Chinese Foot Binding

Until 1912 the ideal length for woman’s feet was a tiny 3inches. When girls turned between the age of three and six in China her mum would bind her feet. First each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood, this was meant to soften the foot and help the binding process. Then the toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent in-growth and infections, since the toes were going to be pressed tightly into the sole of the foot cotton bandages were prepared by soaking them in the blood and herb mixture. The help the size of the feet to be reduced the toes of each foot were curled under, and then pressed with a huge amount of force into the sole of the foot until the toe broke. This whole process was carried out without the use of pain relief, most of the bindings would be done by a professional, who made the bandages extra tight and ignored all the screaming from the young girls,  for  the poorer families the mothers would have to take care of all the foot binging. The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot, the foot was held down straight so the arch could be broken. The bandages were repeatedly wound in a figure of eight, when completed the girl was made to stand to crush her feet into shape. When the bandages dried they made the binding even tighter forcing them into more of the desired shape. The bound feet required a lot of attention, every time they were unbound they needed washed, checked in case of infection or injury, they nails were always carefully trimmed but because they cause infection if in grown they were usually removed altogether. The feet were frequently beaten so the bones stayed broken and flexible. The feet were prone to infection so disease usually followed, a lot of woman died from septic shock because of the foot binding. The bound toes would often develop gangrene, which is when the tissue dies and then gets infected,  this happened because they had a lack of circulation so would end up falling off. The Chinese saw this as a blessing because it would make the feet even smaller. The girls aged between three and six would never be able to walk properly again or for a long period of time, this left the girls without a proper childhood. The practice of binding young girl’s feet was gradually stopped, the practise was banned in 1912. Many woman whose feet were already bound (already had broken bones) had to continue rebinding them to prevent the even greater pain caused by letting the feet out, the few women left with bound feet are now extremely elderly and suffer from disabilities. The older woman that bound their feet were more likely to break hip bones due to being unable to balance securely on their feet which led to them being completely immobile.

By restricting movement bound feet stopped woman from leaving their home and her husband, and stopped wives from being unfaithful, this was a great appeal for men, and they felt like they owned their wives. Bound feet were once considered intensely erotic in Chinese culture, a woman with perfect lotus feet was likely to marry into a rich family. Feng Xun was recorded saying “if you remove the shoes and bindings, the aesthetic feeling will be destroyed forever”, men understood that the symbolic erotic fantasy of bound feet did not match the unpleasant physical appearance of the feet which is why they were kept hidden. The primary erotic effect of the lotus feet was how the woman walked with them, the tiny steps and swaying walk of the woman was bound lotus feet was only because they had to walk on their heels, placing all the weight on the back of the feet because they were so deformed. The uncovered feet would give off a horrible smell from the unwashed folds, which was another reason they were usually covered up.

I think the fact parents were whiling to do such a terribly painful process to their three to six year old daughters is disgusting, it is a lifetime of punishment for anyone, they were keeping their daughters from having an enjoyable childhood and giving them to a life of pain. Every day for the rest of their lives they have to go through the pain of rebinding their feet for something Chinese society perceived as beautiful. A three inch foot is not anatomically correct, so there is no need to change it, feet are never a particularly attractive body part so the fact men only found the lotus feet attractive when covered by shoes seems ridiculous. They liked the way woman walked, tiny swaying steps, but the excruciating pain meant they could not walk very far at all. Things have not changed that much though, people may not be binding feet but they are having plastic surgery, sun beds, tattoos, all just to fit in a be more like what society thinks is beautiful.

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