Going barefoot is the practice of walking without shoes or socks. This practice is a sensory experience but is uncommon in industralized countries and affluent societies where shoes are generally affordable.
On natural soil, it is possible to take off the shoes and to hike barefoot. In the United States as well as in European countries some barefoot hiking groups have been founded -- they announce shoeless excursions on the Internet. This kind of harmless outdoor adventure finds increasing interest and is also suited for school classes and sport clubs. In German-speaking countries, special barefoot parks have been established to offer ideal conditions for going barefoot. There is one main book on the topic: "The Barefoot Hiker" by Richard Frazine . Here is an article which captures the pleasure that many find in this activity.
Most martial arts are exercised barefoot, similarly many gymnastics and dancing disciplines. Barefoot beach volleyball and beach soccer have become the favourites of many young people.
A significant fraction of population even in developed countries enjoys going barefoot and few of them are resisting to the taboo to do this in the public. They defend their barefoot lifestyle as completely harmless to other people and expect tolerance of their "life on free feet".
Religious and cultural aspects
Sign of godliness
Many religions consider removing shoes as appropriate when approaching holy places. In Exodus, Moses had to take off his shoes before approaching the burning bush. Muslims must be unshod for praying or to attend services in a mosque. Some Christian churches practice barefoot pilgrimage traditions. In the Hindu religion, the preference to go barefoot is due to the worship of holy animals and the ban on wearing leather products.
Symbol of peace
In ancient times, shoes predominantly served as military equipment. Therefore Jesaia announced that all boots will be burned when the Redeemer will be born. Jesus advised his disciples to go out for preaching the Kingdom of God without taking along shoes -- and Jesus is shown barefoot on most paintings to demonstrate his peaceful mission. Mahatma Gandhi, famous for his non-violent campaigns for human rights, is commemorated by a barefoot course around his monument. Even the Pope John Paul II paid him this honour.
Barefoot on stage
In dancing, theater and opera perfomances, bare feet are frequently used as a means of very directly expressing emotions, fears or vulnerability, but also a healthy down-to-earth attitude. Many singers and artists like to appear barefoot to create a familiar atmosphere for their performance.
There are many myths and popular misconceptions regarding regulations against bare feet.
In the United States, widespread belief in the existence of laws against driving barefoot has been debunked as an urban legend.
In Germany, traffic laws definitely do not forbid driving barefoot. For thorough study see this page on German traffic laws (in German language).
In Belgium, the driving code does not explicitly ban barefoot driving, but article 8.3 requires drivers to be "constantly able to perform any maneuver". According to the federal police, this implicitely bans barefoot driving.
In Hong Kong, laws require drivers to be driving with appropriate footwear. Driving barefoot, or with sandals, is not allowed.
There may be regional risks like poisonous animals, or intestinal parasites such as hookworm that may cause infections after walking on soil containing hookworm larva.
In European countries, many physicians stick to natural healing traditions and recommend going barefoot as a measure against flat feet, varicose veins, dorsal pain and to improve resistance against cold and similar infections. This benefit is believed to counterbalance potential risks. In Far East, reflexology paths have been established to promote public healthcare. Many evidence for the health benefits of going barefoot has been collected on the page Parents for Barefoot Children.
- Model Travis Fimmel not only does most of his modeling in bare feet, but says he goes barefoot almost exclusively.
- Singer Nick Carter is an admitted barefooter off-stage.
- Singer Henry Rollins often performs barefoot on stage.
B.F., Tongs au volant : gare ! in La Dernière Heure, August 6th, 2003