Monday, June 13, 2011

Some day, my Prince will come

The things human beings do to themselves, and to each other.

I've always had a morbid curiosity about the ancient Chinese custom of footbinding: the practice of breaking all the bones of a little girl's feet, tightly bandaging them, and allowing the tissue to harden into a tiny slender hoof with very little circulation. With her crushed feet crammed into exquisitely-embroidered slippers, the little girl would be considered ravishing and, more importantly, marriageable. Feet longer than three inches (the ideal "golden lotus", comparing the foot to an inanimate object) were seen as uncouth. So mothers inflicted this horror on their daughters, just as it had been inflicted on them. Incredibly, this went on for a thousand years.

But what about this? What we now supposedly see as primitive, barbaric, and a form of systematic torture is still practiced today. I would not be surprised if women wearing these extreme heels (which, if they were even a tiny bit higher, would cause them to fall over backwards: perhaps even more erotically desirable than crunching around on the ends of your big toes) end up with serious or irreparable damage to their feet, even broken bones. Do podiatrists have to deal with these cases, or do women, secretly ashamed of the dark and fetish-y nature of their footwear, suffer in silence?

Just like those little girls who had to keep silence about the agony they lived with every day?

I could not find one picture of a Chinese girl or woman with bound feet who was smiling. Most bore a blank, stoic expression. There was nothing they could do. Their days were spent cutting dead flesh off their feet, removing gangrenous toes, and trying to kill the odor of decay that followed them around like a heavy fog.

Men found this scent arousing, and played around with the feet, inserting them into their rectums and such. I found a reference to this practice in a novel written by someone steeped in Chinese culture, so I can only surmise it's true.

While researching this ghastly topic in my usual obsessive way (hey, it's Monday, I'm trying to ditch a migraine, and the rain out there has no mercy), I discovered a tie-in to a familiar fairy tale, very much alive in the character of a wildly-popular Disney princess. This is something we feed our girl-children every day.

Fairy tales arise from a rich stew of culture going back countless centuries. All of them are somehow joined together, with eerie similarities across widely different parts of the world. Thus, stories from Asia often overlap with fairy tales from Eastern Europe or the United Kingdom.

We all know about Cinderella and the glass slipper. "Glass" may have been a misnomer, the result of a bad translation between a complex muddle of languages.

The common point in all these folk tales is the Prince's search for the maiden with a foot delicate enough to wear an impossibly tiny slipper.

A bound foot?

Of course Cinderella didn't have bound feet. Just teeny, tiny little feet. It's not the same thing at all. But consider this.

Cinderella was royalty forced to live as a household drudge, with exquisitely tiny feet that gave away her hidden status. A peasant girl didn't have feet like that. Oh, no. In fact, no girl did, unless her mother at some point grabbed her foot and forcefully cracked it in half, tying the ravaged halves together so the arch would buckle and the toes rot. All in the name of the "three-inch golden lotus": Cinderella's fabled glass slipper brought to life.

All this exists in the mists of antiquity. Women still cram their feet into bizarre, deforming footwear, but it's just because they want to. Or maybe because their boyfriends want them to.

Lots of men have foot fetishes. I've never understood why anyone would lust after stinky, sweaty toes with thick ugly yellowish nails on them (unless you get a pedicure every week). Something you walk on. So to speak.

I'm not drawing any comparisons. Teeny, teetering shoes with very high heels don't make a woman look desirable. Brown oxfords are just as effective.

Just ask any man.

(A post-script. As if this weren't gruesome enough, I found some photos of women whose feet had been permanently deformed by wearing "ordinary" high-heeled shoes. Not for the weak of stomach.)

Guess the celebrity feet! You're right. It's Kim Cattrall!

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