Shoes have been used throughout history to reflect and represent the beauty ideal. Today in the West, this ideal is reflected in our love for sky high stiletto heels and fabulous strappy sandals. This ideal, however, has changed and evolved over time. In the 1940s, for instance, it was the peep-toe pump which was considered the sexiest shoe a beautiful woman could wear.
Some trends in footwear and the beauty ideal have not been so friendly as high heels or peep-toe shoes. One excruciating example of this was the “Lotus Feet” ideal in China.
Carried out in China for one thousand years, foot binding was undertaken to achieve “Lotus feet”. Foot binding dates back to the tenth century, and was only outlawed in 1911. It was still practiced in remote areas until as late as 1939.
Feet were bound between the ages of three and nine, before the arches could develop fully. The feet were soaked in a mixture of herbs and warm animal blood, the toenails were cut back as far as possible, and the feet were bound with the toes pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. The toes were broken to achieve this. The arch was also broken. The feet were tightly wrapped; they would be unbound regularly to wash, cut nails, and rebound more tightly. Sometimes the nails were peeled back and completely removed.
Lotus feet were a sign of wealth, status, class, and eligibility for marriage. They were considered by men of China to be extremely erotic – as long as they remained bound and the realities of how they looked were never displayed. If a girl ever wished to marry, she had her feet bound. A woman with tiny little feet was considered to be more attractive to suitors; with tiny nubbins for feet, she walked with swaying hips and mincing little steps. She wore miniature shoes which were ornately embellished.
Women with bound feet could not walk properly, could not work, and spent most of their time sitting. She was forced to be weak and submissive.
Originally, foot binding was not extreme, and simply involved wrapping the feet in ribbons, ballerina-style. In time however, like with western corsetry, the ideal became more extreme for ever smaller and more curved feet, of no more than three inches in size.
Though the painful tradition of binding young girls’ feet may seem ancient, the last living survivors of what we consider a barbaric practice still live in remote areas of regional China, even though the practice of foot binding was outlawed more than one hundred years ago.
We really have no reason to complain about walking in sky high heels!!
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