Monday, July 18, 2011

Habitual Appearances and Vibram Five Fingers

Recently I've heard that the army has actually banned its soldiers from wearing Vibram Five Fingers during training. They don't mention the brand name, but they do mention they're banning shoes with individual toes, so it's only logical to deduce they're speaking of VFFs since they're the only manufacturer that makes shoes like that. It's a good foreign policy decision I guess, but on a personal level I think it's silly. VFFs only look weird when you're not used to their sight or think negatively of them; beyond that, they look normal, I think.

Ultimately I think this is just a matter of certain emotional evaluations being invoked by how habitually used we are to observing things a certain way. By an overwhelming majority, most shoes contain a toe box, and most all of us have almost always and only seen shoes in this style. As such, we've adapted our perceptions accordingly and become comfortable with things being that way. Here comes the unconventional VFFs and suddenly you think those shoes look weird. Why? Because they violate the trend; they're unordinary.

Another example I can think of to clarify this emotional facet is how we perceive waking up in the morning. Have you ever heard someone who usually has a consistent wake up time complain of waking earlier than usual? Say, they usually wake up at nine AM but woke up at seven AM one morning. What exactly is wrong with waking up earlier than usual if you feel rested? Nothing. Do people ever actually need to sleep to a certain time beyond gaining restfulness? No. Then why might a person want to sleep to a certain later time instead of waking when rested? Because they've become accustomed to waking up at that certain time, and in being accustomed they've adapted their emotional expectations so that they actually desire to wake up at the time. If you wake up early and feel rested then you ought to be thankful you have more waking hours to do stuff, not be irritated that it's a whole two hours before the alarm and then lie there until it goes off.

Admittedly, it took me several months to even consider purchasing VFFs. The first time I saw them I thought they were ridiculous, but repeated viewings eventually made me feel comfortable enough to purchase a pair for the gym. I was thoroughly shy in public, but after seeing how amazing they felt I took to wearing them much more often, eventually everywhere in public. Now I'm so accustomed to their sight that I noticed not the least thing odd about them. In fact, now I think it's weird to look at people exercising in conventional shoes, because now I can't remember what it's like to work out without having precise access to my toes, like when doing a squat. Simply put, after being exposed over and over again to VFFs, even if just my own, I've gotten to the point where I feel entirely casual in them, don't anticipate people looking at me (and surprisingly, few do), and find nothing "off" about them. If people at large, including those in the army, took this exposure approach then the "weirdness" would go away, the same for all things unconventional.

It's a pity such a good brand of shoes got the ban like that. Oh well, at least there are other near-barefooting options.

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