Over thousands of years, women have been expected to conform to ridiculous (if not dangerous) beauty standards.


But for women in China, beauty standards were downright incapacitating until the 20th century, and even then the tradition continued. As part of her "Living History" series, Jo Farrell has captured a world we have never seen. These women are the last generation to have had their feet bound, and they're baring all.

We can't be sure when exactly the Chinese practice of foot binding started, but it seems to go as far back as the 10th century.




It's said to have started when Emperor Li Yu's concubine Yao Niang had her feet bound to perform a dance on top of a beautiful, 6-foot-tall lotus on the points of her toes. The dance was said to be so graceful that other upper-class women began binding their feet to imitate her.

Presumably, this is where the term "Lotus feet" came from.

To create the desired look, young girls had their feet tightly bound in bandages to discourage growth, breaking bones, pulling the toes under, and drastically reshaping the arch.



It was obviously painful, as their feet would bleed and even get infected

They started out as a status symbol because only a very rich man could afford an immobile wife, but the practice spread to lower classes.

The ideal foot was about 4" long

Compare that with the average U.S. size eight foot, which is 9.5" long, and you start getting the picture. While the women on the next page didn't get their feet quite that small, their feet still look distinctly bound.



For Su Xi Rong, foot binding was the only way to get married.

If your feet weren't bound, nobody would marry you. Her grandmother bound her feet. If she tried to unbind them, her grandmother would slice skin off her toes as punishment.



Sadly, she's unable to walk anymore

After gaining weight, her tiny feet were unable to support her anymore.

For Si Yin Zhin, foot binding was just part of life

Her feet were never unbound, and they don't even look like feet anymore. They completely took on the shape of her shoes.



Zhang Yun Ying was 103 years old when she had her photo taken.

She said she was only 99. Her daughter explained that anything more made her feel close to death. You can see how exaggerated the arch of the foot is here.

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