Is this the picture of the future of women’s feet? Of course not, most people would say. However, history has a way of repeating itself and history has not been kind to the female foot.
But, before we look at hte brutal, painful history of the beautification of the female foot, I want to make it clear: even today–in Amerierica–some women ut their tootsies under the knife strictly to make them more attractive.
Again, most people would find having surgery on their foot strictly for beauty ridiculous, even crazy. Most people would say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Most podiatrists would agree–and recommend you only have surgery if you have foot pain or a deformity, or some other medical problem.
Other people would argue that many people have surgery on their nose when nothing is medically wrong—they just want to look prettier (or handsome).
When it comes to our feet, dramatic deformation of our natural feet in search of beauty is nothing new.
The Eroticization Of The Female Foot
The most dramatic example of increasing foot attractiveness by deforming the woman’s foot comes from the historical practice of Chinese foot binding. For a thousand years, five billion people participated in this torturous practice.
Most women who underwent foot binding were unable to do much work and some as they aged, could not even place their feet on the floor without excruciating pain. As a result, these women needed servants and the lotus foot became a status symbol, something for the well to do and aristocrats. The poor often could not afford to allow a daughter to have her feet bound, as the girl needed to work.
When girls were around five years old, their mothers would begin binding their feet. This would involve soaking the foot in hot water, massaging it, and then using ten-foot long reams of tape to curl the girl’s second, third, fourth and fifth toes backwards and under their foot with the tape wrapped tightly around the heel. Screams and tears by the child were inevitable, especially that first day.
Foot binding did leave the big toe remained unbound, so the girl could still walk—albeit awkwardly. Eventually, the girl would learn to bind her foot herself. The binding would continue into the teenage years, gradually pulling the toes and heel closer together, creating a severely bowed foot. The goal was to create what was termed the golden three-inch “Lotus Foot”
Sadly, this would leave the woman severely crippled. The woman would have to take great care of her foot, making certain to keep the nails trimmed and washing the foot daily, as it was prone to infection, gangrene and amputation.
A Culture of Foot Fetishism
While foot binding was in vogue, about a billion females endured the process. It was necessary to help ensure the woman marriage, and it came with the promise of potentially “marrying up” in social status. Men didn’t ask matchmakers about a woman’s facial appearance but about the size of her feet. A large foot signaled laziness, something one would expect of servants. A small foot implied discipline, and had a sexual aspect.
Chinese men apprised the subtle variations in the Lotus Foot much like today’s modern males might discuss distinctions in women’s breasts. The most admired quality was plumpness, signifying voluptuousness.
The lotus foot became an integral part of lovemaking. Books on the subject, for both men and women, were common. Men used the fleshy folds under the foot’s arch like a vagina, fondling it with their fingers, tongue and penis.
In addition, toe sucking and foot kissing was common—at times, men would boast about having put the entire foot in their mouth. Women used the lotus foot in foreplay and by putting their feet together could actually make a pseudo-vagina for the male, or for some, they were flexible enough to use this position to maneuver the male’s member into their vagina without their hands. Foot binding was foot fetishism on a massive scale, and even today, world wide, out of all the sexual fetishes, the foot fetish most common.
Foot binding wasn’t only a Chinese tradition. It occurred to lesser extents in Japan, Korea, Indonesia, and other Asian countries. Even non-Chinese Jews living in China took up the practice.
In 1895 a group women in Shanghai formed the anti-foot binding society. China banned foot binding in 1912, though for a while some families secretly continued to bind their daughters’ feet, still believing in the practice’s virtues.
Today, a less dramatic example of small feet signaling attractiveness comes from a study showing that eighty-eight percent of U.S. women, at some point, continue to squeeze their feet into shoes that are too small for them.
One interesting observation is the remarkable similarity between the foot bones in the lotus foot and the position of the foot bones when in a high heel. One has to wonder if someday society will think of high heels in the same way it regards foot binding.
Learn more about Chinese Foot Binding at NPR.
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