The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

The Sordid Facts About Foot Binding: An Old Tradition that Rings True Today

Posted by on Friday, April 12th, 2013


Fridays are typically fun days here at Healing Feet. It’s a time when we like to kick back and explore the lighter side of foot health, from spa treatments to celebrity bunions to tightrope walking. But today, I’d like to talk about something more serious. It’s a tale from not so very long ago, when women were forced to go to incredibly painful and debilitating lengths to find a mate. I think this is fascinating on many levels. Foot binding may sound barbaric, but it’s really not that far removed from our modern readiness to mutilate our feet for fashion and status (stilettos, anyone?) Why are we so willing to sacrifice one of the body parts we need most? What is it about tortured feet we find so irresistible?


Foot binding was a traditional practice in the China of the last century. It was once thought that no man could resist the vulnerable, delicate young girl with tiny, bound, pointed feet. The binding was symbolic, representing wealth, delicacy, and beauty. But it also held many more obvious practical implications. A girl with bound feet would need a lifetime of assistance, which meant she’d need a husband with plenty of wealth. It meant she came from a family where wealth and prosperity was expected, since no parents would bind their daughter’s feet if they thought she’d need to work in the fields.

Today there are still some women alive who bear the marks of the world of their childhoods, but for many of them, the wealth their feet were supposed to ensure has long gone. The New York Times published an article back in 2006 about Wang Zaiban and Wu Xiuzhen, two women in their 80s with tiny historical artifacts for feet. They both outlived their husbands and have spent much of their lives as migrant workers, despite their handicap.


While foot binding is no longer practiced in China, various forms binding-like footwear predominate globally. It’s true, high heels aren’t the same thing as foot binding. They allow a woman to walk, for one. But over time, they cause so many systemic foot problems, an old woman who has worn heels all her life may find herself hobbling and in pain just like a woman whose feet were bound in childhood. Are we still attracted to helplessness and vulnerability in woman? Is part of what we find so attractive about high heels the fact that they make walking difficult? And is this something we want to perpetuate into the future? Food for thought.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.