You’ve heard the stories. You don’t know what to expect. As you enter the quad of State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry for the first time, it seems like a normal college campus. Students are sitting on the grass, socializing in small groups, and some stroll while others hurry to class. You begin to think maybe ESF students don’t deserve their eccentric reputation. That is when you look down and realize: they’re not wearing shoes.
Although the high concentration of barefooters at SUNY-ESF is relatively unusual, the trend is a national one. An ABC news story, released in March 2011, relates the rise of barefoot living with the increased appeal of a natural lifestyle. Responsible for this idea is Michael Buttgen, founder and president of Primal Foot Alliance, an online network of barefooters. He believes going barefoot is the “next logical step” in our society’s goal of attaining a more natural state. He equates the necessity of shoes to that of tools: useful for specific purposes, but not an everyday necessity.
Christine Smith would agree. A SUNY-ESF junior majoring in environmental resource engineering, Smith spends most of her life barefoot.
“I go barefoot everywhere everyday unless it’s too cold or I have been yelled at to put shoes on,” she said.
A common theme among barefooters is the heightened sense of connectedness to what they are walking on. “I like to feel the earth and the soft grass. Shoes are just so constricting,” Smith said.
Even experts agree losing the shoes is your next step to a healthier lifestyle. The ABC news story features Daniel Howell, professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va., and author of The Barefoot Book. A strong proponent of the barefoot revolution, Howell believes shoes are unnatural and can lead to such ailments as arthritis, bunions, corns, and blisters. “Getting out of shoes is the best thing we can do,” he said.
Dennis Frisch, however, wouldn’t agree. A Boca Raton, Fla. podiatrist and member of American Podiatric Medical Association, Frisch advocates against going barefoot outside. He believes the risks, such as stepping on an unwanted object that could cause a serious medical issue, outweigh the benefits.
Not all ESF students are fond of the trend either. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, thinks the trend is dirty and unsanitary.
“I’m not against it if you’re walking in the grass, but if you’re walking on sidewalks or roads, or especially in bathrooms, that’s just nasty,” she said.
She doesn’t enjoy looking at people’s “gross, dirty feet” every day, especially when she feels they are tracking dirt in the classrooms and potentially blood from cuts on their feet. However, she doesn’t think measures should be taken to prohibit being barefoot in the classroom.
“People can do what they want, I just think it’s gross.”
Although barefoot living is gaining popularity nationwide, it arguably has still not found its way into the social norm. In her time barefoot, Smith has encountered constant staring, been shouted at by passing cars, and was once even offered shoes by a random passerby. She feels more comfortable on ESF campus, the place where she began her barefoot lifestyle.
“It’s totally different at ESF compared to around Syracuse or anywhere else really. Here it’s mostly positive and people like the idea,” Smith said.
Now let’s backtrack. You’ve just realized many of the ESF students are shoeless. You’ve overcome your initial shock and now your own feet are feeling a little stuffy inside your shoes. Before you know what you are doing, you’re reaching down and undoing your laces, pulling off shoes and socks in one swift motion until you are left standing entirely barefoot. Much better.