Foot binding: excruciating beauty

In the 10th to early 20th centuries, small feet on women were considered beautiful in China.  The foot binding started before girls began adolescence, and involved bending the toes under the sole of the foot, then breaking the arch and binding the foot and the ankle very tightly.  Each time the bandages were removed the bindings would be re-wrapped more tightly.

Can your shoes fit in the palm of your hand?

This hasn’t been practiced in the hundred years since it was outlawed, but my interest in the practice was piqued when I visited the Enduring Beauty Museum in Melaka, Malaysia last February.  The many exhibits depicted the ways women throughout time all over the world have sought beauty in spite of pain in order to adhere to their culture’s definition of beauty.  The exhibits included piercings and plugs, corsets, head molding, neck rings, skin tattoos, and foot binding, among other things.  The exhibit on Chinese foot binding displayed the tiniest of shoes, which, if you didn’t know better, you would assume were once worn by a small child.

I had seen pictures of these shoes in the past, but had never really looked into how Chinese women actually achieved a look their society considered so beautiful and alluring.  I had always assumed that the growth in the foot was stunted and caused the foot to simply stop growing, but this wasn’t the case at all.  The feet were actually extremely deformed as the bones in the foot were broken and contorted so they could be forced into the lotus shape and would then fit into the 3-4 inch shoes.  Small feet became a status symbol and this excruciating ideal of physical perfection was mandatory for a marriage offer.

Here are some pictures:

For further reference, check out NPR’s Painful Memories for China’s Footbinding Survivors, a look a some of China’s elderly women who live each day with this ancient practice in a modern world.  You can find more information about the origin, history, and methods of the practice at Wikipedia’s article on foot binding.

3 Responses

  1. OUCH OUCH OUCH OUCH. that sounds AND looks so painful. Extremely. That is so sad to think that breaking and deforming bones was considered to be beautiful. Those feet don’t look pretty at all. How can they even walk?? AHHH.

  2. […] Foot binding: excruciating beauty February 2010 1 comment 4 […]

  3. I think these feet are beautiful, but the pain isn’t worth it.. they could have wore high high high hiiiiiggghhh heels to give the illusion of the lotus foot and they would probably walk the same and be taller 😛

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