By Noelle Wright, University of Southern Mississippi
Every Culture has a different view of what defines beauty. Not all ideas
are simple and easy to obtain. In ancient China foot binding was believed to
be the way to achieve beauty. A women who had her feet bound was seen as
attractive and of a high class. This act, though painful, was a normal way for
women to live a good life and be worthy of a husband.
Mothers knew from the day their daughter was born that the act of toe
binding would have to be performed in order for them to appear normal. At age
four the mother would break the small toes and tuck them tightly toward the
heel. Every couple of days the foot was rebound even tighter. This process
took about two years but still continued with pain throughout the girls’ life.
This excruciating pain endured by a girl would leave them, in time, with a foot
that was about three inches long. In a society where this is important no girl
would refuse the procedure.
Not only did women of a higher class endure the pain but poor people began
practicing this technique with hopes of entering a higher class in society.
This idea was so popular that if a girl did not have her feet bound then
something was “wrong” with them. No mother wants her daughter to be looked
down upon so this process was carried out for every girl. All classes
participated in order to be seen as desirable.
Men in this society would only look at a women who had this procedure. It
is amazing that this is a form of pain is almost a necessity for life. If a
man brought home a women who had not had her feet bound the man’s mother would
not approve. A woman worthy of a man must have dealt with the process in order
to show how much they are willing to suffer in order to please a man.
For a women to be seen as marriage material the feet binding was required.
Men in this society wanted to be the dominant ones. This process of toe binding
makes it to where a women can not walk easily. To a man this makes him feel
needed; knowing she is vulnerable. Even in their society a man still thrives
off power of being in control.
The whole idea of feet binding came from the legend of a women who needed a
man to find her beautiful. This woman had her husband, the emperor, make this
procedure mandatory for all girls. The impact of his decision lasted for
centuries causing the idea to become the “norm” for females.
The effect of toe binding became very important for daily life. Because
men feel their wife should be there to serve them, toe binding was a good idea
for a male to be the superior one in a family. Many men felt that the limited
abilities of their wives created a domestic role for women. For a male this
put them in charge and caused the men in society to be the only ones who could
succeed(Jackson 19). Girls suffered for years to appeal to men only to be
overpowered by them for the rest of their lives.
All women have suffered for beauty in some form or another. The feet
binding is very painful and not only does a women suffer for years but the
effects last throughout a lifetime. Many women get gangrene from in grown
toenails. The foot can become infected very easily and can puss or bleed on a
regular basis. This goes to show the amount of impact society has on a women.
If she is willing to torture herself just to appeal to the opposite sex. It is
like Lamm says, this sort of view happens all day and effects everyone in some
No one should have to feel like they have to change their looks to be
accepted yet it happens and will continue to happen. These women had the
burden of knowing that if they did not accept this toe binding then it would
affect the rest of their lives. They had to suffer everyday with the pain in
their feet that created a horrible sensation that made it almost unbearable to
even walk. This is one very extreme sense of showing femininity; however there
are far worst acts.
Men in this society had to feel as if they were important. It is like that
in most places and for some reason everyone goes along with it. If for once
someone would say no maybe things would change. This will never happen because
no one person wants to say no and be the oddball. Everyone wants to pretend it
is normal to suffer to show that a person cares how they are viewed. In no way
did men suffer like the women did. These women could not even stand up for long
periods of time. What the girls gained for what they dealt with does not even
compare. Many women who participated in this process died early due to
The girls in this society all risked their lives just to prove how much
they wanted someone to notice them. The pain never stops and the repercussions
are severe. At one point after hundreds of years the Soong dynasty put a stop
to this, or so they thought. Even though foot binding became illegal people
still did it. When for so long someone is told that feet binding is the way to
show beauty no one would just stop because it was the law. For many more years
some places in China still practiced the act and did not care who said to stop.
Women who have to worry about having a family are going to do the things
society has told them to do. This is sad because no one should have to endure
pain like this just to be accepted.
Foot binding finally came to an end, after a long process. The government
said it was no longer legal and enforced the new law. Eventually the beauty
statement ended. This is ridiculous that some people will do anything. Not
all societies have extreme beliefs like this one but there is still something
that is just as important in those areas.
For years women suffered due to beauty. They were willing to die for it.
The girls were in pain but did it anyway because it was considered normal.
Most people want to fit in and not complain. They could not complain if they
wanted to because the person they would complain to would most likely be
someone that has been through the procedure already. No one complains about
something to someone who has the same problem; this is true everywhere. For
women to live a nice, happy life they had to deal with this process. While I
think this is torture it is their society and their beliefs. Just like
anywhere else the people are willing to do whatever necessary to fit in with
everyone’s views and expectations. Although toe binding has ended there will
always be something else that is considered beautiful and if society accepts it
then they will participate in the belief as well.
Jackson, Beverly. Splendid Slippers. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1997.
Lamm, Nomy. It’s a big fat revolution. Gender through the prism of difference. Oxford: Oxfod University Press, 2005.
Sterling Seagrave, The Soong Dynasty, New York, Harper & Roe, 1985.