BBC News

Sheffield woman Bea Marshall chooses life without shoes

By Stephanie Barnard
BBC News

image captionThey look like flipflops - but Bea Marshall is actually barefoot

Bea Marshall kicked off her shoes 18 months ago and has gone barefoot ever since. But how has the mother-of-two managed without footwear?

She was all set for a night out - but as Bea Marshall headed into a bar for a cocktail with friends, her joy came to a shuddering halt.

A doorman told her: "You can't come in here without shoes. Health and safety won't allow it."

For Ms Marshall, it was just another drawback to life without shoes. Yet she insists the benefits far outweigh the problems.

She said: "I could understand from their perspective but I'm probably significantly safer than some women who have very high heels on and get quite drunk."

image captionBea Marshall says she does not worry about what people think

Ms Marshall, 33, who runs her own web design business, became shoeless after taking up running and finding herself in pain.

Like many people who want to find a solution to a problem, Ms Marshall turned to the internet.

"I saw that a lot of runners with injuries were switching to barefoot running and I decided that was the way forward."

After an "intense sensation" during running without shoes, Ms Marshall decided to try to live without footwear for two weeks to get used to it.

"I've been bare ever since. I go barefoot because I can't not go barefoot."

Ms Marshall, who lives in Walkley, Sheffield, goes to work, shopping and even on holiday without shoes.

But not all her experiences have been positive. On one occasion, an art gallery in London asked her to leave.

"They said unless I put shoes on I couldn't remain in the gallery.

"They went through lots of different reasons and one of their reasons was about respect. I said: 'But we live in a multicultural society and many religions take off their shoes and socks as a sign of respect'.

"It's a very connected way of being in your environment. You are far more aware of what is going on around you and where you are and your being."

Ms Marshall says she also allows her children - who are home taught and aged five and seven - "to choose" whether to go out without shoes.

She said: "My two boys, for the most part, live a barefoot lifestyle."

Ms Marshall once visited a police station on an unconnected matter - and found herself being reported to social services when she was spotted with her barefoot children.

"I was there and one of the people behind the desk called social services.

"They had had a report saying that my children were barefoot and I explained that they did it by choice and that I lived a barefoot lifestyle.

"I explained that I had their shoes and socks in my bag with me, should they want to put them on.

"Their concern was that I might be begging with my children."

But how can you avoid a serious injury if you walk around a city without shoes?

Ms Marshall, who describes the soles of her feet as feeling like "supple leather", says looking out for potential hazards has even sharpened her eyesight.

She said: "There is a lot less glass and rubbish around than you think.

"I'm very aware of what's going on the pavement, without having to look at the floor all the time."

But Ms Marshall admits she sometimes wears a minimal rubber shoe if she feels her feet are at risk from the cold or glass.

'Dumb toe'

"A numb toe is a dumb toe, I say, because you can't feel what is going on."

Ms Marshall also occasionally dons "fake shoes" - elastic bands adorned with flowers to look like flip flops - to help prevent being her barred from places which might demand she wears shoes.

Despite the experiences, Ms Marshall said: "The discomfort of shoes far outweighs any sense of what people might think of me.

"As I get older I find that I value myself far more highly than to worry about what other people think."