Last week, TSL published an article titled “Walk barefoot, live grounded: a connection to nature and self” in which various students argue for the benefits of “barefoot living.” This article is going to argue for the benefits of “shoed living.”
I’m not criticizing these students, but a broader cultural movement we at the Claremont Colleges tend to associate with Pitzer — and sometimes Scripps College — that argues that being barefoot removes you to some extent from the competitive environments we live in and enables you to connect to the earth in a meaningful, meditative and profound way. These benefits, advocates suggest, provide reasons why everyone should go barefoot all the time.
And there’s definitely a lot of appeal to their intuition. If everyone could become more meditative and connected to the Earth with zero negative side-effects by just taking our shoes off, it would be great. And that doesn’t even mention how much richer we’d be without having to spend money on shoes!
But before I get to criticizing people, let me put a couple caveats in real quick. Firstly, in many cultures going barefoot is, especially during special occasions, spiritually important. If these practices matter to you, keep on doing them! Secondly, some people go barefoot because of health concerns. That’s also cool. Thirdly, many people, including me, don’t wear shoes inside their homes or dorm rooms. That’s great too — the problem here is mostly about doing it outside (and in public).
One interviewee in the article asks “What makes you feel that being barefoot is unsafe … Where does that idea stem from?” People have been wearing shoes for the last 10,000 years or so, probably with the original purpose of protecting their feet from rough surfaces. In modern times we have found more specific hygienic reasons to do so. The most important of these is probably protection against Soil-Transmitted Helminths (STHs), a group of parasitic worms that can infect humans by entering our bodies through our feet.
As tempting as a parasitic worm that infects you through your feet sounds, sadly they aren’t quite as good for you (as you might assume). The CDC outlines a whole host (haha) of medical issues an infestation can cause including abdominal pain, diarrhea, blood and protein loss and rectal prolapse.
And this isn’t a small deal or anything — over a billion (yes, that is a b) people are infected with these parasites around the world. While cases are mostly concentrated in poorer countries, a recent analysis in Current Tropical Medicine Reports indicates that cases in the United States are likely more widespread than presumed, especially in rural areas.
The good news is that just wearing shoes blocks the parasites from entering your feet pretty effectively. But, according to a 2017 article in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine Hygiene “shoe-wearing is uncommon in many areas where STHs are prevalent, in part because local populations are unaware of the health benefits of wearing shoes.” So are you likely to get STHs walking around the 5Cs? Probably not. You’re more likely to get a fungal infection, which isn’t much fun either. But let’s remember what every single last barefoot activist wants, for everyone to stop wearing shoes … forever.
And this is the much larger problem with the barefoot movement. Simply put, many people live in environments where it just isn’t particularly safe to go without shoes. Many city streets are filled with trash, broken glass, syringes and all sorts of things that you really shouldn’t be stepping on. Going barefoot on the manicured lawns of your $80,000 a year private college is probably safer, but for most people, it’s not going to work like that.
And I haven’t even touched on probably the most significant reason why more people don’t go barefoot — the social stigma. And yeah, I know that’s kind of the point of the movement — to decrease the stigma around going barefoot. But while that stigma still exists, you can’t really expect people who have a job interview tomorrow to just take their shoes off forever and immerse themselves in the natural world.
I think this sort of activism — insert Gwyneth Paltrow here — embodies a fundamental disconnect between our gated college world and the actual experience of how the vast majority of the planet lives. This is particularly tragic when it comes to movements to be more mindful and increase our connection to the planet. These are the sorts of things that Pitzer and to some extent Scripps and Pomona College, like to explore in all sorts of interesting ways.
And if you’re going to do this exploration, barefoot activists, maybe you should do it in a way that’s more grounded.
Rowan Gray CM ’26 is from Sharon, Massachusetts. He wants you to know that all Oxford commas in this piece were violently deleted by his copy editors.