An ancient Chinese custom that was practiced for more than a thousand years, and banned since 1911, foot binding required young girls to tightly wrap their feet in bandages so that their feet would stay at a desired 4 inches. Four of the toes would break and bend, making the foot look almost like a lotus petal. This cruel practice was performed so that when the women walked, they would sway delicately like a willow branch in the breeze. This procedure is of course, highly painful, and would often result in lifelong deformity, atrophy of the muscles, and recent studies show even lowered hip and spine bone densities which would lead to a higher incidence of fracture.
Not all women in China had their feet bound; it was considered a status symbol for the wealthier families who could have to luxury of keeping a woman unproductive.
The practice of foot binding originated during the Song Dynasty, 960-976BC, and can be traced back to an ancient legend. The story goes that a girl, sold into a high class bordello, was known far and wide for her famed beauty and talent at dancing and playing the qin, a musical instrument. The Emperor, one day touring the streets dressed as a rich merchant, happened to hear her play through an open window and was immediately captivated.
He freed her from the bordello and made her one of his concubines. She felt so indebted to his kindness that she wanted to make a sacrifice to show her devotion. The Emperor loved to watch her dance, and one day when they were passing through the beautiful palace gardens, they stopped to watch the spectacular lotus flowers in bloom. The Emperor made a small joke about how wonderful it would be if the girl could dance upon the flowers, and promptly forgot all about it. However, the girl took it to heart, and decided to bind her feet so they would take on the semblance of lotus petals. After several months of agony, she was finally able to train herself to dance upon those tiny feet, and the Emperor was absolutely delighted. This practice soon spread to all the concubines to please the Emperor, and became a custom that marked just how far people were willing suffer in order to aspire to beauty’s ideal.