Friday, January 16, 2015

Foot Binding and High Heels: Gender Norms and Body Modification

 The initial reaction to seeing a women's bound foot is disgust. Disgust, at the deformity of the foot as the toes bend underneath itself. Pain, trying to imagine having to walk like that.Outrage, imagining a society that puts societal pressures on how women should look and force women into limited mobility.

But if you take a step back, one can see the same traces of this objectionable practice in many Western practices. Fashions for women (and men) in the United States can also be seen as societal pressure to conform to certain beauty standards seen as favorable to Western Civilization. High heels, for example, are a shoe that force women to balance on the balls of their feet in order for them to appear taller and to make their legs look better. They can be uncomfortable at times and limit mobility by forcing women to walk slower and unable to walk long distances. This discomfort, limited mobility and impending beauty standards reflect how foot-binding practices are similar to high heels in western civilization. Though many would argue that this argument is unfair to make since high heels are a choice and have no permanent effects, those facts aren't necessarily true. High heels have permanent effect on foot shape if worn over a long period of time and on posture. And though high heels are technically a choice, they at times can seem mandatory for formal events and for the workplace.

Personally, I don't think that connecting high heels to foot binding is that obscure since it revolves on the same societal principles: gender roles and high societal pressures for beauty standards. Gender roles play a role in both of these body modification methods because participants are forced to put up with either pain  or discomfort in exchange for fulfilling a societal norm. In China it was marriage, in Western civilization it is beauty. Also extreme and repressive beauty standards for women in both of these settings create a modification that seems necessary in order to interact with society. In China at the time, small feet were a must just like in Western culture we have an obsession for perfect legs and a butt.

These two techniques, foot binding and high heels, reflect an issue that is prevalent and has survived throughout different societies and  throughout time periods. The importance of  beauty and body modification directed towards women reflect a discrimination towards women and a reflection of sex fetishes of the time period pushed onto women's bodies. It reflects a gender norm that has remained unchanged which is the function of a women's body to be attractive and conform to the opposite genders sexual ideals. It is so important when looking at the gender discrimination and practices of another culture to first reflect on one's own culture. How can these practices be seen today in our culture? What are the reasons behind such practices? Do these ideals behind the practice exist in our own culture? In the case of foot binding seen in China the answers are, unfortunately, Yes, yes, and yes.

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