Responses to Barefooting in Public

Thirteen years ago I decided not to wear shoes regularly any longer (hence: BarefootBetsy) and over these last 13 years I’ve gotten many different reactions to barefooting in public.

Most people who see me barefoot in public think it’s pretty cool and ask questions. I’m usually happy to answer respectful questions. I think that many people who would benefit from going barefoot or who secretly want to wear shoes less often likely do not eschew shoes in public because they believe some of the many myths our culture has created around barefootedness.

So dispelling those myths is something I typically enjoy doing.

Then there are the concerned people who worry about me getting hurt or my feet being cold or hot or otherwise uncomfortable. Their concerns are easily addressed. I’ve personally experienced no negatives to barefooting over many years so I can be pretty positive about it. Yes, there can be drawbacks (like having strangers feel entitled to comment on my lack of footwear whether I want them to or not) and there are absolutely times when shoes are beneficial (shoes are tools, after all!) just like there are times when gloves are beneficial.

But, by far, the most ridiculous responses are from people who think that they need to give me incorrect information in order to get me to wear shoes. I’ve mainly had this issue with staff at various establishments. These have primarily been staff at grocery stores, hotels, and professional offices.

These people will give me all kinds of reasons why I should wear shoes in their establishment, but the two most common are:

 

1 – It’s dangerous for you to be in here without shoes! We’re liable for your safety!

Um, well, I run miles at a time on pavement barefoot and walk around in big cities barefoot so…. if your establishment is really more hazardous to my feet than those activities, you’ve likely got more serious issues going on than whether or not I’m wearing shoes.

Also, I always offer to sign a waiver when people bring this up. I’m more than happy to take 100% responsibility for any potential injuries I might incur due to being barefoot on private property. Not a problem.

However, employees of establishments have never been willing to sign a waiver taking responsibility for any injuries I may incur in their establishment due to wearing shoes. I used to twist my ankles frequently before I started barefooting regularly. Shoes are more slippery than bare feet and it’s more difficult to tell when a floor is slippery with the tactile input dulled through the sole of the shoe. If I’m being required to wear shoes somewhere that I need to be, then it makes sense that they should be willing to take responsibility for their policy’s potential injurious effects on me.

Yet… they never have and always seem shocked when I politely suggest that they might offer to do so.

 

2 – The Health Department/OSHA requires that you wear shoes in here!

This is simply a bold-faced lie in the USA. No state or federal health department requires customers to wear shoes in establishments (food or otherwise) and most county Health Departments follow the state regulations.

OSHA only regulates what employees wear, not what customers wear. Interestingly enough, I’ve never had any issues in restaurants other than once in a McDonald’s many years ago. Typically, the nicer the establishment, the less likely they are to hassle me about shoes.

 

Truly, I’d much rather people just be honest than to tell lies about “government authorities require that we require you to wear shoes.”

Own the fact that you have a discriminatory policy for no good reason (since the safety and liability concerns don’t apply in my case). Own that you just want me to wear shoes because it makes you or your customers uncomfortable or nervous. Own that you might have have unconscious prejudices and biases against bare feet. Maybe examine what those might be.

In the end, I’m far more likely to respect someone who says, “Yeah, we just require shoes because I or the owner prefers it.” without giving any other reason. At least they’re being honest. Because there’s no other good reason for me to wear shoes somewhere that I’ve scoped out and deemed safe for my feet. Their personal preference-based policy, no matter how politely presented, may still result in me taking my business somewhere else; but at least I respect the people who give me that sort of answer.

Giving me reasons that don’t apply to me (especially when you then resort to false appeals to authority once you realize that none of your reasons apply to me) makes it all the more likely that I will never darken your door with my money again. I don’t take kindly to being “protected” from my own harmless decisions by random falsehood-prone employees who don’t even know me.

I’ve been doing this for 13 years. I know what I’m doing. Don’t bs me about your reasons. I’ve heard it all before and will hear it all again soon, no doubt.

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My Children Talk to Strangers

Yes. You read that title correctly. In fact, my children are encouraged to talk to strangers under most circumstances.

Today I took all four children (by myself – whew!) to a local grocery store where they have a children eat free night once a week. While I was waiting for our food at the deli, my children asked and were given permission by me to go and sit down in the seating area, with the general admonitions to stay together and to actually stay sitting once they found a place to sit.

So, anyhow, when our food was ready I paid for it and headed over to the seating area to find my 6 year old daughter chatting happily with a lady who was wearing her baby in a ring sling, the way I wear my little babies. I smiled at both the lady and my daughter while I continued about 10 feet away to the table where my other daughters were sitting, waiting expectantly for their food, which I delivered to them while also half listening to my 6 year old talking to the lady about her baby brother.

About five minutes later, my 6 year old joined us at our table and began eating. When they were all settled in with their food, my 8 year old started telling me about the lady they had talked to so I asked them a few questions. We have talked a bit about strangers, but I don’t really teach about “stranger danger” and I wanted my girls to have an opportunity to evaluate why they all had felt comfortable talking to this lady.

My first question: “Why did you feel comfortable and safe talking to the lady with the baby?”

I got several different answers, “Because she seemed nice.” “She had a baby.” “I liked her.”

Great! I told them that listening to that feeling inside them is one of the most important things they can do when deciding whether or not to talk to someone. I reminded them that any adult – not just a stranger – who asks them for help or tells them to do something without telling me, is probably not safe and they should let me know immediately about anyone who does those things. I reminded them that if they ever do get that feeling about someone, then they should, what? “Tell you or Papa!” there was a chorus of voices answering that question. That was an easy one.

I want my children to be comfortable interacting with people in public. They will be doing that for the rest of their lives, after all. Besides, anyone can become “not a stranger” simply by introducing themselves and it isn’t just “strangers” who are dangerous for children. Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

That last point bears repeating: Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

Because of that, I want my children to be very attuned to their “gut feelings” about people. We don’t force our children to hug or even to talk to people whom they are uncomfortable hugging or talking to. They have ownership over their bodies and they need to be able to say “no” now in order to effectively say “no” when they’re older and maybe getting pressured by dates or meeting people who might not have their best interests at heart.

So far, so good. This lesson about trusting their intuitions and watching out for “tricky” adults, along with the many other lessons they’ve had about “secret touching” and the teachings of proper terminology for body parts will hopefully help my children both in the short and long runs as they navigate a sometimes hostile world.

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