Foot binding (also known as "Lotus feet") is the custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth. The practice possibly originated among upper-class court dancers during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in Imperial China (10th or 11th century), but spread in the Song Dynasty and eventually became common among all but the lowest of classes. Foot binding became popular as a means of displaying status (women from wealthy families who did not need them to work could afford to have their feet bound) and was correspondingly adopted as a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture.The ideal length for a bound foot was three inches.
Millions of Chinese women went — binding their feet to turn them into the prized "three-inch golden lotuses."
Bound feet became a mark of beauty and was also a prerequisite for finding a husband. It also became an avenue for poorer women to marry into money.
Footbinding became more popular and spread from court circles to the wealthy. Eventually, it moved from the cities to the countryside, where young girls realized that binding their feet could be their passport to social mobility and increased wealth.
How the footbinding is done?
The process was started before the arch of the foot had a chance to develop fully, usually between the ages of 2 and 5. Binding usually started during the winter months since the feet were more likely to be numb, and therefore the pain would not be as extreme.
First, each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood; this was intended to soften the foot and aid the binding. Then, the toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent in-growth and subsequent infections, since the toes were to be pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. Cotton bandages, 3 m long and 5 cm wide (10 ft by 2 in), were prepared by soaking them in the blood and herb mixture. To enable the size of the feet to be reduced, the toes on each foot were curled under, then pressed with great force downwards and squeezed into the sole of the foot until the toes broke.
The broken toes were held tightly against the sole of the foot while the foot was then drawn down straight with the leg and the arch forcibly broken. The bandages were repeatedly wound in a figure-eight movement, starting at the inside of the foot at the instep, then carried over the toes, under the foot, and around the heel, the freshly broken toes being pressed tightly into the sole of the foot. At each pass around the foot, the binding cloth was tightened, pulling the ball of the foot and the heel together, causing the broken foot to fold at the arch, and pressing the toes underneath. They would be unbound regularly. The bindings were pulled even tighter each time the girl's feet were rebound.
I took this picture inside a Museum in Lake George, New York State. The light was extremely low and the image was taken through the glass protected box. Certain amount of noise is detected and they are not in sharp focus because I used long exposure rather than the flash and I had no tripod on hand at the moment.
Critiques | Translate
serp2000 (35728) 2013-12-28 8:40
This is very impressive photo, but I don't know how I can give "smile" sign for this view. Well, let it were 2 points for your photo work. Very informative note.
rigoletto (33776) 2013-12-28 9:27
ouch, even looking at it hurts and your note made me itchy at feet, i don't wanna think of the owners of such feet in the past. so it was also a prerequisite for finding a husband and moving to an upper class? gosh...
interesting note and photo. you made a good job in quite a dark place. a hint: you can download and use neatimage software for free, to help you clean the noise in your photo.
jacquest (17761) 2013-12-28 9:32
Understandably, you worked under difficult conditions to photograph this exhibit but your image becomes an essential part of your story about feet binding. Your note is quite interesting and instructive, but I have to say chills ran over me reading it.
marabu61 (6457) 2013-12-28 10:37
This is a very disturbing photo indeed, just to think about that horrible technique hurts in the stomach. Luckily enough this was taken in a museum, I just hope that the technique today is banned in China?
It never seizes to astonish me at what length the human mind goes for a strange sense of beauty.
Perfect Trek Earth entry with an impressive note and very well presented.
happy new year
fabbs99 (14375) 2013-12-28 20:05
This is a sad story.The picture depicts torture in the name of tradition.In some Arab and African society,girls undergo clitoral circumcision,which again is a great torture.Hope we can end such practices sooner.Happy New Year in advance to you.Have a great Sunday.TFS.
aleXundar (1256) 2013-12-29 5:46
The way you described the process in detail, is really painful. Particularly, the exercise is applied to very young girls. It is unfortunate that there are still some very painful customs prevail in many countries even in twenty first Century.
The quality of the photo is not at all a point here. We should thank you that you helped us learning about the custom through TE.
Wishing a very happy New Year,2014,
holmertz (34533) 2013-12-29 6:25
This is a very unusual photo for TE and not an entirely pleasant one. However, considering that TE is meant to teach us about the world it is a very suitable contribution, even though it makes me feel slightly sick. When I toured China in 1986 I saw two or three old ladies who had had their feet bound. Hopefully they belonged to the last generation who had undergone this treatment and that the practice now belongs to the past.
Kind regards and a Happny New Year.
pajaran (45442) 2013-12-29 22:52
Vrlo interesantan i dobar tekst o narodnom obicaju.
Dobar rad, lepo pokazano stopalo.
Mnogo je ljudi u svetu i narodnih obicaja.
Very interesting and good article on the folk custom.
Good work, good foot shown.
Many people in the world and folk customs.
All the best.
icesurfer (538) 2013-12-30 13:34
Not an easy picture to look at, and reading your note I seriously felt shivers on my back.
But this is what photography should feel like, at times: a punch straight from the screen.
Thanks for sharing.
adores (32662) 2014-01-02 14:55
I had never seem how it really looked like. Impressive indeed and surely too painful!
You have done a good work in such difficult conditions!
Have a great New Year!
mcmtanyel (8147) 2014-01-04 21:26
This is an excellent journalistic photo. Granted, looking at the photo makes me sick to my stomach but that is what good photography is supposed to be about - to engage the viewer. Your photo does it very effectively. Together with your note, it draws our attention to a most objectionable practice, which, I hope, is no longer tolerated.
Miguel82 (17293) 2014-02-08 6:45
What a scary and repellant tradition Anna, I'm definitely against that I suppose many people should suffer during medieval times, anyway this an informative report, all the best, have a good saturday
jmdias (50325) 2014-02-14 1:07
this is one of that things that are difficult to understand when we are watching another culture, the nude feet of those women were really a tragedy to see, but what was important was the appearance outside of the shoes. nice image showing how the feet were tortured and the small shoes ahead.
Kaisa71 (220) 2014-03-14 14:31
Thanks for sharing this heartbreaking and touching shot. It is difficult to realize/understand what have been done for "so called" beauty and social status. Nowadays no one can say Lotus feet looks beautiful! They look awful and think the pain what girls and women had. I have been to China and have heard a lot about the foot binding but your note is excellent.
Good that you didn't use the flash but long exposure. Colourful shoes bring life on photo but still the foot gets all my attention.
Best wishes, Kaisa
fritzi007 (802) 2014-03-23 16:29
why, that must be? I do not like!
Your photo and information is perfect.