The history of the lotus foot binding was an ancient ritual that had commenced in 700AD and was then outlawed in 1911. It was originally known that it originated from Li Yu, the Emperor of Southern Tang Dynasty. He created this method because he thought that it was beautiful for women to have small, petite feet. He commanded the young women in his Palace to bind their feet in order to please him. They would slowly use strips to break and deform the structures of their feet; making them look almost hoofed shaped. The women that subjected themselves to this method had caused a very long excruciating time period, of pain. It meant that they were unable to work, do chores, or even the simplest of actions like walking normally without great difficulty. Once he succeeded to demand the women within the palace to bind their feet, he would get them to dance on golden lotuses. Which is where the name Lotus feet had come from. The method of the lotus feet had spread out across china, like wild fire. Although the women knew how grotesque the sightings of the broken feet were. It provoked a physical and mental response resulting in all the women of China, perceiving that this was a sign of beauty. Suddenly it became a custom and expectation that all women had to follow this ritual. It started off only for the upper-class women, which were able to afford to have it done. They were classed as mesmerizing, where as the women who didn’t have them done, had no class at all, and was classed as the lowest of the low. Back then lotus feet had become a symbolic custom within the Chinese society. You had to keep up with the customs; otherwise you would be singled out and disowned.
My case study isn’t just about the custom of foot binding; it’s from the perspective of how society and power influenced women that their natural bodies weren’t good enough. They had to inflict severe pain, in order to modificate their body into the expectations that the society demanded. We thrive through life constantly moulding our body and mind into the people we hope to be, we do this because we seek for perfection and acceptance. The development of the brain, is limitless, we only use a small proportion of its capabilities. My lecturer once said, “the brain is like plastic, it’s mouldable, it can change through time creating new brain structures and learning new things.” To support this “As far as the brain is concerned, the human body does not end at the surface of the skin. The body encompasses toes, fingers, and heads, not to mention thighs and bellies, but it can also comprise hats, canoe paddles, and tennis rackets. It includes the peripersonal penumbra described both by neuroscience and by the Himba of Namibia, who postulate a kind of bubble or “self space” that envelops the human body (p. 63) Much like letters, sounds, and images can be transformed into analog or digital signals, sent across space, and decoded again by fax machines, radios, televisions, and computer screens, a signal can be transmitted between two or more individuals. All of us, from mates and god sibs to publicists and pornographers, have the ability to reach into the autonomic nervous system of other bodies, there to excite neurons and stimulate or shut off neurotransmitters and hormones (Shryock and Smail, p. 64)
We are individually moulding and modificating ours bodies, to what we eat, how we exercise or what we wear. Although the painful and severe lotus foot binding custom has been banned, it doesn’t stop the fact that even though one custom has be banned there is others that still exist. We are ignorant to how society manipulates us into the way of thinking what perfection and beauty should be. We forget for example the way a ballerina binds her feet, in order for her to dance on her toes or how women wear heels, that are almost impossible to balance on. This is what the 21st century fashion custom is; it’s accepted to wear heels or to dance like a ballerina for perfection. “If tiny feet suddenly became fashionable, would American women subject themselves to foot-binding.” (ko, 2001, p.9) Yes, with out us subconsciously knowing it we are like sheep. We follow and learn from one another. We’re connected in this world; we rise and fall by who we are or what we do throughout our different cultures and societies.
Learning about the custom of how beautifully and symbolic the lotus feet were, you have to question what is the true meaning of beauty. Cultures, people and societies have hijacked the definition of beauty. Imprinting into their minds who they must be or become. Instead of following these customs, which have manipulated and forced against the natural form. We must start believing that beauty comes from within and stop believing that beauty is solely on our appearance, dictated by society. “Everyone knows that beauty is what pleases” (Berkley 1732, 174, see Carritt 1931, 75) we all individually see beauty in various forms, like the Emperor Li Yu saw beauty with in the lotus foot. Therefore people who dominate the term beauty such as cosmetic firms, force the issues to those sections of societies that can be influenced to buy their products.
What I have learnt from my studies is that we shouldn’t isolate our efforts on the changing of our appearances; we need to stop being ignorant to the knowledge and capabilities that our bodies offer. We shouldn’t let our body appearance and insecurities force us to modificate our bodies for example through plastic surgeries, medicine or in this particular case foot binding. Nature provides us with our form, in which we should embrace and not attempt to force change. This not only affects the individual psychologically but also can develop deeper and longer issues for society as a whole. My studies has opened my eyes from a complete different perspective, it’s shown to never limit the things that are around and learn from what comes my way. In the near future I hope that people, cultures and societies will realize that we are one in the same. We shouldn’t demise ourselves from the rich to the poor, ugly and to the prettiest, the dumb or the genius. We all have different capabilities and until we start to learn that we will never truly live in harmony.
– Dorothy Ko, 2001, Every step a lotus, university California press.
– Carritt, E.F., 1931, Philosophies of Beauty, London: Oxford University Press.
-Berkeley, Bishop George, 1732, Alciphron: or, The Minute Philosopher, London: Tonson and Co.
-Andrew shrylock and Daniel lord smail, University of California Press, 2008