Today I want to talk about a very natural activity that some people do in public but that many others find objectionable. For whatever reason, something so natural has become taboo. What once was practiced regularly without issue now leaves those who do it feeling very self-conscious. Many don't even try -- even though they'd like to -- because they don't want to embarrass themselves or make anyone around them uncomfortable. There's no laws against it, but that doesn't matter. The stigma is there and it has permeated throughout society.
While the above statement describes barefooting to a 'T,' it also applies to something else: Breastfeeding.
Bear with me, here.
Not only am I the father of three wonderful children, but I also work in a children's hospital. Through these experiences I've learned a great deal about what's best for children. Experts throughout the world agree that breastfeeding is best. Studies have shown numerous health benefits for babies who are breastfed versus taking formula. What's more, the longer a baby breastfeeds, the more health benefits they'll see down the road. It's really a no-brainer. If a mother is able to breastfeed, she should for so many reasons. Our kids were all breastfed exclusively for at least the first six months of their lives.
While it's a bit of a stretch to compare the two, you could also make an argument that going barefoot has numerous benefits, too. The more you do it, the stronger and more flexible your feet will be. Avoiding shoes also helps prevent the growth of fungal infections on the foot and keeps away smelly feet due to sweating. Your toes also feel better to live free and without restriction from shoes. Going barefoot really is so good.
Unfortunately, however, breastfeeding and going barefoot in public are both thought of by many people as this weird, inappropriate thing. While a woman may want to breastfeed her baby in public, she may resort to pumping ahead of time and feeding her child with a bottle in order to avoid people's mean or uncomfortable glances. While someone may want to go barefoot while they're shopping, they may just resort to wearing flip flops to avoid confrontation or simply strange looks.
Let's be clear about a few things concerning breastfeeding and going barefoot:
Both are natural.
We were born for these things to take place. As this topic heading states, both breastfeeding and going barefoot are perfectly natural things that our bodies have been designed to do. Denying ourselves the privileges and rights to do both would be a travesty.
Both are perfectly legal in public.
One thing that I find interesting are the laws related to these. In all but three states of the U.S., laws protect a woman's right to breastfeed her baby in public -- even if it makes others uncomfortable. No state in the union addresses going barefoot in public, for or against the issue. It would, then, be reasonable to assume that that right is reserved for the people.
Both have numerous health benefits.
Even though this has been proven for breastfeeding by numerous scientific studies, here's a staggering statistic: Only 43% of babies are still being breastfed at six months of age (Doctors recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of life). What's more, studies have also shown that breastfeeding can help protect nursing mothers from developing breast cancer later. Although the complications of returning to work are likely a big part of the decision to stop feeding in that way, I have to wonder if women just give up partially because they're too embarrassed to publicly breastfeed. If that's the case, how sad. Going barefoot, though hardly scientifically researched, improves sensory awareness, flexibility and strength in the feet and usually has a positive overall impact on a person's health and psyche. Getting out of shoes with a raised heel has been shown to improve people's posture. I have already shot down on this blog the concerns about safety risks while barefoot. They just aren't legitimate in most situations -- including shopping and dining in public.
Both are often taboo in society.
No matter how natural, legal or even healthy going barefoot or breastfeeding babies are, this is the sticking point for both of these lifestyle choices. They have become areas of contention. For whatever reason, societal norms on both of these issues have drifted away from centuries of natural precedent to twisted ideals of what's "appropriate." No matter what benefits breastfeeding can have for babies and mothers or what going barefoot can do for our health, we have begun to reject these practices because it shows skin or we have misguided concerns about safety risks. I think it's unbelievably sad that societal pressures have led to this.
Don't think breastfeeding in public is taboo? I was fascinated by a story on ABC's TV news magazine "What Would You Do?" A scenario was acted out where a store manager (an actor) was discriminating against a breastfeeding mother (an actress with doll). How would the store patrons react? From the video below, you can see that many came out in support of the mother. Some, however, sided with the manager. Take a look:
We, as a society, need to stand up for and be okay with what's right. We need to stop allowing discrimination against activities which are perfectly natural and healthy. There's nothing inappropriate about a mother breastfeeding her baby in public, even if some skin or -- God forbid -- a nipple is briefly exposed. Likewise, we were born barefoot and feet are exposed all the time when people wear sandals. Who cares if someone just doesn't want material between their soles and the ground? In both breastfeeding and going barefoot, let people make the decision that is most natural and right for them without the pressure of prudish, paranoid or uncomfortable onlookers.
I started The Primalfoot Alliance as a way to begin the process of reversing the steady flow of discrimination against those who want to free their feet in public. Maybe, at least, we can tackle one of these issues while others address the other. Both need attention.
What are your thoughts on this? Am I off base in comparing breastfeeding and going barefoot? What will it take to change society's perceptions of breastfeeding or going barefoot in public? If you are a mother, have you breastfed in public? How were you perceived and how did you feel? If you're a barefooter who has been discriminated against in public, how did that feel? Please share your comments below. Thanks!