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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What the hell is up with footbinding?

: foot binding

Why: Just admiring some of Lady Gaga's evening attire.
Answer: A brief history:

In 970 A.D., Emperor Li Yu watched his favorite concubine Yao-niang dance atop a specially built "golden lotus" pedestal. She had wrapped her feet in long strips of silk cloth, much like a ballerina in modern toe shoes. Li Yu was so overwhelmed with the beauty of her dancing that other court maidens followed suit. The "Golden Lotus" is now a euphemism for delicately bound feet in the pointed shape of a crescent moon. The style was gradually adopted as fashion among the upper class, and then it spread to all levels of society. When women lost social freedoms during the Song Dynasty (960 to 1276), footbinding became a means of controlling women, to keep them in the home and monitor their moral conduct.

As footbinding became more acceptable, tiny feet became "the essence of feminine beauty, a fanatical aesthetic and sexual mystique developed around them." Tiny deformed feet became the most erotic part of the female body, and wives, consorts, and prostitutes were chosen solely on the size and shape of their feet. Women spent their days making embroidered shoes to cover them, and poets wrote about "tender blossoms" stuffed into shoes and peeking out under clothing. Women rarely, if ever, unbound their feet. Girls started binding as young as 3 years old, usually closer to 8 or 10.
Footbinding remained a part of Chinese society well into the 20th century. The Manchu leaders of the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) never adopted the custom, and tried with little success to stop its popularity. During the late 1800s reform-oriented scholars and western missionaries began speaking out against the brutal custom, yet it wasn"t until the 1920s that change finally began to take hold. Intellectuals plucked the issue of footbinding from the realm of morals and aesthetics and remolded it into a question of patriotism. Women were told the practice was not only harmful to their own physical and emotional health, but also a costly disability to the nation, retarding its political and economic development.

In 1928 the Nationalist government announced its plan to eradicate footbinding, requiring girls under the age of fifteen to let their feet grow naturally. Some local officials took a tougher stand, requiring that all women unbind their feet or be subject to fines and sometimes physical punishment.
Some did, and some didn't.
When asked about the purpose of footbinding the overwhelming majority of women responded very plainly that without bound feet it was impossible to find a husband.
They feared they would become social outcasts. Also, the process of letting the foot grow back into its natural shape was nearly as painful as the binding had been in the first place. You can read buttloads of stories told by these women starting here.
Source: History of Footbinding

The More You Know: But how did they do it!! Get ready to puke.
First, each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood; this was intended to soften the foot and aid the binding. A long strip of cloth was wrapped over the four smaller toes, under the instep and around the heel. By tightening the cloth daily the heel became slender and the toes eventually broken under, flattened against the underside of the sole. Greater tension was slowly applied, sometimes coupled with the strength of a rope, to bring the heel forward to the ball of the foot, breaking the arch and forcing it upward.

Once the binding process had begun, regular rebinding became an integral part of personal hygiene for the rest of the girl's life. In the early stages the foot easily became swollen and filled with pus, and would frequently break open. Some women applied alum or washed in scented water to prevent strong odor and infection; others made it a practice to soak the feet in urine to make the skin more supple, relieve swelling, and prevent expansion of the compressed areas.

Even for women advanced in age the binding cloth is removed only for bathing and to rebind. Once the heel has been forced forward and the arch broken, the foot must be immediately rebound; it otherwise begins to lose its shape, causing excrutiating pain that many women said equals that of the original binding.
The resulting mutant feet are as small as 2.5 inches toe to heel. Even today, it is rare to find a woman over 60 with feet more than 4 inches long.


kylie said...



Katrina said...

Thanks a lot, now I'm going to be woozy for the rest of the day

nicolette said...

in comparison, every pair of heels i've ever owned is like walking on sunshine.

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