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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

But what about eye glasses?

A thought had occurred to me (shocking, I know) that at first seemed like a good argument against running barefoot and for corrective footwear. Eye glasses. I wear them because my eyes are not very good at doing what they are supposed to do. Could it be that people, a LOT of people, need corrective footwear because their feet aren't very good at doing what they are supposed to do?

It's certainly not a perfect analogy, but it's one that stuck in my head for a few days. I wasn't quite sure how to respond to it. Am I being hypocritical for wearing glasses while advocating shoelessness?

I got my first pair of glasses in the 6th grade. I had a hard time seeing the chalk board, and got headaches. I went to an eye doctor, who tested my eyes. Based on how well I could read the small letters with my naked eye, then through various lenses, he wrote my prescription. With my glasses, I could see the chalkboard and the headaches went away.

How would that story go if we treated eyes like feet?

I got my first pair of glasses at age 1. Not sure whether they were for nearsightedness, farsightedness, or if they were prescription lenses at all. By the time I got to the 6th grade, I couldn't see the chalkboard and got headaches. I went to an eye doctor, who tested my eyes (with my current glasses on). Based on how well I could read the small letters (with glasses of unknown prescription), he wrote a prescription. I still can't see and I still get headaches. My eyes must simply be imperfect.

When you get "tested" at a running store, does the shoe salesman test you barefoot, or do they test you in whatever shoes you're wearing? Do they know if the shoes you're wearing are corrective or not? Do they know how corrective? If not, how can they give you an accurate prescription?

If we bought shoes the way we buy glasses, AND we assume that people NEED corrective footwear (obviously something I don't believe) it would go like this:

I ran barefoot until the 6th grade, when I noticed I kept hurting my feet. I went to a foot doctor who tested my feet (without shoes). Based on how I ran barefoot, he then added footwear of varying degrees of support and continued testing. He wrote me a prescription for my corrective footwear.

That would make more sense to me. If shoes are a necessary medical corrective device, isn't buying them from a shoe salesman kind of like getting your eyes checked by the dude at the Sunglasses Hut register? If you're feet are so weak that you need technological assistance to perform an activity our genetic ancestors have been doing since before we were human, shouldn't the prescription be written out by a doctor?

If running shoes are a necessary medical device, why do shoe companies change their line-up every season? If you find a shoe that works for you, why should you have to worry you may never see them again? Instead, shoe companies will stop making that shoe someday soon, only to offer a new style with new technology that may be better than your current shoe, may be worse. How can you tell? Trial and error. Could you imagine if they did that with medicine? "Oh, sorry, Mrs. Smith. We no longer have that style of heart medication. Try this one!"

Shod runners are guinea pigs in a completely disorganized scientific experiment. That's the best case scenario, giving the shoe companies the benefit of the doubt. I suspect shoe companies make shoes that look good in magazines, and runners buy them to feel all bouncy, and when things go wrong they blame themselves. They assume their person is broken. That sucks.


  1. That is a very good argument. It made me laugh too. Thanks.

  2. Great post. Love the analogies. Though there actually are “prescription” running shoes (sort of). I got prescribed orthotics, which turned out to be a load of crap. You’ve inspired me to write up my experience with the “sports medicine” snake oil.
    Oh, and I added in Grandfather Mountain to the profiles.

  3. The glasses analogy is used to justify a lot of things done in the name of "helping" people. I like the way you've dealt with it.