Golden Lillies and the Pain of Achieving Beauty

Shawn gave me a book for Christmas which I actually had time to read, thanks to the very civilised ratio of four adults to one child.  It is called “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” and is written by Lisa See (, and I absolutely loved it.  It was beautifully written and a fascinating insight into the lives of Chinese women in the time of yore (Friends fans out there will appreciate the Rachel-esque precision).  What gripped me most was the account of foot binding, and it got me on a bit of a research kick.  By that I mean I googled it a few times, in case you were about to be impressed.

So here is some of what I have learnt.

  • The process of foot binding would take about two years, usually beginning when a girl was six years old.  The four smaller toes would be bent under the foot and bound tightly with strips of cloth which were applied more tightly every few days.  The child would be made to walk on her bound up feet until all the toes broke and reformed in their new position.
  • It was the mother’s job to bind her daughters’ feet.
  • The ideal size of foot was 3″, and a girl with a foot size like that could expect to make a decent marriage.  With big feet her prospects were extremely bleak.
  • Foot binding began when an emperor had a favourite wife who had small feet.
  • 1 in 10 girls would die as a result of having their feet bound.
  • This tradition went on for over a thousand years.  There are many women still alive today with bound feet.  The practice was outlawed in the middle of last century.
  • Bound feet smelt terrible as there were unreachable folds of skin in which bacteria flourished.

Its all a bit shocking, especially to someone like me for whom the experience of suffering for beauty has involved brushing tangles out of my hair and turning down a third piece of cake and not much more.  If only these women had known that their creator found them beautiful as he had made them.