Monday, December 12, 2011

Cinderella’s Sisters and Footbinding

Over the weekend, Maria Tatar offered a short blog entry--Cinderella’s Sisters and Footbinding--at her Breezes in Wonderland. It was a perfect posting moment for me since I had just returned home after a brief shopping trip that included a stop in the shoe department where all of the sparklies and six inch heels were on display. Personally, I forsook anything higher than a two inch and anything uncomfortable period in footwear when I quit toe shoes and ballet a little over twenty years ago. I was tired of achy feet and at sixteen I didn't see the point anymore. The point was driven home a few years later in college when one of my roommates--just a few years older than me--already had feet permanently Barbie'd after years of wearing heels because she was only five feet tall.

And, no, footbinding was a horrendous torture put upon girls and is very different, but a strong case can be made for what women do to their feet in the name of beauty in western cultures, too, with all the warnings about foot injuries and issues developed over time. And we do it voluntarily! Maria offered this image which makes another interesting argument:

But before she gets to that punchline, Maria was inspired by both her experience with Cinderella's Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko and a new article in the Harvard Gazette, Unraveling a brutal custom: Foot binding in China tied to hand weaving, study finds, about footbinding. Here's the first few paragraphs:

Gasps echoed through the Radcliffe gymnasium on Wednesday as audience members reacted to the image of a woman’s foot, projected on a large screen at the front of the hall.

It was a foot in name only. The misshapen mass looked more like a hoof bisected by a crack. The deformity was the result of foot binding, a common practice in much of China until the middle of the last century that involved wrapping the foot of a young girl or woman tightly with a cloth to stunt its growth, explained Laurel Bossen, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

That particular type of bound foot was called “the three-inch golden lotus,” said Bossen. “That’s the ideal. It gradually broke the girl’s arch … you can see that the arch is just a crevasse on that foot.”

Maria likened the process to Cinderella and I'll add to the mix with another media article, one of many with the same story, from this past summer: Shoes Too Tight? There's Cosmetic Surgery for That from the Wall Street Journal via Fox News (since WSJ is archived now).

How far will some women go to fit into high heels? The menu of services at Beverly Hills Aesthetic Foot Surgery in Studio City, Calif., provides a clue.

There's the trademarked "Cinderella Procedure" — a preventive bunion correction that makes feet narrower. The clinic also offers the "Perfect 10! Aesthetic Toe Shortening" that invisibly trims toes that hang over the end of sandals or have to be crushed into tight shoes. There's also "Foot-Tuck Fat Pad Augmentation," in which fat from the patient's abdomen is injected into the balls of her feet to provide extra cushioning for long days on high heels.

"It's unrealistic to tell women not to wear high heels," said the clinic's founder, podiatrist Ali Sadrieh. "I came up with procedures that allow the women to function, pain-free, in the real world."

Those are exactly kinds of cosmetic procedures that a big group of orthopedic foot surgeons blasted in a news release last month.

"Shortening a toe to get into a tight-fitting shoe should not be a standard of care in any physician's office," said Donald R. Bohay, an orthopedic surgeon in Grand Rapids, Mich., and co-chairman of public education for the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society.
Now I appreciate fashion and have had my fun with Project Runway and other shows in the past--if it's about design of any kind, be it guns or dresses, my husband's interested and watching--so I am not trying to sound all snobbery. But what dictates crazy shoes as high fashion? The only celebrities on red carpets allowed flatter shoes without high criticism are the pregnant ones and usually they are sporting spikes, too.

That's all I have to say because I have several more posts for the day and week to finish. But food for thought on a Monday morning!


  1. I find footbinding very interesting. Apparently my great-grandmother (who I never met) on my mother's side had this done as a child, but it was not done well, and her feet never became like in that picture, but they were rather mangled looking.

    I watched a documentary on this at school, and I remember hearing about the weird sexual fascination these tormented feet took on for men. It makes wearing painful high heels and removing body hair look like bliss. I remember one of the women in the documentary said that when communism came, and she had to work to feed her family, it was so hard on her tiny feet, she couldn't do as much as normal people, no matter how she tried, and had to watch some of her children DIE of hunger. Now it is apparently a shameful part of their history they want to cover up, and a few old women with bound feet pick through rubbish on the streets, rejected by society. It is amazing the things we will do for 'beauty.'

    It is horrifying that there are now cosmetic procedures to do things to our feet. Both my little toes were once broken, which is probably why I don't fit narrow toed shoes, but I would never have an operation! the idea horrifies me! I can walk and run fine, they have never affected my life!

    I always did love the bit in Cinderella where they cut off their toes and heels, though, such a gruesome reflection of standards of beauty.

  2. "we do it voluntarily" YES WE CHOOSE! not every western woman wears high heels not every one thinks that we should. But we have the choice and it's our choice! I think it's good to educate people but in the end it's up to us a human what we want to do to our bodies! I don't like wearing make up and high heel shoes all the time. But sometimes I do. I don't like the stress of getting up every morning and going through a 2 hour routine. But when I do feel like it I feel like I'm highlighting my be qualities and down playing my worst. I believe that being a woman we should always have that right no one should take full control over over thoughts or appearance.

  3. Why are high heels even bad lol. Some people dont mind wearing them at all and comparing it to foot binding where you could not even walk is redickulouseseseses

  4. Thank you for your blogging, I found it interesting. Feet that look like a hoof...maybe it's the whole purpose of it. Maybe it all goes back to hunting culture.