Some people are slicing their shoes apart to walk barefoot in public. What's going on?

For decades, people have been challenging the status quo of wearing shoes. They say that walking barefoot, also known as “earthing” or “grounding,” connects them to nature, and they claim it leads to a myriad health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, pain and stress – even if strolling through concrete jungles.

Now, a growing number of people are sharing their shoeless journeys online, revealing how much the barefoot community has grown in recent years – and how much the general public is still appalled by them.

One couple in particular is making a splash on TikTok. They recently declared their commitment to walking barefoot indoors and outdoors, and shared a video, which has been viewed more than 56 million times, slicing out the bottom of their sneakers so they can abide by business’s shoes rules. They said the experience was “freeing and detoxifying.”

“Our shoe collection is worth more than $20,000, but this is a sacrifice that we’re willing to take because walking barefoot means the world to us,” user @christifritz said. “The benefits of walking barefoot are priceless and now our shoes are worth more than money could ever be.”

It’s unclear how serious the couple is about their bare feet content; they have yet to respond to USA TODAY’s requests for comment. However, videos of them walking over snow and through murky parking lot puddles, opening business doors and pressing crosswalk buttons with their bare soles are stirring up a storm on social media. Many commenters express horror and disgust as well as skepticism over the couple's claims that walking barefoot is good for you.

Why doctors don't recommend walking barefoot

Barefoot advocates base their reasoning on the “grounding” concept, which refers to the idea that electrons sprinkled across Earth’s surface contain healing abilities. Some researchers have suggested that these electrons “are an essential element in the health equation along with sunshine, clean air and water, nutritious food and physical activity.”

However, critics argue that there’s insufficient evidence to support these claims, pointing to a potential placebo effect that makes the practice difficult to validate from a scientific point of view.

Grounding can be done safely on natural surfaces such as grass and sand, just “not in your local supermarket,” says Dr. Priya Parthasarathy, a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

Walking barefoot on sidewalks or inside public spaces like stores and restaurants can expose you to harsh temperatures, sharp objects, pollutants and germs that can lead to burns and painful infections like tetanus, warts and hand, foot, mouth disease, Parthasarathy says. All of these risks increase if you have cuts or cracks on your feet.

“If you embrace this trend, have your podiatrist on speed dial because I guarantee you will need them,” Parthasarathy said.

If you do want to walk barefoot, Parthasarathy suggests using common sense: "Barefoot hiking is ridiculous. Soft grass and sand is OK, but you are still taking the risk of stepping on poop, sharp objects and shells. Never go barefoot around a campfire or grill to avoid burning yourself. And never, ever, operate a lawnmower without wearing shoes."

'You have to step on those sharp stones'

Some people are willing to accept the risks.

George Woodville, who calls himself the “The Barefoot Guy” on TikTok and bonds with strangers over “foot bumps,” began his shoeless journey two years ago during a walking holiday with his mother and grandpa.

“I thought well, I actually want to feel something. Choosing to walk barefoot made a lot more sense than the directionless, impulsive life I was living before,” the 21-year-old from the U.K. told USA TODAY. “I really was in total darkness back then and this was like a little light.”

It wasn’t an easy transition, Woodville said, but the challenge gave him purpose and led to tremendous self-discovery and healing.

“I wasn't really familiar with the idea of voluntarily putting myself in a position where there was an element of pain,” Woodville said. “Walking barefoot propelled me on a path to stop categorizing every experience as good or bad, but rather to allow it to be as it is.”

Woodville once had a shard of glass stuck in his foot for several weeks, an obstacle that didn’t get him to put shoes on but rather provided a metaphor to live by.

“If you want to enjoy life’s pleasures for what they really are, then you have to experience the hardships,” he said. In other words, “you have to step on those sharp stones. We’re all trying to grow, but growth wouldn’t mean anything if it wasn't somewhat difficult. But not difficult in a depressing way; difficult in an uplifting way that gives meaning and purpose.”

It’s all about balance, though. Woodville said he will wear shoes when spending time in theaters or other public spaces with strict rules so he can still spend time with his shoe-wearing loved ones.

“I'd like to be an advocate for having a higher tolerance in society for bare feet, but I certainly don't want to take the value of shoes out of the equation because I think it's a very interesting way of expressing ourselves,” Woodville said. “Maybe one day I’ll show up to an event in an extravagant shoe, like a cowboy boot. Being the ‘Barefoot Guy,' I think that'd be funny."

Have you heard of 'earthing'? What it is and why it's getting attention.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Barefoot walking isn't safe, experts say, but some people don't care