Foot-binding is said to have been inspired by a tenth-century court dancer named Yao Niang who bound her feet into the shape of a new moon. She entranced Emperor Li Yu by dancing on her toes inside a six-foot golden lotus festooned with ribbons and precious stones.
Since then, ladies were encouraged to make their feet smaller and this was achieved from breaking the girl’s toes and binding them tightly with cloth to prevent them from growing any larger than 4 inches.
It was usually the rich girls who would have their feet bound mainly because the rich had servants to serve them since they couldn’t walk. The poor girls needed normal feet in order to work.
For families with marriageable daughters, foot size translated into its own form of currency and a means of achieving upward mobility. The most desirable bride possessed a three-inch foot, known as a “golden lotus.” It was respectable to have four-inch feet—a silver lotus—but feet five inches or longer were dismissed as iron lotuses. The marriage prospects for such a girl were very dim.
According to the Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years Of An Erotic Tradition by Beverly Jackson, it was also about sexual pleasure for men. In his book, he mentioned that due to their tiny bounded feet, they were forced to walk in a unique posture that forced the muscles in the upper legs, hips and vagina to tighten. Aside from that, the constant pressure put on a woman’s heels when she walked made her develop fat thighs which made her voluptuous and curvy in the eyes of a Chinese male. Many Chinese men then also claimed that it felt like making love to a virgin each and every time they had intercourse because the walk caused the muscles of the vagina to tighten to that extent. In other words, the smaller your feet were, the “tighter” a woman is.
It’s really sad to think about all the pain these women had to go through just so they can be acceptable to society, but hopefully, the practice has died out now.
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