The Cost Of Beauty: It’s quite high and what’s considered beautiful is quite random, and most often painful. It seems that beauty is pain. I remember reading a book nearly thirty years ago on Chinese footbinding. I was fascinated and repulsed by the idea that for 1,000 years, elite Chinese women had their feet bound, a very brutal and painful life long process so that they could have the very desirable “3 inch Lotus feet”, considered very sensual and quite beautiful, and necessary to get a good husband.
This binding was most often started by the determined mother of the young girl, and consisted of soaking her daughter’s feet in a mixture of animal blood or water with herbs to soften them and prepare them for the brutal process. Then the mother (or the professional foot binder for those mothers who didn’t have the heart) massaged the girl’s feet and started bending each toe except the big toe under the sole of the foot as tightly as possible and bound them in this position with a 10 foot long strip of cloth. In a figure 8 pattern–under the foot and around the ankle again and again, not only did they crush the toes under the foot but crushed the front and the back of the foot together so tightly that the arch of the foot folded in on itself. Though the girl screamed in agony, her pain was ignored or punished, and she was quickly required to start standing and walking on her soon to be “lotus feet“. The girl’s feet had to be unbound and rebound on a daily basis, in order to inspect the feet for injury, wash the feet and clip the toenails to avoid them from becoming ingrown. Each rebinding was done tighter than the last, until they finally reached the ideal 3” Lotus Blossom.
Although this practice was a very painful one for the women, the allure of Lotus feet were very highly erotic for the men. Very beautifully crafted silk embroidered lotus shoes were made for these women, adding to the appeal. An entire aritsan economy was developed on the broken feet of the elite women of China. This lotus foot cultural practice fed the ego of the men, because only those men of high economic means could afford a woman who was debilitated in this way. The broken feet of the elite women proved the worth of the elite men.
Many men chose to never see the uncovered feet of his woman, as the brutal reality of her broken feet would destroy forever the erotic fantasy. Kama Sutra type sexual manuals were written of the many ways a man could play with his woman’s bound feet, thus increasing his own sexual pleasures. But the true sexual attractiveness of the woman lie in her “Lotus Gait”, the way in which she was forced to walk on her bound feet. As she walked, she put her weight on the heels of her feet, rather than the front of her feet. This caused her to take small, careful, halting steps, which made her hips sway in a particular “sexy” way.
As strange as all of this seems, it even went as far as the lower class women becoming jealous, and figuring out ways to get that halting Lotus Gait themselves. Depending on their financial means, some were able to bind their feet, though they could only afford to rebind them twice or three times a week rather than daily. There was yet another economy that developed, where craftsmen created a type of shoe with a pedastal heel, which helped these “lower caste” women achieve the Lotus Gait of their aristocratic counterparts.