In this ritual, the feet of children are wrapped in tight bandages by breaking their bones to keep the feet small and prevent growth. This practice is known as “Lotus Feet” and was designed to make women more beautiful in China. The process starts before the arch has a chance to fully develop – somewhere between the ages of 4 and 9.
When the time arrived for the children to start the process of foot-binding, their entire world changed as they went from being a carefree child to one that was in a constant state of pain and agony.
The process takes about two years. Women with lotus feet underwent a childhood surrounded by fear and pain as their feet were broken, bound, and disfigured. Girls without lotus feet were often made fun of, ridiculed, and ensured that their ugly, large feet would deter men.
After soaking in warm herbs and animal blood, the toes would be broken and curled over to the sole of the foot and bound with cotton bandages.
Foot binding causes extreme pain, paralysis, loss of toes, muscular degeneration, and infection. The tradition originated among the upper-class. Since it affected their ability to walk, it came to be seen as a sign of wealth – the wealthiest of people didn’t need to walk or work in fields.
Lotus feet also gave men near-complete control over the women. Men prized women with tiny feet because they knew they could easily enslave them. They were destined to a life of servitude within the man’s house, cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children.
There were various attempts to ban the tradition from the 1600s, but it didn’t die out until the early 20th century. The last factory to make lotus shoes closed in 1999.