I’m currently reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See with my book club. It was my suggestion; but I didn’t know anything about it other than the reviews I saw. It’s really good, great story, very interesting and I’ve really got into it. Unlike so many books, I can not predict the story and I’m totally gripped.
It does have quite detailed descriptions of foot binding as it’s set in China several hundred years ago. It was disturbing reading exactly what the poor young girls, often between five and seven, would go through to create the “perfectly shaped feet”. It’s horrific what they suffered to be seen as acceptable and desirable to their future husbands. I tried to picture from the description how the feet were meant to look; but decided to see what they said on Wikipedia, it really is horrendous and must have been complete agony, they basically broke every bone in the foot and then allowed them to heal in a completely different shape. It makes me feel sick just remembering the description; but I think it was done in a very sensitive and careful way in the book.
It has made me incredibly grateful that I was born at a time and into a culture that doesn’t expect me to suffer through painful processes to reshape my body. I know that people complain about the pressure that we all face to look a certain way in this modern age, with make up, weight loss and plastic surgery; but it pales into insignificance compared with foot binding, or even the body deforming corsets of a hundred years ago. I don’t believe that there is a perfect or “right” look, despite what society tells us; but at least here in the UK it does come down to choice, no matter how much pressure we may feel. In China, it was expected, demanded of all women of a certain class. It was the only hope they had of making a good marriage and being seen as having worth, value and respect. There was no other alternative. Now that’s pressure. It puts all our modern-day beauty concerns and worries into perspective.