Barefoot Michael Buttgen is the Founder & President of the Primalfoot Alliance, a pro-barefoot organization that recently celebrated it’s 1-year anniversary!
Barefoot Running: How long have you been living the barefoot lifestyle?
Barefoot Michael: I have been a barefooter since the spring of 2005. I first started out driving barefoot in the summers, but then found I liked doing more and more things without shoes. By early 2009, I was a full-time barefooter.
BR: What is your favorite part about being barefoot?
BM: I thoroughly enjoy the comfort of letting my feet be free. It really bothers me when wearing shoes knowing that my feet are caught inside footwear. I am always reminded that they are hot and sweaty. Even wearing sandals is less comfortable than barefoot because I don’t have a direct connection to the ground.
BR: What are some challenges you have experienced along the way?
BM: The main challenges in going barefoot have come from other people. I have seen a lot of discrimination just because I want to let my feet live free of shoes. There are so many people who believe that feet are inherently disgusting, sweaty, and fragile. For many business managers, bare feet are simply a liability and they are convinced that I am going to hurt myself if I do not wear something. Because of that, I have often been asked to put on shoes or leave.
A much lesser challenge has been breaking through my own perceptions of what feet are capable of doing. I will admit that there have been times I have said to myself, “I’m not sure that’s okay to do barefoot.” Time after time I find out I was wrong.
BF: How have you handled these challenges?
BM: It is important that people be well educated about the benefits of going barefoot while also addressing their concerns. When it comes to discrimination against bare feet, I have always tried to be courteous—but also straightforward and confident. Whenever questioned by management, I have clearly explained why going barefoot is not a risk worth being concerned about. Most of the time this still does not work, but hopefully they will walk away from the situation and reconsider their thoughts on the matter.
I have handled the challenge of my own perceived limitations by pushing myself to try new things and trusting my body to be resilient. I have done things barefoot I never would have thought possible. As time goes on I will do even more. Believing you can do something is often the main factor in actually doing it.
BF: You are the founder and President of the Primalfoot Alliance. What is the organization’s mission?
BM: The Primalfoot Alliance was founded to create unity behind the cause of advocating against discrimination. I saw that when barefooters make individual pleas for going barefoot, those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. There is strength in numbers, and that is what we hope to provide. We want to be able to say to these businesses, “Look, there are lots of people who are okay with this, they all believe that what you are doing is wrong and this is why.”
BR: Where do you recommend someone who is interested in the barefoot lifestyle start?
BM: Start slow. It is crucially important for people who have spent most of their lives in shoes to remember that it will take some time to take their feet back. Feet are magnificent at healing themselves, but as the old saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” I always tell people to start with one step more than they are used to. I know people who never go barefoot inside their own home except to shower and sleep…maybe! To them, I say to take off their socks and shoes, sit on the couch and just feel the floor.
Ball up their toes a few times and then wiggle them around. Do that for a few minutes. This begins working on reclaiming flexibility and sensation. Eventually they can actually get up and start walking barefoot around their house. This begins to reclaim foot strength. If someone is comfortable with all that, they can move outside. Stand barefoot on the sidewalk, deck or grass and feel it with their soles.
The overall point is to slowly and systematically introduce the feet to new things and help feet remember how to be feet.