The most frequently asked question I get when I wear my Vibram FiveFingers around town is: “Are those actually comfortable?” Of course, my answer is always some variation on “Yes, they’re very comfortable,” and is often followed up by a longer explanation of the benefits of minimalist footwear if the asker is interested to hear more. Obviously, I’m happy to have people ask me about my shoes, because it’s always great to get to spread some of the minimalist shoe gospel–there’s a reason we talk about minimalist shoes on this blog so often! However, I’ve decided that this FAQ is, without a doubt, the most concerning question that I am asked about my shoes and I see it as indicative of our society’s current (but slowly changing!) approach to footwear. Let me explain.
When I am asked this question, somewhere behind my happiness about educating someone else about minimalist shoes is a little sarcastic voice asking, “What did you expect me to say? ‘No, they’re terrible, but I wear them anyway.’ Why would I do that?” While reflecting on this recently, it suddenly hit me. That’s exactly what some people might expect me to say, because people take that approach to shoes all of the time! Once you’ve been “minimalist” for a while, it can be hard to remember what it was like to buy and walk around in “regular” shoes (gee, I sound like a minimalist snob, sometimes!). Women are told “beauty is pain”, and that saying definitely applies to footwear. Otherwise smart women pay $400 to toddle around in ankle-busting 4-inch heels that practically (or sometimes literally!) deform their feet. Even men cram their feet into dress shoes with tapered, pointy toe boxes in the name of fashion.
Like so many other minimalist shoe wearers, I frequently find myself wondering why our society came to become so accepting of sacrificing the health and comfort of our feet to make a fashion statement. What’s even harder to fathom is that I used to be one of them! Let’s be honest, I’ve had my fair share of pinch-y, blister-causing peep-toes and strappy sandals. The worst offenders were purchased for high school dances, where they were inevitably abandoned by the side of the dance floor so that I could actually enjoy my evening without wincing in pain. Back then, though, this seemed perfectly normal to me, and my feet looked cute in the shoes, so I didn’t care.
Unfortunately, in many cases, prioritizing comfort in a pair of shoes means wearing the ugliest shoes. We’ve all seen those velcro-strapped sneakers our grandparents wear, and, of course there’s the infamous Crocs and Uggs. Heck, I’m sure to many, Vibram FiveFingers fall in the “ugliest shoe” category. Luckily, attitudes about shoe comfort are changing, and the number of extremely comfortable, foot healthy shoes is on the rise. For every person who breaks the ice by asking me about the comfort of my five-toed footwear, I would say more than half of them follow-up with some statement about liking the barefoot idea behind the shoes, but not being able to handle the feeling of fabric between their toes, or their odd appearance. Thankfully, there now exists a multitude of minimalist shoe options in the form of sandals or single toe box options that I can pitch as alternatives! While a few of them are a little on the funny-looking side (e.g., the Soft Star RunAmocs, also known in our apartment as the minimalist bowling shoe), there are many other cool, cute, bright-colored, and yes, even stylish, options out there!
So, even though that sarcastic little voice still pipes up when I get asked my VFF FAQ, I will continue to wear my toe shoes and appreciate being approached about them by perfect strangers. It’s certainly better than the strange looks and whispers I also encounter, and if I can improve the outlook of at least one more person on their footwear, I’ll gladly answer that question until the last little piggy goes “Wee-wee-wee-all-the-way-home!”
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Meagan is a geochemistry research lab manager, runner, Netflix binge-watcher, and Mom to a rescue dog, a bunny, and a human child. She started running in May 2011 and ran her first half marathon in October 2012, followed by her first marathon in October 2013. In July 2018, she joined the triathlon world and completed an Olympic-distance race. After an extended break (pregnancy/maternity leave), she is making a long-overdue return to running and is preparing for a high-elevation half marathon at Crater Lake National Park in August 2020.