Caution: this post contains photos of a graphic nature which may disturb those of a more sensitive nature (and women who wear sensible shoes)!
The historical origins of the practice (torture?) of footbinding are vague, although brief references in Chinese texts of the time suggest that small feet for women were preferred as early as the Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.). The first documented reference to the actual binding of a foot is from the court of the Southern Tang dynasty in Nanjing (618 - 900 A.D.). The text celebrates the fame of its dancing girls renowned for their tiny feet and beautiful bow shoes. The practice became the standard for feminine beauty at the imperial court, the mark of a "woman of wealth and taste," and then spread downward socially and geographically as the lower classes endeavored to imitate the style of the elite (as it is ever thus).
Young girl with bound feet
Young girls between the ages of four and seven were the ideal candidates for the start of the torture/foot binding. A strip of cloth ten feet long and two inches wide was wrapped tightly around the foot. The four small toes were broken and bent under the sole. The arch of the foot was bowed to make the foot shorter. The cloth wrap was tightened over time and the foot was confined by increasingly smaller shoes. After about two years, the process (torture) had done its job. By then, the feet were useless for walking more than a few steps. The results of this torture:
Beautiful torture devices
All of this cruelty was performed so that they could wear shoes like those to the right.
As you can imagine, they spent most of their time lying around on sofas, which may sound like a cushy deal, but not when you start thinking about it. Too much lying around and lack of exercise and pretty soon your leg muscles would start to atrophy and you would just dissolve into a puddle of weak, useless flesh.
The practice was banned by the Chinese Republic in 1912, but continued on the down low into the 1930's, after which it finally died out. (After all, hard-working Communist women have to be able to haul ass!)
Artifacts of imperial China and 21st Century torture
But I mispeak. The actual practice of binding the foot may have died out, but the idea of shoes as instruments of torture is still thriving in 2012, particularly in the DSW dynasty. A trip to any shoe store (other than the Birkenstock outlet) during prom season -- or any time of the year, for that matter -- will provide ample evidence. Some women are still willing to contort their feet at excruciatingly strange angles and bind them into cruelly splendid modern day equivalents of the rack and the press in order to (insert your own reason here). Submitted for your perusal:
And what fiendish minds conjure these instruments of torture? The most famous designers of these cruelities also known as high-heeled shoes are men: Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Salvatore Ferragamo, Noritaka Tatehana (Lady Gaga's torturer). There's your answer, ladies. They don't have to insert their precious body parts which have 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons into their own creations. The only men who wear high heels are generally pretending to be women!
As a proud mother, I have to say that my wise-beyond-her-years daughter left the store with a pair of lovely, sparkling, eye-catching shoes... with sensible heels!
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