Controversy Corner: Do Women Have to Break to Fit into Society?

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There is no doubt that throughout history women have always undergone painful rituals in order to look beautiful. Even in the modern day, women continue plucking their eyebrows, we consider waxing our pubic area, we even choose to undergo surgeries and injections to modify our features with the tamest modification of them all having needles and pieces of metal pushed into the body for the latest piercings.

When phrased in this way it sounds quite horrifying yet on the surface it isn’t deemed strange or disgusting it’s simply a part of our culture and part of the beauty of free will and modern technologies. One question remains outstanding though, would you be willing to break your own bones in order to look good?

kim k vampire facialImage Source: The Daily Mail.
The image above shows Kim Kardashian after having a vampire facial, it seems pretty crazy to go to such lengths to look beautiful, but at the same time it can be seemed as a positive showing that women are willing to follow the “no gain without pain” mantra and that we have a certain amount of determination, arguably this can reveal a positive about extreme beauty rituals such as foot binding.

According to foot binding originated in a period in the 10th century. According to the story, an emperor had a favourite concubine – a dancer who built a stage in the shape of a lotus flower. The dancer bound her feet into a hoof-like shape and danced on the lotus, other concubines quickly followed suit longing to gain the emperor’s favour and the practice quickly spread throughout China.

In an article entitled “The peculiar history of foot binding in China the journalist and his interviewee discuss how the foot binding trend became so much more than a fashion statement and how it began to attract men due to the way that those who had had the procedure done, walked:

“The girls, naturally, developed a peculiar way of walking—almost as if they had hooves. And in order to facilitate moving around, women with bound feet developed strong muscles in their hips, thighs, and buttocks, so much so that these characteristics were considered physically attractive to the Chinese men of the era.”

Of course, this was not a tradition that was forced upon people, as we all can admit, when something be it a trend or a look is fashionable as women we often want to emulate. Despite being independent and stronger than we have ever been, there is a vulnerable side to humanity as a whole -the need to feel liked and appreciated. Should we have to break into society? Perhaps the answer to the question lives within ourselves, are trends a result of our culture or does self confidence play a vital part?

Throughout history in different cultures there has been a whole army of strange beauty rituals varying from the weird to the weirder all in a bid to look great.

white face makeupImage Source: Wikipedia

In Elizabethan times, many upper class women fell victim to lead poisoning and lost their lives due to their dangerous addiction to white face powders which were formulated with lead.

According to an article on in that era, the poor had suntans from manual labour and so a pale complexion was a sign or wealth and was deemed beautiful. Light hair, a pale complexion and red lips and cheeks all signified the perfect Elizabethan woman and highlighted her as a virgin. It also helped that such thick white makeup covered scars from Smallpox which helped to maintain her beauty.


Fast forward to Victorian times and corsets were a thing of fashion, it was sexy and culturally necessary to have a thin waist to increase prospects of marriage. The ideal body shape was determined by society as a whole and left women being  reduced to getting laced into corsets so tightly that they struggled to breathe as well as wearing endless layers of clothing including slips, undergarments, petticoats and layers of material all year round to look presentable, but that didn’t stop the women of the time wearing the same garments.

What is often perceived as a horrifying beauty ritual was Chinese Foot Binding. There is a common misconception that people were forced into this, however many of the women wanted to undergo the ritual to stay fashionable.

According to Smithsonian Mag the ritual took place and led to women breaking their toes in order for the feet to look smaller and apparently the vagina to tighten:

“First, her feet were plunged into hot water and her toenails clipped short. Then the feet were massaged and oiled before all the toes, except the big toes were broken and bound flat against the sole making a triangle shape. Next, her arch was strained as the foot was bent double. Finally, the feet were bound in place using a silk strip measuring ten feet long and two feet wide.”

Although this ritual may sound particularly disturbing, for the women involved it was closely intertwined with beauty and elegance, not only did the women feel beautiful but feet became somewhat erotic which women would adorn with embellished lotus shoes to enhance.

lotus shoes
Image Source: The Epoch Times

In a recent article published in The Guardian, it was detailed how photographer Jo Farrell tracked down remaining survivors of the foot binding tradition that is now banned in China. Alongside her photo series which the photographer argues “is not meant to sensationalise” Jo Farrell spoke of how the women were shamed for partaking in the now taboo ritual and the young age of the victims:

“It was considered an old tradition that did not reflect modern China and should be stopped Their binding would be hung in wondows so that people would laugh at them.

According to The Guardian most women were bound at the age of seven, Jo Farrell continued: “The first year is particularly excruciating because the girls were made to walk until their toes would break under their weight. After that, the toes became numb and now, 50 ot 60 years later, they don’t have any pain in their feet. It’s all quite numb.”

Although the feet of the victims may now be numb the deformities caused by the tradition is now irreversible unless they go through the same pain again to get their feet back to normal.
chinese portrait
Image Source: How Stuff Works

Across the globe, even to this day in certain religions and cultures, the idea of always being presentable is an ideology that many people still live by. Although some may not agree with certain rituals, if it aids women with their self confidence and makes them feel beautiful in their own way, who are we to judge?

According to How Stuff works, the foot binding tradition was revealed as sensual and the Chinese believed that the process tightened the vagina;

“Ancient manuals instructed men in how to sensually fondle bound feet in innumerable ways, and use them to enhance sexual encounters. The Chinese also believed women with bound feet developed extra strong vaginal muscles because of the mincing steps they took, thus making sexual intercourse more pleasurable.”

I personally think that although these rituals may be painful, this is something which has clearly been present throughout history for centuries. As fashion has changed it only makes sense that beauty changes too and the concept of beauty is different for each individual.

Like they always say, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’

What do you think Glossygirls? What beauty rituals do you partake in?

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Lucia Widdop

Editorial Assistant Intern: Writer and self professed beauty obsessive, divides her time between writing, reading and testing beauty products. FOLLOW MY BLOG

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