Since my last posting, I’ve had the opportunity to really experience the barefooter’s lifestyle. I’m not fortunate enough to have a career that allows me to go barefoot on the job–and I suspect that the majority of barefooters fall into the same category. Aside from the lifeguards at the beaches or public pools, I have yet to see an employee barefoot. Although it’s perfectly legal to go barefoot in public, most employers in the United States have some sort of dress code that require their personnel to wear shoes.
But this post isn’t about bare feet on the job. It’s about my experience of having two weeks of freedom from footwear. I recently took two weeks of vacation away from my job and it was my first opportunity to truly go barefoot for a period longer than the weekend. Instead of travelling to distant places, I remained local where I already go barefoot. Still, not having to put on clunky boots for two weeks was a pretty awesome experience!
It was also during my vacation where I experienced my first brush with barefoot discrimination. My wife and I made a trip to the mall one day, and I decided it was time to test the waters and leave my primal footwear in the car. I’ve been barefoot in several businesses, without any confrontation, but I’ve always been hesitant to try it at the mall. The presence of ‘mall cops’ is obvious and they tend to patrol their territory in pairs.
I never actually encountered any of them, this time around, but I did get a lecture the moment I stepped foot inside. Within my first few steps inside the entrance, an elderly woman, sitting on a bench a few yards away, felt the urge to warn me about going barefoot. Understand, this woman wasn’t necessarily within the area of my personal space–she had to raise her voice to make sure she was heard. She wasn’t about to be ignored either! Her attempts to catch my attention got louder and louder. “Sir! They may not want you in here with no shoes on!”
I simply turned to face her direction, smiled and said, “thanks for the warning.” I was about to continue forward but a mall maintenance worker overheard the woman’s shouting and decided to join in the conversation. “She’s right. If they catch you, they will escort you out of here.”
To make matters worse, my wife decided to side with them! “Love! Where are your shoes?!” My wife is still adjusting to my barefoot lifestyle but she’s been present with me every time I’ve ventured out barefoot. Perhaps it was out of her embarrassment that I got caught, but it was a bit painful that my wife was willing to treat me as though I had committed a crime.
With three against one, I lost my courage, turned around and went back out to my car to retrieve my Skele-toes. We did go back inside and my wife immediately forgot the incident but I was sulking the entire time I was there.
It wasn’t so much that I was sulking–I was actually in touch with a few different emotions all at once. I was pouting, like a child, because I had to wear shoes. A cool, shiny granite tiled floor covers the entire mall and my soles were dying to touch it! I was angry because a stranger felt the need to call attention to my bare feet to anyone within an ear shot. I was offended because I truly believed I was being discriminated against. I felt betrayed because my own wife was willing to feign shock at my bare feet because a stranger finally confronted me! All of this left me feeling vulnerable. The confidence I had stored up inside, drained away quickly and I was left with the question of whether or not I’d have the courage to go barefoot in public ever again.
To make a long story shorter: the answer is yes! Once my nerves had finally settled, I came to several conclusions. After three months of going barefoot in the grocery store, retail establishments, and various restaurants, ONE minor confrontation actually relates to a tiny percentage of rejection. Despite the majority of popular belief, barefooting is not illegal. Even though the experience was difficult to face at the time, I need to remember that I’m not the first person to go through it. Dozens of barefooters have experienced similar situations in the past and I need to remember that I’m not alone.
I’m still barefooting wherever I can. Although I doubt I’ll ever make it past mall security, I did take it upon myself to write a letter to mall managment in an attempt to plead my case.