The world isn’t new to bizarre beauty traditions, and in this arena, China takes the cake. Ever since the propagation of the tradition that possibly originated during the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, and continued on through the Song and Qing Dynasties till the mid-1900s, when the Communist Party came to power.

It was the tradition of foot binding, where women broke their feet by bending the heel towards the toes, creating an unnaturally high arch, and taking a good few inches off the length of the foot. The broken foot was then bound repeatedly with strips of cloth to hold it in place and prevent it from healing, and expanding into the right shape.

Daji and her Clubfoot

This tradition has two origin stories- the first being that during the Shang Dynasty, a concubine named Daji who was a favourite of the ruler, who was insecure about the fact that she had clubfoot, and tried to turn it into a standard of beauty, leading to other Chinese women binding their feet to resemble hers.

The Golden Lotus

The second legend is that Pan Yu’er, a favourite courtesan of the emperor Xiao Baojuan, danced over a floor decorated with the design of a golden lotus, leading to the emperor to complement her by comparing her to the Buddhist legend of Padmavati, saying that a lotus sprung from her every step.

A Very “Small” Standard of Beauty

Small feet were considered an ideal of beauty and a status symbol, and were a highly desired trait in a woman, leading to the mothers of several poor families binding the feet of their eldest daughter in the hope that she would marry a nobleman.

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Starting Young

Children as young as four would be subjected to an agonising process where their feet would be soaked in a mixture of herbs and animal blood to soften them, and then their nails clipped back as far as they would go, and then their feet would be broken and bound to stunt their growth. This was usually done in the winter months, in the hope that the cold would numb the pain.

The Decline

The coming of Christian missionaries and the formation of the Republic of China led to several movements against foot binding. The Communist Party also publicly shamed women with bound feet by conducting inspections in every house and hanging up foot binding strips in the windows as and when they were found.

It was also hard for women to find employment in the agricultural field with bound feet, as it required several hours of work done while standing. For all these reasons, the practice of foot binding slowly began its decline and was entirely stopped by the late 1950s.

Modern Foot Torture

This tradition is just another example of the bizarre extents to which society stretches the concept of a woman’s beauty, and is just a few notches away from the modern torture instruments known an “stilettos.” Stilettos may not break one’s bones, but they do alter the shape of the foot over longtime use and cause damage to the spine. For all of us who think we’ve moved on and progressed from archaic beauty traditions- think again.

Image Credits: Google Images

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