Footbinding: Torture or Tolerable??

“There are a thousand bucket of tears for a woman who binds her feet”– old Chinese saying

Chinese woman began binding their feet in 970 A.D., without the intention of deforming them. This tradition quickly spread throughout every level of Chinese society and transformed into a custom to force feet into the shape of a 2 1/3 or 3 inch lotus flower.

Bound feet and decorative shoes became the core of feminine beauty and footbinding became essential to finding a husband. Small feet were so preferred that an unflattering figure or other flaw were overlooked if a woman’s feet was small enough.

At times, footbinding was openly viewed as a tool to control women. Women with bound feet experienced limited mobility and consequently spent little or no time outside of their homes for years.

A women with natural feet was considered a freak of nature and treated very poorly until after the Communist Revolution, which occurred in 1949.

Footbinding typically began for girls between 5 and 12 years old. This long process lasted many years and was extremely painful. Bones were broken and crushed and flesh molded into the shape of a small crescent moon, referred to as  a “Golden Lotus.”

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.”

At the beginning, feet normally filled with pus and broke open and  girls were usually immobile or needed significant help to walk.

For her entire life, a woman must clean and rebind her feet regularly. Each step is stunted because the feet are so tiny that walking basically becomes a balance on stilts.

Some girls and women continue to bind their feet today.

Though it is true that every culture has a set of feminism beauty ideals, where is the line between torture and tolerance??  In the United States, as many as 1 million girls and women struggle with eating disorders in order to achieve the ideal thin body that is the American standard of beauty.

Is footbinding that much different than eating disorders? What are your thoughts about culturally imposed feminine beauty standards?

Information and photo for this post was taken from the Bound Feet Project. Eating disorder stat is from

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