE. There’s the kicker. I’ve lightened up to the point of going barefoot in my own home. I know what goes on on my floors. I have 4 cats and a dog. I won’t pretend I’ve never stepped in anything gross, like a hairball. But I keep the house pretty clean, and the cats aren’t allowed outside so don’t bring anything extra scary. The dog mostly is indoors watching Netflix on the couch.

My bare feet, just this morning.

Grass ( the lawn kind)–sounds perfectly lovely and innocent. Not. There are snails, slugs, ticks, possible dog pee, possible frog poop, weirdo insects and arachnids (like the well-named grass spiders) you don’t want to know about. Have you ever watched The Twilight Zone? Things can work their way into your body and eat you from the inside out. Okay, that’s being a bit melodramatic, but you get my drift.

Would you want to step on the grass funnel-weaver? Credit: © H. Bellmann/F. Hecker
Copyright: © H. Bellmann/F. Hecker – http://www.agefotostock.com

Maybe I have a weird obsession with my feet. If you’ve read this blog before you might have noticed lots of pictures of socks and feet. I do not have a foot fetish, meaning its not a sexual interest. Feet aren’t really cute or alluring. It’s about my feet and where they go. Or don’t go.

I’m not the only one. When David Hockney does it, it’s art and worth lots of money.

David Hockney, Self Portrait, Gerardmer, France, 1975, © David Hockney.
Genevieve Cottraux, Homage to David Hockney, 2017.

Yes, I am actually barefoot outdoors in some of the vignette photos. I was delirious from lack of sleep after a week of living in a cabin in the woods with 14 other people, most of whom I had just met, at a summer residency in Maine. Lack of sleep can make you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. And I survived.

This summer, I have progressed not only to going barefoot inside, but I even venture out on our back deck. But not a centimeter beyond that deck edge.

My toes are holding on for dear life. Don’t make us go beyond the deck!

We got rid of the lawn years ago. In drought stricken, dry California, it makes no sense to try to have a lawn. It takes way too much work, too much water, possibly chemical intervention. We put in low-maintenance (key words) perennials and mulch instead. Our dogs over the years have probably wished there was a small patch of grass for them. When walking our sweet Sadie (RIP), she would often pull us over to a neighbor’s lawn so she could lie down in the grass. But Sadie also liked to eat goose poop and roll in stinky things and swim in murky waters. So her judgement was suspect.

Sadie, sweetest dog ever, but maybe not the smartest.

Dog paws are made for going barefoot (barepaw?). Dogs look silly in shoes. They have those tough pads and little fear of germs. Absolutely, dogs can easily injure those paws, and please be careful with your dog out in the heat or cold/snow/ice.

These paws were made for walking. Image from Woof Beach.

Cats have lovely, soft paw pads. They need to be able to creep up on prey or on you silently. I’m sure outdoor cats build up tough paws, but the cats in my house have wonderfully sweet feet. My boy Butterscotch is a polydactyl–he has extra toes on all 4 paws. Not only is it adorable, it makes his feet more fun to play with.

Awesome cat feet.

Maybe my anti-barefeet sentiment comes from my mother. I don’t remember her going barefoot. Her feet were extremely ticklish, and we used to torment her when we were kids grabbing and tickling her feet. In self-defense, she probably kept those feet covered.

Is challenging myself to go barefoot really good for my self-growth and awareness? I doubt it. When Paul does it in Barefoot in the Park, he gets sick. (See, going barefoot in Central Park is hazardous to your health.) And he was really drunk when he did it. So maybe not a good role model.

He ends up with a cold, a hangover, disgustingly dirty feet, garbage on his head, a ruined suit and lost coat, and his marriage is falling apart. (Spoiler alert: all ends happily.) How is this good for you?

But I’ll continue to challenge myself to open my horizons. Baby steps–first of the deck into my own yard. Briefly. If I make it, then I’ll up the ante.

There’s bird poop in this ground cover, I am sure of it.

Do I feel more self-realized now? Not really. A lot of things I’ve been told over the years would be good for me didn’t make me feel any better. Mom, liver and onions? Really? How was that supposed to be good for me? (I refused to eat that dish and Mom didn’t push it, to give her credit. Maybe she could see the impending plant-based diet switch in my young eyes.)

I’ve made a point to work on overcoming phobias. And this is an actual phobia–it’s called podophobia. I won’t pretend mine is that severe. I am perfectly willing to be barefoot in bed, or in the shower. My own shower. Other showers may require shower shoes.

According to Very Well Mind, approximately 7.1% of Americans experience social phobias, and almost 10% specific phobias. A person can suffer from more than one kind of specific phobia. I suffer from social anxiety, plus fear of water (aquaphobia), podophobia, telephonophobia, and coulrophobia (fear of clowns).

If you aren’t afraid of this face, I worry about you.

I also hate crowds, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I have agoraphobia. Needless to say, you won’t find me talking on my phone barefoot in a crowd of clowns at a water park. Unless I am calling 911 to get me out of there. NOW.

Clowns at a water park, image from Montgomery Community Media.

You can find lots of information out there phobias, fears, and overcoming them, like this article on This Way Up. Community service done, now I have to go wash my feet.

Peace and hugs.

And do whatever you have to do to make sure you vote in November. I will go barefoot to the polling station (but with a mask) if I have to. It’s that important.

Magazine Ad For Register Your Discontent, Vote, Barefoot Guy in Voting Booth, Youth Citizenship Fund, 1972

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