A small foot in China, is the same as a tiny waist in Victorian England, they both represented female refinement. Foot size was it’s own form of currency and it meant upward mobility. The most desirable bride possessed a three-inch foot, known as a “golden lotus.” It was respectable to have four-inch foot—a silver lotus—but a foot five inches or longer was dismissed as an iron lotuses. The marriage prospects for such a girl were deemed grim.
In order to for a woman to achieve a “golden lotus”, the process would start at a young age 5 or 6 years of age. First, her feet were plunged into hot water and her toenails clipped short. Then her 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 inches wide. These wrappings were briefly removed every two days to prevent infections. Sometimes “excess” flesh was cut away. The girl was then forced to walk long distances in order to hasten the breaking down of her arches. Over time the wrappings became tighter and the shoes smaller as the heel and sole were crushed together. After two years the process was complete. Once the bones of the foot had been crushed and bound, the shape could not be reversed.
Here is some concrete evidence of what happens when our feet are confined to a tight shoe for extended periods. By not using the intrinsic musculature of our feet, the muscles atrophy and are not able to stabilize the joints of the foot. Over time the foot will become narrow and adapt to the shape of the shoe. We can use the following analogy when a leg is in a cast for an extended period of time and the muscles are weekend (atrophied) after removing the cast.