Since the dawn of mankind extreme body modification were a part from who we are, from lip stretching and teeth sharpening to cheek and ear piercing.
People always had different beauty standards that changed over the years, only to become symbolic markers of the past. The Chinese practice of foot-binding is definitely one of them.
The 86-year-old Zhou Guizhen is one of few women alive who lived in times when foot-binding was still an everyday practice. In 1912 this practice was outlawed, but many women still continued to bind their feet.
This practice involved applying tight bandages to the feet of young girls to prevent them from growing because their bones were still soft. They were only 4 years old. Old Foot-Binding dates all the way back to the T`and Dynasty (618-907 DC) and was only practiced by the wealthy, because men thought small feet would make women more attractive.
Except for the big toe all others were snapped and curled as close to the heel as possible. They had to wrap and unwrap their feet all the time until they were only 4 inches big. They would usually wait until winter before they start to bind their feet because of the numbing capabilities of the cold.
Guizhen recalls how she fooled the government inspectors when this practice got banned by wrapping thick bandages on her small feet and wearing big shoes. She also was born in a wealthy family and married to a husband that ended up as an opium addict.
At the time of the communist revolution all women with small feet were shunned because they couldn’t do the labor necessary to fuel the communist vision. They all lost their riches and valuable possessions.
In that time foot-binding was a necessary practice for a good marriage and a status symbol. Today she regrets because she can no longer dance or even move properly.
I don`t think they realized how dangerous to their health this practice was. The pain must be unbearable and not to mention other problems like infections that forced them to cut chunks of their own flesh. Their feet also smelled horribly because they were wrapped all the time and washed only once a week.