Barefoot lifestyle deserves respect and acknowledgement from student community

GRAPHIC BY RIEL WHITTLE

My name is Jacob and I’ve been going barefoot full-time during the warm season for six years now. If you’ve been on campus in the last couple of years, you’ve probably spotted me at some point. I’ve received a lot of feedback about my feet during my time at the College of William and Mary, and thought this might be a good opportunity to address some of the comments I’ve heard.

There’s a wide range of reasons why people go barefoot. I’ve heard of cultural, political and religious motivations for fellow barefooters’ lifestyles. For me it started as an experiment, and grew to become an important part of my identity. I tell people I go barefoot because “it’s comfortable,” and what I mean is that it would be uncomfortable to wear shoes.

I had a look through The Flat Hat’s archives for barefooting-related articles, and found a 2018 opinion piece by Kimberly Lores ’22 entitled “Barefoot in Swem: A harrowing tale of discomfort.” As the title suggests, Lores’ article dramatically disapproves of barefooted patronage of Earl Gregg Swem Library. I find her complaints disrespectful, but representative of a lot of comments I hear on a day-to-day basis. I would like to address some of those here.

The article describes the experience of entering Swem as one’s “eyes are assaulted by the sight of someone going completely barefoot.” The word “assaulted” is a strong one, and is presumably used here for comedic effect. It would be inappropriate for me to say that I felt assaulted by the sight of someone else’s body (unless I literally was). I don’t expect you to enjoy seeing my feet, but I ask that you refer to my body respectfully.

It’s common for people to overstate the health risks of going barefoot. A line in Lores’ piece states that being unshod is “unsanitary for others who might walk around on the same floor afterward but also for the barefoot people themselves.” I wash my feet far more often than most people wash their shoes, and I track in considerably less dirt. To my knowledge, going barefoot is a great way to reduce fungal infections common from wearing sweaty socks. Many forms of self-expression involve health risks, and I consider my own carefully.

One of her last points is that “on a college campus, where there is already such a small amount of privacy, it is rather rude to impose on other people even further by acting as if the public library is your own personal space.” To think that someone feels this way about my self-expression is upsetting, and I think this language contributes to an unaccepting culture on campus. If you are in a public space, which William & Mary is, you should expect to encounter people who express themselves differently than you do.

Even though I see myself as an advocate for barefooting, it can be exhausting to deal with negative reactions to my identity. Thanks to the Office of Compliance & Equity, I affirmed my right to go barefoot in all campus spaces soon after I transferred here. But it takes a whole community to make someone feel accepted, and learning to respect and thrive among people who are different than you is an important part of college life.

Jacob Hall ’22 is a geology major, produces media for the Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation and helps run The Meridian. He also develops websites, works at the local meadery, and cooks with his partner. Email Jacob at jwhall@email.wm.edu.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Many people from diverse backgrounds in all walks of life strongly prefer living the barefoot life but are marginalized, shamed and ridiculed for embodying that preference, so they put on shoes against their will in order to be accepted and allowed to participate in (allegedly) polite society. The movie “Soledad Descalza” deals with this phenomenon.

    Some people who prefer wearing shoes think they have an obligation to be dismissive of and judgmental toward people who like to go barefoot in everyday life. That’s unfortunate. If someone can’t afford shoes, or wants shoes but does not have them, then by all means, let’s help them get shoes. But people who voluntarily choose to go barefoot and feel better on many levels when they do should be able to live shoe-free without facing negative stereotypes and knee-jerk judgments in their day-to-day lives. Freedom of choice should not end at the ankles.

    Guys with long hair had to deal with this sort of reaction back in the 1960s and 1970s because long hair was associated almost exclusively with women at the time. Guys with long hair really upset some people in an irrational way. Fortunately, we as a society came to understand that men who choose to wear their hair long should not be mocked, confronted or ostracized. This was a major step forward for inclusion and social acceptance. Perhaps one fine day, people who want to get around barefoot in most situations will be able to do so without being on the receiving end of the type of shoddy treatment the writer of this column describes.

  2. I fully appreciate how he took the time to write this. More people should be educated on barefoot living. I was also the barefoot guy on my campus. I still never wear shoes anywhere even to this day.

  3. Going barefoot is healthy and fun and harms no one, why should it be so looked down on by some (intolerant) people?

  4. I discovered and became ‘addicted’ to going barefoot about 10 years ago.

    Takes a wile , a few weeks for your feet and natural ability to recover from years in shoes.

    I got the idea from one of those barefoot running sites that were popular few years ago to see if I could do it.

    The crazy side effect is not I don’t like wearing shoes at all anymore then wearing winter gloves in summer !

    I never knew my experiment to get natural feet back would lead me to not wearing shoes anymore unless I absbsutly have to

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