Monday, April 5, 2010

"Lotus Slippers" and Chinese Foot Binding

Perhaps no other shoe in history has provided so much cultural fascination and ethical revulsion than the traditional Chinese practice of foot binding. Undertaken by (or enacted upon) young girls between the ages of 5 and 7, the binding process entails the breaking of the bones in the foot, and subsequent warping and (sometime) mutilation of the foot in order for it to remain a tiny size, ideally no longer than three inches in length (known as a "golden lily" by practitioners). This excruciating and ultimately crippling practice was begun during the 10th century, and was not thoroughly abolished until the late 1940s.

While lotus slippers were usually made of silk, they were constructed of cotton in poorer provinces. Heels were often added to slippers belonging to aristocratic women. Due to the restrictive sizing of lotus slippers, many women only fit their (extended) toe into the shoe, wearing the heel outside of the slipper (resulting in a deep crevice between the heel and foot). Lotus slippers featured elaborate embroidery, typically sewn by the woman who was to wear them. The guidelines for appropriate slipper color were carefully observed by the wearers. Examples include red for festivities and the first pair, black for the elderly, and yellow exclusively for the imperial family.

Although essentially a method of enfeebling and disenfranchising women in a patriarchal culture, the reasons for institutionalizing foot-binding were manifold within its heyday. Women with bound feet were seen as members of the upper class (due to diminished ability for movement and work), were considered more attractive, were seen as examples of good breeding, and generally fetched a higher price when they were married. The legacy of foot-binding and the slippers associated with the practice continue to inspire shock, horror, and artistic discovery. Overall, the viewer is invited to re-examine our own cultural aesthetic practices.

To learn more about Chinese Foot Binding, please explore this source:

SFM - Chinese Foot Binding - Lotus Shoes

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