Foot Binding- Parallels Between Nineteenth Century China and Today

I recently read Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 10.48.58 AMthe book, Snowflower and the Secret Fan.  The book unfolds in nineteenth century China.  At that time, foot binding was common practice.  Small feet were symbol of status and beauty.  Below is a basic description of foot binding as related in the book.

  • Foot binding began at age five or six
  • Dumplings were given to soften bones
  • Toes were bent beneath the soles of the feet
  • Bindings were wrapped painfully tight around the feet
  • The young girls were made to walk back and forth in their room until their bones finally cracked
  • The process of tightly re-wrapping the bindings, walking, and eating dumplings continued until the feet were molded to the correct shape.

You may be thinking what I thought when I heard this description, “Who in the world would ever do that to themselves?”  At that time in Chinese history, foot binding was the culture, it was accepted, normal, and expected.  Tiny feet were erotic and sensual.

This idea of “true beauty” keeps running through my mind.  What is beautiful?  Is it simply what our culture portrays?  It may be easy to look at foot binding and see its injustice.  How unfair to those girls who were expected to give up their freedom in pursuit of beauty.  I say that they gave up their freedom because once their feet were bound, they were  no longer free to run and walk long distances without pain.  Could the same thing be said of our society today?  Is it not unjust that, according to popular culture, women are expected to go to great lengths to have flawless skin, shiny hair, toned arms, abs of steel, and a thin physic?  We are being fed these expectations just as the Chinese were fed the expectations of foot binding in the nineteenth century.  I think that our great-grandchildren will look back on our generation with the same sympathy that we give the nineteenth century Chinese women.

Thankfully, we get to choose whether or not we accept our society’s paradigm of beauty.  It may not to be easy, but it is possible.  What are you allowing into your life that may be causing your personal “foot binding”?  Are there triggers that you need to remove?

  • Social Media?
  • Magazines?
  • TV?
  • Perhaps some friends, family, or acquaintances?

Foot binding was officially outlawed in 1911, those women are now free.  I encourage you to make the choices that will enable you to live a life that is free of the unrealistic expectations that our culture places on women.  For many, it will be a daily, intentional effort, to tune out the “beauty noise” of our society, but I promise, it will be worth the effort.

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