The Pain of Beauty: Part Three

Feet have often been portrayed as a sign of beauty. For women, anyway. Cultures have chosen unusual ways to create that image. Most of us remember seeing movies where Chinese girls had their feet bound. And not by choice. If you recall, they were bound to make their feet smaller. Thankfully, the 10the century is past. But are we so different in the 21st century?

While I started this article out with the intention of writing about the perils of our feet, my heart strings went otherwise. So bear with me.

As I began researching this issue of foot binding, my hunger grew to read more. Just a few thoughts I would like to share:

There are different theories on how foot binding became so prominent in the Chinese culture. Some say male dominance, some say it was sexually driven, others say superstitions were the cause, and some due to an empress who had clubed feet. Regardless, it lead to at least one billion, yes, I said billion women affected before the law would put a final halt to the social illness in 1911 and emancipate their feet. Imagine.

But then how can we wrap our minds around this tragedy that lasted for centuries? And to think that it became the desire and not just an involuntary act. It has been said that binding became so prestigious that to not do it was more painful than to go through the physical agony of doing it. As one author noted, binding was in some twisted way a kindness to keep them from suffering social injustices. Why? To be accepted as part of the elite rather than be take on the "look" of being poor. You see, binding was not just a sign of beauty but was equated with royalty and the rich. So a girl stood a better chance of making it socially if her feet were bound.

I've never known what a bound foot looked like, not really. How about you? What I'm going to share isn't the Hollywood image I was given (photo below). Most often small children/babies feet were bound while the bones were more pliable. When the girl didn't have them bound at an early age, their feet were broken. And sometimes this took more than one attempt. And often infection set in as well as loss of toes, and maybe even life. The goal was to make the feet 4 inches or less, very slender, and pointed.

How did they walk? Basically on the heels of their feet. Don't just imagine; stand up and walk a few steps on the heels of your feet, if you can. I don't know about you, but that was awkward. Did you notice how it affected your gait, your stride? Tiny steps? Dainty steps? That's it. That was part of why binding was held in high regard. It created the look of being ever so feminine and fragile, yet graceful in some measure. Many thought it created the look of a dancer floating across the stage.

But most of these girls and women weren't given royal status; rather they had to carry on with everyday activities, even working in the fields. Imagine living your entire life that way.

Looking at the bound foot, why would one think it was a sign of beauty? With the human eye, it looks anything but. For one, some thought the shape was similar to the private parts of the female body. I won't detail the sexual connotations.

But mostly the beauty came in the shape of the foot, and the shoe that was designed for its home. As you can see(2nd photo) the big toe was left free while the other toes were pressed toward the sole of the foot. Therein you get the pointed, slender look. And the shoe? Many times it was designed by the person who wore it. The shoes were eloquently decorated with beautiful flowers, butterflies, and the like. Ah, there was the appeal, the beauty, while the ugliness of their pain was well hidden deep beneath the ornate covering (1st photo).

The question I posed to you at the beginning: Are we so different in the 21st century? Think about it.
Until the next time we meet on our feet.

Next: Part Four. To be continued.

Photos from Google.

Copyright © 2008 by Ellen M. Samples. All rights reserved.