Beauty Lessons

Up until the early 1900’s, foot binding was not only a common practice for Chinese women, but also a necessary one. Mothers would begin binding their daughter’s feet around the age of five. The bindings would be tightened twice a day, creating unbearable pain and sometimes death from the crippling affect and infections. The bindings created a warped foot, which technically would be called a disability today. The truth was, if your feet weren’t bound, you wouldn’t be married off. Marriages were based on the size of the feet, around 5 inches being the average. Men found these deformed looking feet to be attractive and sexy and necessary to a marriage. Around 1910, foot binding was deemed inappropriate and was renounced by the Chinese government. Women found binding their feet would be prosecuted. Women with bound feet were looked upon with disgrace and as deformed people.

It is fascinating to see how easily the idea of beauty and the requirements on a woman are imposed by society. First, you had to have your feet bound or you were worthless. Later, if you bound your feet you were disgraced and punished. In other cultures, for instance among South American tribal women or African tribes, the elongating of the earlobes is a required sign of status and beauty. This too is a tradition begun at a very young age and “forced” upon the individual to keep them in the line of what is beautiful. Other tribes are known for other rituals of beauty like putting a rod through the lower lip and increasing the size over the years to have the biggest rod in your lip possible, therefor deforming your mouth.It’s easy to live in our society in
America and think these things are interesting facts at most. That these manipulations of the body have nothing to do with us and “isn’t it fascinating that a society would do that to women.” But is there really a distinction between the smallest feet, the longest earlobes and the most extended hipbones? Today, isn’t the sign of beauty in American women measured by the size of their waist, the largeness of their breasts, the point to which their hip bones jut from their bodies. Are we not today, just as these other cultures do, transforming our bodies from their natural state to one that is manipulated by disease (anorexia) and knives (surgeons)?
Society is constantly placing a new definition on the beauty of women. We joke that, based on artistic masterpieces, there was a time when girth was a sign of beauty in women. We know that there are cultural icons from the past that were considered beautiful and didn’t fit the mold we have accepted today. Like the foot binding practices in
China, how long will it be before the manipulations we are putting our bodies through are no longer considered beautiful? We are already seeing a backlash on face-lifts and women who have received them to meet the standard of beauty are often ridiculed. In what other ways will this eventually come to out in our society?
Science and surgical procedures are improving all the time, offering us things that were not available before. There is nothing wrong with self-improvement, on a moderate level and for the right reasons.
America is facing a crisis of obesity, and there is nothing “right” about letting ourselves become unhealthy. These are things to consider and let into our lives in the right proportion. However, there is a level of awareness that needs to be reached to discern between what is appropriate for you and what is appropriate to society. We are shocked at the way those bound feet look when the wrappings are taken off. We are shocked that any woman would put herself through the pain and deformity that that procedure entailed. What is really so different about creating ourselves into looking like our favorite celebrities, and allowing teens to do it as well? We are giving in to a societal picture of beauty. One that could change at any moment.
Unlike the women in many tribes and in ancient
China, women in
America have a choice when it comes to beauty. We can draw a line for ourselves on what we will and will not do to ourselves. Before you change the natural you, make sure you are listening to your own voice and not the voice of the country. Be sure you know it is a choice, and not a requirement.

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About Colleen Kappeler