Sacrifice for Beauty

footbinded.jpgWe women are used to make sacrifices in the name of beauty, shaving, plucking eyebrows are some of this sacrifices, but every culture, every country has its own beauty ideals, so while something might be a beauty symbol in one place in a completely different country might be the complete opposite. Since I came to live in China I realized that white skin was definitely a beauty symbol. So the lighter the skin of a girl, the more beautiful she is considered. Some people say that’s because in very ancient times, really wealthy women didn’t need to work on the fields, they could stay home all day, that’s why their skin would be lighter, so any man would prefer a lighter skin woman than a darker skin one. Some other people say that this “white” skin concepts is because in ancient time men could better examine women’s body if their skin was lighter. The lighter the skin, the easier to spot any skin sickness or scars. Either way, until this days in China, the color of the skin is definitely a beauty pattern.

However, there are many other Chinese costumes that still puzzle me, I still can’t understand why do Chinese women don’t shave their under arms or legs, but I guess that’s because I’m from a Western country where that’s the costume.

Even though these two examples might seem very distinctive of our cultures differences, we women have suffered for centuries to achieve beauty. I’ve been reading a lot about some of the different traditional practises for every country, and one of the most detrimental one was the one that Chinese women were forced to preform for over one thousand years: FOOTBINDING.

This was a very long and extremely painful process that would result on women having tiny feet, as tiny as less than 3 inches. This practice was not only for fashion or style reasons, but for even deeper reasons that come from Confucian moral values on Chinese society, were women role was domesticity, motherhood and handwork. Since this practice was originated in the upper class, if a woman wanted to get married to a wealthy husband and achieve a good and moral life, she was supposed to bound their feet. This painful process started at ages as early as 4 or 6 years old in girls, so it was actually the girls family who decided the footbinding.
Is proved that footbinding deepened femaleIs proved that footbinding deepened female subjugation, making women dependent of men, restricting their movements and enforcing their chastity, since women with bound feet were physically incapable of venturing far from their homes.

Footbinding also had a big influence on women sex life. The “three-inch golden lotuses” (women’s feet) were considered the ultimate erogenous zone. During the Qing dynasty, pornographic books listed 48 different was of playing with women’s bound feet. With their feet bound, women had to walk with a “lotus gait” that tightened their pelvic muscles, that was like always making love to a virgin according to some men.

The footbinding tradition is said to come from the ancient times when a royal concubine had her feet bound to please her prince who loved her little feet and her ability to dance and walk so gracefully. Other women started copying this desirable look with the hopes of getting a good marriage and social position. The first documented evidence of footbinding dates from Song dynasty, as early as (960-1279) from the tomb of Lady Huang, the wife of an Imperial clansmen. Her feet were bound in strips of gauze and she wore 5 1/2 inches long shoes.

By the 12 th century, foot binding was widespread among the upper classes, particularly the ethnic Han Chinese, and it spread to other ethnic groups as well. In 1644, when the Manchus initiated the Qing dynasty, the first emperor banned footbinding but that tradition was so deeply rooted in Chinese culture that the ban was rescinded. After the nationalist revolution in 1911, footbinding again was officially banned, and the practice declined greatly this time, with the exception of small groups living in the countryside.

The whole process of binding started when the girl was around 5 and 7 years of age. All the toes except the big toe were folded under the foot and pulled back toward the arch, held in place by a very long strip of cloth, creating a steep, concave arch an fold in the center of the sole. The front of the heel bone was pushed up, and the top of the foot became extremely rounded and steeply angled. The long cloth bindings were worn night and day, and since they were so long and tie, they could only be remove every two weeks to clean the foot. Some of the feet muscles and tendons became stretched and some contracted, forcing the bones into different positions and resulting in a reshaped or deformed foot that was shorter and with a narrower sole. The complete process was extremely painful for girls, but after a few years the pain would completely go away. They still would have to use the cloths for binding their feet because by leaving it free, the pain of the bones and muscles coming back to their original position would be even bigger.

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.
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5 thoughts on “Sacrifice for Beauty

  1. Pingback: ethnic costumes
  2. my god, that picture is horrendous. I cant imagine that women would actually do that to their little girls. what an awful tradition. that is disgusting. good thing i was born in this generation.

  3. I am doing this topic for a school assignment and I am not sure if I can go on looking at these pictures and writing about them. I too, am glad I grew up in the 20th century.

  4. Although I am glad to know this so-called beauty practice (footbinding to me is nothing but abuse and oppression of women) is no longer practised, I cannot help but sometimes see how a toe-tuck surgery and a pair of narrow stilettos somewhat show how modern day women still want to sacrifice their healthy feet for vanity, fashion and beauty.

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