What is Normal?

A lot of times when we say that something is “normal”, we’re implying that this is how things are meant to be. For instance, many people accept back pain as an unavoidable, “normal” part of aging that they just have to accept. (I would argue that they’re wrong, but that’s for a different post.) But what does normal really mean? The first definition that popped up when I Googled it is “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected”, which doesn’t actually say anything about the intended state or function of something. All it means is when something is common enough, we get used to seeing it that way and start to expect it. 

But what if the circumstances that brought about “normal” are not NATURAL, and therefore give us a skewed perception of things? In particular, I’m thinking about feet. If our feet had developed in the natural environment in which they spent thousands of years evolving (shoe-less, doing tons of walking on varied terrain with lots of different textures), cultivating the dexterity that they were designed to have, they would be much different creatures that the modern Western foot.

Here’s an xray of a shod (shoe-wearing) foot (left) next to an unshod foot (right). Keep in mind, these are the same foot! The only difference is the addition of a shoe in the left-hand image. When you look at it this way, who would want their toes cramped up like that? But most of us accept this as a normal part of footwear, to one degree or another. Even “wide” shoes often don’t have enough space to allow the feet and toes to move as they were truly intended. The crunched up foot may be normal or common in our society, but it’s definitely not natural!

Another thing that we accept as natural is all of the many foot ailments we suffer from. (And really, after seeing this xray, how could we expect anything else?) I’ve heard many people say that their bunions must be genetic because everyone in their family has them. But does everyone in their family also wear shoes that deform their feet for hours a day, over the course of a lifetime? Take a closer look at the shod foot above...see how the base of the big toe bulges outward (to the right)? That's a bunion in the making!

So, the next time you put your shoes on because it's the "normal" thing to do, you might want to think about how they're affecting the natural function of your feet.

(P.S. I'm not suggesting that everyone go barefoot, and in fact strongly recommend against it if you do the majority of your walking and standing on hard, human-made surfaces. Check out the links page for a list of minimalist shoes that allow your feet to function as nature intended, while providing varying degrees of padding and protection. It's not comprehensive, but I have first-hand experience with almost all of these brands and can vouch for their awesomeness!)