Foot Binding - The pathway towards an aesthetic ideal or a method of subjugation and torture?
In the past, the ideal size for a feminine foot was said to be 3-4 inches in length.
The practice of foot binding lasted for about 1000 years from the Tang dynasty (618-906) until it was outlawed in 1911 and it has been estimated that 1 billion women underwent the procedure. Initially it was an upper class custom but latterly it spread through the population as a whole and it came to the point where a woman would not be marriageable if she did not have bound feet.
Foot binding began between the age of 4 and 7 when the foot was still fairly pliable. The older the girl was the more excruciating was the pain, and the procedure took about 2 years to complete, after which time the foot was practically dead. The four smaller toes were bent right under the foot and bound using a 10ft long bandage. The great toe was left unbound but the foot was shortened because of the high arch created by the other toes being bent. Every day the bandages had to be removed and the foot washed because infection would set in due to the constriction and poor circulation; gangrene was not uncommon. It is impossible to imagine the pain which resulted, but the child's mother would force this upon her daughter in the hope of improving her prospects for a good marriage - a case of having to be cruel to be kind. The fact that now the woman could hardly walk made sure that she remained dependant on her family or her husband and could not 'stray'.
Small feet became an erotic ideal in the eyes of many Chinese men, just as today Western women undergo pain and surgery (albeit voluntarily) to enlarge their breasts or reduce their waists to increase their desireability. The change in gait which resulted from having bound feet is said to have strengthened the muscles of the woman's vagina such that she was more able to satisfy her husband. In a patriarchal society where men were totally dominant over women maybe it is small wonder that this sadistic practice lasted for one thousand years.