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Chinese footbinding was about work, not sex—and it was complicated

QUARTZ, February 25, 2019, by Ilaria Maria Sala.

Was one of the cruelest ways of making women conform to crazy beauty standards about attractiveness for the marriage market, or was its endurance actually due to economic reasons? A series of recent studies argues that the practice was as much about women’s earnings, as about ideas of beauty. [……]

Footbinding, a Chinese custom that lasted a little less than 1,000 years, has gone down in human memory as one of the most severe forms of female body modification carried out in the name of seductiveness. It required turning women’s feet into three-inch “golden lotuses” by folding the toes under the foot and securing them with long strips of sturdy cotton. [……]

Mothers and grandmothers would bind their daughters’ feet when they were around five years of age, in order to prevent the foot’s natural growth. In many cases, the foot arch would break, drawing the heel and the toes into contact, and turning the foot into a tiny stump that made adult women totter atop tiny embroidered silk shoes. For women whose feet had been broken, unbinding them would be as painful as the binding had been, and it would not result in regaining full normal mobility. Women would be left unable to walk long distances unaided, run or carry heavy weights. [……]

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