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Empty shoes a sad reminder of abuse

I’m going to do something that I don’t do all that often; I’m going to be serious. November is Woman Abuse Awareness Month and to highlight the seriousness of the phenomenon – which is rife in every corner of the globe and across all walks of life – the Woman Abuse Working Group (WAWG) kicked off their Walk the Talk campaign at Christ Church Cathedral in Toronto. The campaign, which is brutally effective, includes a travelling exhibit of the shoes of those who lost their lives through domestic violence and talks by domestic abuse survivors.

Jackson Hayes, a reporter for The Hamilton Spectator, covered the inaugural event at the James Street North Church on Wednesday the 4th of November 08. The exhibit is made up of all manner of footwear, such as high heels, slippers and sandals, and according to Hayes, some carry touching messages of remembrance, while others still carry marks and stains from their owners.

Clare Freeman, chair of WAWG, comments, “We’re really proud of it (the exhibit) because it’s sounding out the message that there are people behind the numbers. Really, we all need to walk the talk around these issues because the devastation is so large.” Hamilton chief of police, Brian Mullan, agrees with Freeman and in his speech on Wednesday added that the best way to address an issue as sensitive and delicate as domestic abuse is to bring it out into the open. Efforts need to be made to reduce the stigma and shame that are a major weapon in any abusers arsenal. “On far too many occasions, people hide in silence,” says Mullan. “This sort of activity (the exhibit) will allow them and encourage them to come forward.”

One of the most poignant moments in the day occurred when Penny Fisher, an abuse survivor who now works with the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, read the names of 42 victims – women and children – who had died as a result of domestic violence between November 2005 and November 2006. “Each of these women represented here today could have been us,” she said.

42 victims over the course of one year may not seem like many, especially when compared to the hundreds and thousands of women and children who suffer at the hands of their men in the Middle East and Africa, but it is still 42 too many. Much needs to be done to educate the citizens of all nations in the world about the seriousness of domestic violence and the detrimental effects that it has not only on families but communities as a whole. As important as The Walk the Talk campaign is, it’s only a small step towards what ultimately needs to be done to eradicate the phenomenon. Or else we’ll see a lot more empty shoes on display.

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Croc shock

I don’t own a pair of Crocs. I don’t particularly like them, at least not the traditional holey kind, but there ballet slippers are quite cute (I fancy a bright pink or lavender pair) and their Mary Janes are pretty funky (especially in red). But I do know a lot of people who own Crocs and who love them, in fact I know people who wear nothing else. Crocs took the world by storm when they were first released in 2002. Entire nations fell in love with the awkward, clunky looking shoes. Not since the sneaker has the world fallen for footwear in such a whole-hearted and unconditional way. Well, almost the whole world.

Crocs have their detractors. There are those who call them “unnecessarily ugly”, there are those who question their suitability for work and school environments, and there are those who consider them a death trap for feet, especially when one adds an escalator or two.

For the last couple of years, Crocs have been plagued by high-profile escalator accidents involving children and their shoes. Children’s Croc clad feet have become stuck down the sides of escalators, as well as in the (frightening) toothed exit step. In some cases toes have been lost, in others bones have been broken and in still others victims have needed only stitches and a lollipop to stop the tears.

Throughout it all, Croc’s manufacturers have denied that their shoes are any more dangerous or vulnerable to escalator mishaps than other shoes. A claim that has found support from a number of escalator safety experts, shoes experts and doctors. Apparently any soft-soled, pliable shoes are dangerous when worn on escalators, even fashionable sandals and ordinary flip-flops. Even an untied sneaker can lead to tender toes being gobbled by hungry escalator mechanisms.

Despite this vindication, and the fact that Crocs have only been involved in a small percentage of the total number of escalator accidents over recent years, Crocs Inc. has decided to tackle the problem head on. Over the course of the next year, the company intends to launch a number of safety awareness initiatives. The first phase will involve adding safety tags to all Crocs shoes that will provide the public with a number of escalator safety tips, including:

· Always stand in the centre of the step

· Face forwards and keep your hand on the rail

· Don’t touch the sides of the escalator below the handrail

· Avoid the sides of the steps

· Supervise children at all times

It’s expected that the safety awareness initiatives will be fully implemented by spring 2009.

But escalator safety isn’t the only hurdle that Crocs have had to face, and subsequently overcome. In 2007 they had to face losing their market in the health industry. It seems that while doctors and nurses loved the comfortable, easy to clean Crocs, hospital administrators were far less adoring. Some of the issues that they had with the shoes included the fact that aesthetically they didn’t conform to traditional nursing shoes, the holes made medical staff vulnerable to falling scalpels and needles and infection from patients’ dripping bodily fluids. In addition, there was a concern that the rubber soles created a great deal of static electricity that could cause equipment to malfunction should it suddenly discharge.

In response, Crocs Inc. announced that they would be happy to work with the medical industry to make their shoes more suited to hospital environments. They indicated that their Endeavor model is fully enclosed and that the Professional model is closed at the top with ribbed ventilation ports at the sides to channel liquids away from the feet. They also designed two new models: the Specialist with a covered heel, improved solid construction and no holes or vents, and a second model that does have vents. According to Crocs Inc., the shoes were designed to meet the requirements laid out by the health care industry, but that they retained the non-slip, anti-microbial and odour resistant properties of the original models.

President and CEO of Crocs Inc., Ron Snyder, says that consumer safety is of paramount concern to all at Crocs. And considering that Crocs have put their money where their mouth is, I don’t think that he is pandering to the masses.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear a pair of lavender ballet slippers calling my name.

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Is barefoot best?

Children hate wearing shoes. I’ll admit that this is a generalisation. It’s entirely possible that there are children out there who can’t wait to put their shoes on in the morning, but I’ve never heard of them. In my experience, children experience shoes as a form of torture. They put up a good fight when they’re forced to put them on and whip them off at the earliest opportunity. Children love to feel the grass beneath their feet, bathe their toes in mud, and test their endurance by running pell-mell over thorns.

According to the results of a study by researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, which was published in 2007, adults can learn a lot from the barefoot shenanigans of children. Not when it comes to thorns, obviously, but it seems that going barefoot is actually better for you feet than wearing shoes.

Dr Bernhard Zipfel, who is a Podiatrist and University Curator of Fossil Collections, and Professor Lee Berger, from the Institute for Human Evolution and the Bernard Institute in the School of Geosciences, studied more than 180 people across the Zula, Sotho and European population groups, in South Africa. They also studied a number of 2000-year old human skeletons.

They found that the skeletons, who never wore shoes when they were alive, had healthier feet than humans of today. Among their living subjects, they found that the Zulu population had the healthiest feet. European feet fared the worst, with the most pathologies. Dr Zipfel suggests that the reason for this is that the Zulu and Sotho groups probably wore shoes less often as children than the Europeans. It also suggests that a lot of the damage done to our feet occurs when we’re children and our growing and developing feet are bound by restrictive shoes. If I were a mother that would make me think twice before I made my children put shoes on to ward off a chill.

In addition to the difference in foot pathologies among different populations, the study also drew attention to the difference between the sexes. It comes as no surprise that woman do more damage to their feet than men. After all, men seldom complain of uncomfortable shoes, if shoes are uncomfortable they simply don’t buy them. If they were initially comfortable but cease to be so over time, men stop wearing them.

Women, on the other hand, balance precariously on top of heels that they know are too high (says she in spectacular high-heeled purple boots – at least they’re comfortable. Honestly). Women will wear shoes that look good no matter how uncomfortable they are or how much they hurt. Again this is a generalisation, but it’s a fair one. Many women damage their feet so badly that by the time they hit mid-life they can’t wear their beloved high-fashion footwear. They are relegated to the kind of flat, comfortable shoes like the ones their grannies wore. Horrors.

No one is saying that women have to give up their discomfort. It’s perfectly acceptable to totter on heels too high and in shoes too tight during the week if necessary. Just kick or wedge them off with a shoehorn and walk around barefoot when you get home, especially over weekends. As an added bonus, this practice will give you an indication of how clean your floors really are.

As healthy as going barefoot is, it should remembered that there are instances when you should always be shod. Dr Zipfel mentioned public areas, restaurants, toilets and situation where you might step on something sharp. That encompasses just about everywhere you could possibly go.

I agree with him about restaurants, barefoot patrons do lower the tone, but it also depends on where the restaurant is. A restaurant on the beach, for example, might tolerate bare feet, but you wouldn’t try it at an expensive restaurant that only admits men if they wear a tie. Parks are also public areas where it’s ok to take your shoes off. In the age of apartment living, public parks are often the only places where some people experience grass, it would be a shame to diminish that experience by enforcing shoes. Parks are, however, breeding grounds for sharp objects (thorns, stones, broken bottles and glass), as well as other barefoot hazards, so you might want to watch your step.

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