The Star (Nairobi)

10 December 2012

Kenya: The Smelly Feet of Like-Minded People

Most people in the world do not wear socks? Why? Is there something they know that the rest of us, sock wearers do not? A sock, just to be clear, is an item of clothing worn on the feet.

Socks, like people, come in all shapes and sizes but the original sock is old English derived from the Latin word 'soccus' which was a slipper worn by comic actors on stage in ancient Greek times.

Later Europeans would tie a piece of coloured cloth around their legs, secured with a garter to prevent them from falling down. Over the last 400 years socks have evolved from being a basic protective garment to high-tech pieces of fashion that reflect and define personal style.

Other than fashion the purpose today for wearing socks is to ease chaffing against of the foot against the shoe, protect the foot from perspiration and either excessive cold or warmth. So why do women not wear socks routinely?

There are more sweat glands in your feet than anywhere else in the body. Every day your feet produce about 200 millilitres of sweat. That is just about a glass full.

If you are on your feet all day, or under a lot of stress then you sweat more. Teenagers and pregnant women because of hormonal changes are prone to sweat more.

Which is why men who have many children, staircase, for a long time, avoid the house and sit in bars. The men themselves are stressed as the enormity of what they have done over the years begins to hit them; they have a pregnant wife at home; there are a few teenagers loitering around; the house is small because all the money is spent on food rather than a mortgage for a decent size house; and lastly to make food tasty as it is the same every day the cook uses a lot of spices which just adds to the flavour of the sweat.

Stress aside, excessive sweat can also be due to a medical condition - hyperhidrosis. Underlying disease or condition can also cause excessive sweating. Examples are diabetes, hyperthyroidism, infection, menopause and certain types of cancer.

So what happens to the daily glass of sweat? If you wear socks then up to a third of the fluid is absorbed in the socks you wear daily. If you divide the day roughly into thirds then for eight hours of the day you should be asleep.

Avoid wearing socks. The next third you are depending either loitering at home from work or in evening class (hopefully not a fake degree) or preparing to leave the house to work or play.

These are the hours that make a difference. If you are just leaving the house delay wearing of socks till the last minute. If you have just reached home remove them and relax. If you are in a lecture theatre or a bar keep them on, together with your shoes. Why?

The sweat is not the problem. It is the level of hygiene that determines whether your feet are tolerable in company or a deterrent to good conversation. All over your skin there are bacteria.

They thrive on the dead skin and moisture. If the debris accumulates for example socks are not changed and washed daily and/or the feet are not cleaned regularly then there will be a smell most likely a nose filling cheesy one.

But that is not enough. You have to change your shoes daily. Think about it. Inside you shoe is a warm, dark and moist environment with little actual movement through the day. Perfect for things to germinate. Giving your shoes some sunlight and breathing space acts as a natural deodorant and sanitiser.

For people with excessive sweating much more active management is needed. Imagine you have spent the last two weeks meeting like-minded people in enclosed rooms late into the night trying to hammer out some agreement.

What is the condition of your feet? Especially now that you have to spend the next 90 days on your feet, hustling? Then personal hygiene and habits become really important.

The stress is inevitable. So after a shower, you must dry between your toes thoroughly. Keep your toenails trim. File off excess dead skin. Fresh socks are a must.

Choose socks with care. They should not be too tight or they will restrict circulation in the foot. On the other hand if they are too loose, then there will be increased friction, which can lead to blisters. Natural fibre shoes, whether leather or canvas breathes better than plastic shoes.

This is not the time to skimp on shoe quality. Going barefoot or sandals when in the house helps tremendously. Do not aerate when in a meeting with your supporters.

A deodorant spray can help mask the smell if things are really bad. But at this point you may need to see your doctor. But before you do, if you are a man, consult the woman in your life. Women in general know how to take care of their feet. Whatever else if you can, buy some quality socks that make a personal style statement.

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