At an age when a girl has hardly known the joy of walking or running, both her feet are broken. To those of us in The Western World breaking the feet of a small child would be justifiably called child abuse but to deliberately break the feet, then purposely stop them from healing, is unthinkably barbaric, yet the custom was practiced in China for hundreds of years.
The agonizing life-long process of foot-binding was performed to make women more attractive to men, giving them better marriage prospects and insuring they would spend their lives closely tethered to the home. Also guaranteed were a lifetime of pain, the stench of rotting flesh and maimed feet which would impair the ability to walk. Once the weight-bearing and balancing properties of the feet were altered, a girl with bound feet would never enjoy more mobility than a horse with hobbles. Like livestock branded and penned, husbands need never worry about their wives wandering far.
As the Chinese practice of foot-binding became an integral measure of desirability, the deformed foot and it’s accompanying odor became integral to the erotica of the age. The men of that era were even convinced foot-binding strengthened and enhanced a woman’s sexual response.
Eventually, foot-binding was banned, mostly because, in the age of communism, the women’s role as laborer superseded her role as sexual vessel. Women who had been the property of men, were now property of the state.
To us in The West, the practice is repulsive, cruel and bizarre, yet it is just one of many culturally-based beauty practices of unnatural body modifications and/or mutilations practiced in the world. Unusual practices like the lip-stretching of the East African Mursi tribes or the use of metal coils to elongate the neck by The Karen tribes of Thailand and Myanmar, seem strangely primitive to us, but are they really so much different from the practices of our sophisticated use of silicone and other materials to change the shape of our faces or bodies?
Nips, tucks, lipo, piercings, gauging, tattoos . . American women are no longer strangers to body alterations–with one big difference…we alone decide what we will do to be attractive. Whether budgeting for Botox or choosing a tattoo, the decision is our own. While our media and culture may indoctrinate us with ideas of beauty, we are not under an edict to conform.
Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to determine how much of what we do for ourselves is really a response to those who will see us or evaluate us. The need to be accepted, the hope of eliminating perceived flaws or the choice to conform to an ideal, fuel our decisions, but they also express our desire to be desirable. Even powerful women, who reject being subjugated by society’s expectations, may not realize the extent to which external messages become part of innermost feelings.
I know of what I speak, for as I write this, my mouth is filled with inconvenient metal and wires. Though they will eventually correct legitimate alignment problems, I’d by lying like a bad hairpiece if I didn’t admit, only the prospect of a better smile, makes the trade-off, worth the discomfort.
For more on the history of foot-binding: http://www.angelfire.com/ca/beekeeper/foot.html