Lately I seem to be suddenly getting a steady flood-like dam-break of friend requests on Facebook from fellow barefooters and fetishists (by the way… there is NOTHING wrong with the word “fetish,” nor with being a “fetishist!”), and I got to reading a couple of blog testimonials by other barefoot women and realized that I haven’t really dug too deep into the “why” issue beyond a brief post early on, so in greater depth… here goes.
For me the question “Why did I start living barefoot?” is closely tied to “Why am I so committed to being barefoot?” It would be hard to answer one question without talking about the other, nor the even more interesting questions of how and why I made the decision to live barefoot, not to mention what it was like to finally commit to that decision, and of course the real question, “What is it about being barefoot that has its claws in me so deeply?”
Where did this whole barefoot thing start?
At conception. I was into bare feet, other barefoot people and my own barefooting for as long as I can remember. It was easy as a child for me to just run around barefoot, but when my teen years and adult years came headlong at me (well before I was ready for them), the question of “to be or not to be barefoot” became complicated by social norms, peer pressure, and even familial pressures. I went barefoot whenever I could, almost obsessively, but there was always a heavy pressure to conform my feet to deforming shoes. As much pressure as there was to conform, as neurotic and self denying as it made me… I was born to be barefoot; hardwired to be barefoot–uh… among other things.
What’s the appeal of being barefoot, let alone the appeal of living as a hardcore barefooter?
I cannot tell a lie, it’s the sensuality, the physical sensation, the pure pleasure of it, combined with not only a sense of liberation and freedom, but I have also recently embraced the nonconforming aspect of it with great pride… after all, I no longer have any desire to conform to this culture of endless wars, angry political obsessions and propaganda, sports, sports and more sports, lousy music and lousier TV, and the all around bad (really bad) ideas of our times. I guess at heart I remain a child of the sixties (though I am too young to have really enjoyed the best of the sixties or even the seventies–bummer).Let’s talk about the simple physical sensation for a second… when I was a kid there was nothing more exhilarating than climbing a tree barefoot and dangling my bare feet over the dizzying drop! Why, I don’ know, but that sensation was perhaps the closest thing to the exhilaration of sex that I, a mere child, had felt up that that point, yet it was far breathier and far more pure and uncomplicated. It’s a high I still crave. Later, in my teens, that same thrill reappeared in a different form when I began to dig going barefoot as a clandestine act of rebellion. Somehow my parents’ stern demands that I stop running around barefoot just made the pleasure run deeper and ring out ever more loudly and ever more true. It was never enough for me to carry shoes or kick them off to the side, I preferred sneaking out of the house without them or ditching them under a shrub somewhere so I could run off unshod and unfettered. I needed the sensation to remain pure, unpolluted by the presence or even threat of shoes. This barefoot-centric consciousness was with me from my earliest memories.
There are a couple other important issues in the “why does this appeal to me” category, and one is mindfulness. I have a busy mind, and being barefoot cuts through the crap and offers me clarity, a way of being mindful of the moment. It is difficult to be out and about barefoot with a head full of worries or intrusive thoughts. Being barefoot demands attentiveness, to each and every step. Of course there is also the fact that I simply do not understand shoes. I can’t imagine going about my life day to day with shoes on anymore than I can imagine going about my life with earplugs in or a blindfold on. I can’t imagine smothering that much sensation from my life, that much bliss and sensuality. Perhaps at heart I am simply a hedonist.
Yet knowing all this to be true about myself and about the joys of being barefoot, I was still walking the line, I was still suffering under the pressure to conform when “appropriate” (by the way, there is no appropriate time or place to wear shoes if a person doesn’t want to; however, what is grossly inappropriate is that people are such shoe Nazis, when, simply put, it’s none of their business what anyone does or does not have on their feet, this is set in stone, it is NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS AT ALL IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM… and this includes the bullshit “liability” argument). As I graduated college (I used to attend my classes barefoot, not even bothering to take shoes in my commute to campus) and entered the adult world (a hellish construct), I began to wonder if I could really keep this barefoot thing up once I was 25 or 30 and all growed up, and I started to feel the pressure to hide my shame and shod myself far more urgently than before. For years I struggled against my true nature. And was it ever a struggle. Then everything changed.
Why was I finally able to commit to living barefoot?
I have frequently credited being diagnosed with cancer in Korea and how nearly drowning 6 months later in Thailand changed my life forever in many deep and lasting ways, but I have rarely delved too deeply into those waters, so I’m going to finally do so. To tell the truth, prior to the cancer I was heading in a very bad direction anyhow, lots of drinking, deep depression, and far too many late nights in the clubs of Korea (where I lived and worked for 2 years), and I was not a happy girl back then, not in the least.
I will never forget what it felt like to be officially diagnosed with cancer, it was, simply put, the thing I most feared and dreaded… and ironically, the thing I most needed to get me turned around and headed down the path to individuation. After the diagnosis I sat in the hallway of the busy hospital in Seoul Korea and could not comprehend, let alone truly understand, what it meant to have cancer. I was numb, but aware that my life was about to become an ordeal of surgery, radiation treatments and nausea… and worse if the cancer had been aggressive and had already started to spread. I remember as I sat in that hallway that it seemed the lights had dimmed all around me, and though I was surrounded by the busy hubbub of one of Koreas busiest hospitals, I felt as if I were in an isolation chamber and filled with numbing drugs, a muggy hot night filling every hollow in my skull–rather like feet feel in shoes, as I think about it. I just sat there and sat there not knowing what to do next, not even knowing how to sit or how to move, or even how or what to feel. The best word for it would be… I was stunned. I mean, what’s a person to do after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer… go out to eat?
I survived the cancer ordeal, having fortunately had a form of cancer that is relatively easy to cure. But I still had to face 5 years of uncertainty–was it going to show up again, climbing up my guts? Shortly thereafter, 6 months later, give or take, I was in Thailand SCUBA diving. I hadn’t trusted the gear they had given me, but I had been told by all my dive instructors that I was too uptight about diving, so I did what they told me to and shrugged my concerns off–NEVER do that. When you are diving, it is your life on the line, follow your gut. Diving in Thailand is breathtaking, and this particular outing was the most spectacular dive I had ever enjoyed, unfortunately, as I had feared, I was slowly leaking air, and so was the assistant dive instructor, so I was asked to do an emergency assent with him. Unfortunately when we got to the surface I could not get my leaky vest to inflate, so I couldn’t float well at all, and the water had turned choppy, so I was taking in mouthfuls of water, and to make matters worse, there was no boat in sight! I was stranded in the middle of the sea with faulty leaking gear, choppy waves, and no rescue in sight. Far more drained from the cancer than I had realized, I became fatigued and was struggling to keep my head above water… and the boat was still nowhere to be seen. After a while I panicked, having taken in too many mouthfuls of water, having struggled too long and too hard, and I realized that the cancer hadn’t taken me (not yet) but this could very well be the end. I had honestly realized that it was very possible that I was going to die right then and there, fighting, panicking and frantic. I have never been more terrified. Fortunately, we were eventually spotted by the boat and rescued. I sat in that boat and was again… stunned.What kind of woman chooses to live barefoot? How could anyone come to that conclusion?
Before I go on, I think that all you have just read about my life and travels so far also helps explain why I go barefoot… I am adventurous and willing to take leaps of faith, and I crave experiences, sensation, and a good rush (if it’s the right kind of rush), otherwise I would not have been living, working and partying in Korea or diving in Thailand. I crave adventure, and as much as part of me has longed for security and financial stability, that part of me could never quiet my need for personal expression, extremes, and adventures. I am a restless person. But beyond all that, facing my own mortality twice in 6 months started the ball rolling. As I recovered from both experiences I was terribly confused and not sure what to do next, and I was afeard for my life. Whatever feelings of immortality I had as a youth, or had inherited from my careless father, were now gone. I knew now, unlike most of my friends who had never faced death, let alone twice in 6 months, that I could be gone from this earth at any moment. It’s a difficult thing to live with. That’s something many of us think we understand, but trust me, until we’ve faced our own mortality, or lost a loved one too young and too soon, we don’t. Before turning my life around, things kept getting worse, including my drinking. I worked as an illegal immigrant in Chile for a while, did carnie work for a few days, and was going through a divorce and living in a foreclosing house and facing bankruptcy. It seemed the misery that had erupted into my life with cancer just kept coming until I realized something very important.
“We can do what we want,
We can live as we choose.
You see there’s no guarantee,
We got nothing to lose.”
When did I get the courage to live barefoot?
There’s something about the combination of facing your own mortality twice in one year and having nothing whatsoever to lose that can straighten a person out. It took a while to work it all out, but I eventually realized that there were a number of things I needed to do, a number of ENORMOUS changes that I had to make before cancer, a diving accident, or whatever, took me out. What I needed to do was simply this… live my life. That sounds rather flat, so let me try and say that again, what I needed to do was LIVE MY LIFE! This, of course, means figuring out once and for all who and what I am, who and what I want to be, how I want to live, and how determined I am to see it through. As it turns out, I was very determined.
I realized that every single thing I had done or denied myself in an effort to conform, fit in, and succeed within the stifling rules and norms of our perverse culture had come to nothing. I had literally nothing at all to show for years, decades of self denial… bupkis! Sad as this sounds, as easy as it would be to turn this into bitter cynicism, there is a higher road to take, and that is the path of self realization and liberation, or even the Jungian concept of individuation.
What did that mean? It meant that if I had nothing to lose, if I might die without ever getting or being what I truly wanted and needed, and if all my attempts to conform to cultural demands had come to nothing, then the only thing left to do was turn my back, walk away, and towards the light, and the light was the me I had wandered so far from, , never discovered, lost or denied. I had become my own prodigal daughter, and looking back on it now, that biblical story has far more resonance when seen metaphorically. A prodigal son or daughter is not merely one who wanders from their family, but one who wanders too far from themselves and their center–the symbolism and metaphor are both flexible and far deeper than the silliness lost to fundamentalist translations. One part of the complexly layered and inevitable homecoming for me was that I was born to be barefoot, and I will not conform or submit ever again. I will never again wander so far from home, from self, and being barefoot is one important part of that larger sense of self.
I gradually made the decision after January 2012 that I was going to live my life barefoot. It’s been well over 2 years now. To tell the truth, I had been adamantly barefoot since 2010 anyhow, but this complete liberation and devotion to “hardcore barefooting” really started that January. The funny thing was, looking back, it wasn’t a clear decision made on a specific day, that just happened to be the first day I began my conscious and uncompromising barefoot lifestyle. It was a few months later that I realized I was done accepting any pressure to imprison my feet, and I was not going back. In fact I had found one last pair of dusty unworn shoes and ceremonially burned them. And it felt great! My toes actually tingled!
For a while it was invigorating to swing my feet out of bed in the morning and realize I was forever barefoot, no choice, no decision to make… I and my feet were joyously and wholly free! There was another feeling mixed in when I finally decided to be true to myself, to individuate, and that was that I had made this decision to live barefoot in Ohio right smack dab in the middle of winter. Of course, as I said, I had been barefoot in a very hardcore way since 2010, winters and all, but now I was committed and no longer had to even feel any pressure whatsoever to submit or conform. I remember the most difficult part being not so much the ice and snow, and not even the salt (the damn salt!), but the social complications that would come about thanks to my being barefoot in mid-winter. As you can imagine, I had to put up with a lot of funny looks and I had to face a number of challenges. Sometimes going out for groceries was quite an ordeal, as my bare feet felt so utterly naked around all those leftover Christmas decorations! It was an intense sensation, and not entirely enjoyable in public, but at times I rather miss that intensity. There were days when I would look out over the frigid snow and hard packed frozen slush from my front door, and struggle to work up the courage to go to the grocery store or post office. Secretly, privately, apart from the social pressures and judgments, on the most personal level, I thoroughly enjoyed sinking my feet into the snow, and I thrilled to watching my toes turn pink in the snow… and the numbness I experienced I found to be utterly delicious! But how was I going to make a living? A friend of mine hired me to work in his ghetto apartments as a cleaning girl… and by cleaning girl… I mean the hardwork of cleaning up after hoarders and some pretty greasy people. As a barefoot employee I felt the need to prove myself, and I can distinctly remember one winter day when it was about 12 degrees and I had to help him move everything out of one apartment into his van. It was positively frigid! I did fine for a while, but even I eventually had to bail out to cradle my toes and warm up in his van. Fortunately I had made a good case for my ability to work barefoot, so he found my waterloo amusing.
The right to shoes, the right to choose, I choose barefoot!I think the big day, beyond the burning of the shoes, but the biggest day, the one in which my liberation, not merely as a barefoot girl, but as a person, became complete was the day I got in the car with 2 people I barely knew, with no connections, no promise of a job, and nothing more than the money I had scraped together selling off guitars and stuff, to leave Ohio, family and friends, and start my new life in Florida, on my own with no safety net and bare and beautiful feet. It was terrifying and exhilarating to take off broke and barefoot into the great unknown… but then again, I had nothing to lose. That said, it was a thrill to be “running away from home,” so to speak… though as an adult.
Why won’t I just be sensible and keep some shoes around in case of emergencies?
I’ve been living 100% barefoot in Florida alone for over 2 years. Now I live in a beautiful lakefront property, teach at comics at SAW, do whatever illustration work I can pick up, teach kids, perform a little cleaning work, and go about my business as barefoot as I was intended to be. And how does it feel? Terrific! There’s a lesson here, and that is, don’t conform and don’t submit. As my dear friend Joseph Blue Sky says, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” I was bold, and mighty forces came to my aid. I’ve become a bit superstitious about all this now, considering how much better my life is now than it ever has been before, I feel all the more determined to remain true to myself, to remain forever barefoot, after all, what did I get from conforming, submitting and compromising? Bupkis!
To paraphrase the Bhagavad Gita, “It is better to perform one’s own duties imperfectly than to master the duties of another. By fulfilling the obligations one is born with, a person never comes to grief.”
Furthermore, once I started living an honest life, once the prodigal daughter had returned and I started down the right road, I found my spiritual path through Hinduism, but only after I had fought those battles, after I was ready, and at the time when I was most ready to understand that this world and the imposed sense of self that results in being lost in it is all maya, and if it is maya (illusion), then I shall choose my illusion rather than the illusion everyone else accepts… which is no more or less “created” or constructed than the one I travel barefoot through.
Why do I choose to live barefoot? Because I want to, and it brings me contentment. And why, I ask, should I put on shoes for you or anyone? Eh, don’t bother answering the question, ’cause it won’t make a damn bit of difference. I’m Barefoot Justine.
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