Honestly, You’re Better Off Barefoot

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, July 8, 2013 11:04 EDT
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That’s right: Abandon them and never look back.

Back from my travels and still a little wrung out from the nearly-inevitable-these-days delays that get you home in the middle of the night when you were scheduled to be there around the dinner hour. There are many pressing, important issues to blog about, but goddammit, I want to sign off completely on what Dana Stevens wrote at Slate:

We’re talking about grown adults in affluent societies—people presumably in possession of at least one pair of actual shoes—who see fit to navigate the grimy sidewalks of large cities shod only in a loosely flapping, half-inch-thick slip of rubber. Those people—you, if you’re among them—need to face the reality that you are, in essence, going barefoot, and it’s grossing the rest of us out.

But as she goes on to state, the problem with flip-flops goes well beyond the fact that they are gross. They are so bad for your feet, people. So bad. She got bona fide doctors to talk about this, but common fucking sense should be enough to tell you this. You can’t walk five feet in flip-flops without either shuffling alone inefficiently, flopping around painfully, or as one doctor says, “there’s a clawing effect that happens with the toes”, causing your foot to work completely differently than it’s evolved to do. You can’t run in them and you can’t even really pivot without losing a shoe. The chance of falling down is dramatically higher because of it. I had a pair of flip-flops that I literally only used to take the trash out, but when they caused me to fall down the stairs while doing that single chore, I threw them out. As Stevens notes, even a pair of Tevas is better, because while also ugly, at least it’s strapped onto your feet and moves with them.

What I don’t understand, therefore, is how on earth flip-flops became ubiquitous. You’d think the foot pain in walking them would alone cause people to give up on them. It’s not like high heels, where there’s at least a cost-benefit analysis going on, however dubious, between feeling sexy and feeling like your feet aren’t going to detach from your body and quit you if you don’t stop torturing them. Flip-flops are ugly, however, which makes it a much harder phenomenon to understand.

All I can think is that it probably started because of our car-centric culture. Flip-flops got a reputation of being “comfortable” because you don’t have to bend over to put them on, and you can ignore how weird it makes your gait as you shuffle to your car to a building where you’ll be sitting down and back again. This undeserved reputation for comfort then caused people to ignore the stabbing pains and fallen arches that they get when actually walking a few blocks in flip-flops. The human mind’s ability to ignore the actual evidence at hand in favor of what we believe to be true never fails to astonish. If we believe the flip-flop is “comfortable”, we will stick by that, no matter what kind of overwhelming scientific and direct experience evidence tells us that it’s hurting our feet. In fact, I fully expect commenters to show up to whine that the evidence at hand must be dismissed in favor of their long-standing belief that flip-flops are comfortable because we say they are. But they really, truly just aren’t. I suspect the reason we see so many people kick off their flip-flops on the subway and even rub their feet is their feet really hurt. But you know what? I bet, because of their false beliefs about the “comfort” of flip-flops, they are blaming anything but their poor choices in footwear.

Make no mistake. This may seem like a light-hearted post, but I have no doubt that the anti-flip-flop sentiment will probably generate more controversy than, say, late term abortion.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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