Occupational Pilates Teacher and Movement Consultant

Flip Flops: The Root of All Evil

Posted by on Apr 25, 2011 | 0 comments

It is time for your annual shoe lecture. Consider it a right of passage of spring that could go away if you would all just freaking listen to me. But since I know you won’t, each year, I’ll mark my calendar for sometime in late April or early May and tell you all the reasons you should burn all the shoes you have…

Let’s begin by admitting that I am a barefoot girl. I love nothing more than being shoeless. I connect with performers who are barefoot on stage. I cannot remember the last time I had a pair of shoes on in my house and if at all appropriate, I’ll be barefoot at your house too.

I know a lot of people don’t wear shoes inside because of the dirt issue. I am in touch with that, but my desire to be shoeless is more about feet, legs and posture.

I guess I began my obsession with shoes (not the Carrie Bradshaw kind of obsession) just after I learned to teach Pilates. I became fascinated with watching bodies. Every new instructor goes through this phase – some of us never grow out of it. Eight years later, I’m still obsessed.

I love sitting in airports and the like and just staring at bodies – the way people stand, move and function is mesmerizing. And so much of this has to do with shoes. We don’t realize how our choice of footwear impacts every aspect of our body.

I thought about trying to get you to imagine what I see as I watch strangers pass, but frankly, you’ll get bored and as I sit on an overcrowded flight, next to a guy who takes up much more space than I (Give me some elbow space!), I’m too irritable to be engaging enough to hold your attention.

So here it is, plain and simple. Shoes without backs are the root of all evil. Man, woman, child – I don’t care who you are, you have no business wearing a backless shoe. Pool, gym, spa – you have no reason to wear a flip-flop, a Birkenstock w/out a back, or a mule (boys, ask some woman in your life what a mule is). Each of these heinous pieces of footwear will impact your body negatively. And here is the simple reason why…

When you do not have a back on your shoes, you have to hold them on your feet with your toes. And no, it doesn’t matter how tight they are or how much support is in the sole, they are all the same. You cannot walk and keep a shoe without a back on your damn foot without gripping with your toes. And guess what happens when you grip with your toes? Yes! You pitch forward on your foot and put all your weight on your toes. This causes you to adjust your spine accordingly – most “toe standers” lock their knees out, stick their butts out slightly, hyper-extend their lower backs, lift their front rib cage, and jut their heads back. Sounds pretty – looks even prettier! (This is sarcasm in case you missed it.)

Now take that same activity – gripping with your toes, and try to walk. Seriously, kick your shoes off (even your stupid flip flops – yeah – I know you have them on) and curl your toes under – try to keep them curled that way and walk. That is what you look like in your backless wonders. You cannot roll through your entire foot, so you walk with a kind of foot slap (that I find excruciating to watch) and you completely misuse your beautiful body from the soul of your foot to the top of your head.

Shin splints, low back pain, foot cramps, toe cramps, plantar fasciitis, weak bellies and backs, big butts, tight hamstrings, weak hamstrings, neck pain, and global warming; I blame them all on shoes without back (and high heels).

You have now decided I’m insane (no argument there), or drunk (should be drinking on this flight but I’m not) or wrong (never wrong). So I guess I’ll have to tell you what to look for to prove my point.

Go stand in front of a mirror. Actually, instead of facing the mirror, put yourself in profile. Shoes off please, naked is best (remember I think we should all dance naked for at least two minutes every day – so try this after you finish). Now try to stand with your feet pretty close together and allow yourself to just dig into the floor with your toes. Look at the profile of your body in the mirror. Was I right? Are your knees locked? Is your butt sticking out a little? Is there a huge curve in your low back? Are you pushing your tummy forward and sticking it out? Is your chest lifted instead of even front to back (I call this sticking your boobs up)? I know I’m always right so I know your answer to all of these questions is yes.

Now, for kicks, try the opposite stance. Put all your weight on your heels and stand with your feet pretty far apart just to really make my point (this is such a guy stance by the way). Look at your body again. You may still be hyper-extending your knees, you may not. But you are curling your pelvis forward (when guys do this, I tell them to stop pointing their stuff at me). You are now rounding your low back so the natural curve is reversed. You are now slumping your tummy (which also makes it look bigger). Your chest is caved a bit and you are rolling your shoulders and upper back forward, giving you a bit of what is called the Dowager’s Hump. (Don’t get nervous about the fact that I’m always right, just accept it and move on.)

So now that you’ve seen your (still naked?) body in the worst possible way, we are going to fix it all.

Think of your feet as having three foot centers. You have one through your heel (the entire heel, instep and spine of your foot), you have another under the ball of your foot near the instep (big toe side) and another under the top of your foot on the spine side (under your little toe and its neighbor). Stand with our feet in parallel, no more than two inches apart. Put your weight on all three foot centers equally (feel like you are using your entire heel and the entire ball of your foot – lift your toes for a second to make sure they are relaxed and not doing the flip flop grip). This may take you a minute, play around and find that entire foot. Check your knees and if they are still locked out, without turning your foot in or out, feel like you are twisting the back of your calves toward one another to the inside. Your knees should soften and “pop” automatically when you do this. If you do hyper-extend your knees, this motion will help you feel your heels and place weight on them.

Now, look at your body again. Did the tilt of your pelvis change? I would guess it is much easier to have the front and back of your pelvis lined up evenly, not tipped forward or backwards. I would guess the shape of your stomach just changed and it looks smaller (flatter). I would guess you feel a bit like you might fall over, but get over it, you’re standing in your bathroom or bedroom, not at the edge of a cliff! I would like to guess that your ribcage, upper back and shoulders and head have adjusted, but without me (or a member of my fabulous family of Pilates teachers) there to manually manipulate you a little more, those areas may still be a little off.  Take one breath in and let all your air out through your mouth with the most put-upon sigh ever, trying to force yourself to breath through your diaphragm, not just your upper chest. See how your ribs just dropped bit? Do it again and look side-ways into the mirror. Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

Well guess what? If you go barefoot or wear shoes with backs, you can look that good every day, and as an added bonus, you’ll be using your body correctly, working your core with every step, using your entire leg instead of just your quads or hamstrings and you’ll walk with much more grace.

Look, I know everyone loves a flip flop. I know that mules are cute and sexy. I know that old habits are hard to break, but I also know that the damage you do daily with every pair of backless shoes you wear is taking a toll on your gorgeous body. And if you still don’t believe me, just go sit at a mall, an airport, or even better, an amusement park or county fair and watch some bodies. Once you see the difference between how someone moves and looks with real shoes on versus the backless monsters, I will bet you’ll be a believer.

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