I remember when I was at college and I found myself in a conversation with a Chinese student, we were conversing about the old Chinese tradition foot binding. Instantly I was fascinated and wanted to know more, I was full of questions, what, why, when, how and where. Today I stumbled across this image and my fascination started all over again, this time I was intrigued as to why this painful process was enforced on young Chinese girls.Foot binding originated in around the 10th or 11th century and continued for approx 1000 years. It was originally perceived as being fashionable among wealthy women, indicating high social status. The tradition gradually spread through the Chinese culture and by the 12th century even the poorest families were partaking in foot binding.
When a girl was about 3 or 4 her feet would be tightly bound so that her toes were turned towards the sole of her foot, the foot would then shrink as the child’s arches of the foot was broken. The process took several years restricting and altering the grown of the foot, often resulting in infections and severe pain for the young child. In the early 20th century after several anti-foot binding campaigns the Chinese government made it illegal. Foot binding was a liability to the communist government as women were less able to work in fields and therefore unable to support their families. The procedure left many women with life long disabilities making it difficult for them to walk and squat. Although foot binding took many years to decease it eventually died out due to the threatening of the death sentence for participating.
My question is why did this continue for so long? What did families have to gain from putting their females through this horrendous pain? Well… Chinese women were controlled by their fathers, husbands and sons, by having their feet bound it hindered their freedom as they were unable to travel long or far due to the unbearable pain. Also, the security of marriage ensured a families place in society. Smaller feet were seen as beautiful and made the girls more desirable. Having tiny feet made their movements more feminine and dainty, increasing their chance of marriage. To me these beliefs sound all to familiar.
Today the concept of beauty is an on-going issue that women face daily. We often see women wearing uncomfortable tight heels, squeezing into spanx, waxing, plucking and under going surgery to fit the stereotypical image of what is beautiful. So is our culture actually any different to that of the Chinese in the 11th century? We also want the security of marriage, to be desirable and tend to idolise those with smaller proportions. Although we find ourselves having more freedom the majority of women still remain passive and subordinate to men. And lets face it, if we saw an amazing pair of Loubs (tight or not) we too would crush our feet into them (whatever the cost) if they made us feel beautiful and attractive.
To me it seems the myth of beauty has been destroying the fabrications of societies for centuries, and to be honest I think it always will. As Alex Comfort once said “A women’s greatest asset is her beauty”.