Jo Farrell’s Living History: Bound Feet Women of China


Foot binding was the practice of tightly binding the feet of little girls to slowly break the bones and stop the growth process, that became popular in China during the Song Dynasty of the 10th-13th century. The ideal length of a bound foot was three inches.

The practice was meant primarily as a status symbol. Since foot binding left the girls with lifelong disabilities, it began in families that did not need their daughters to work, but eventually permeated all social classes except for the lowest. Having crushed feet was imperative in the girl’s eligibility to marry well. It became seen as an expression of femininity and grace because of the way it forced women to walk daintily on their heels, as well as a metaphor for subservience without complaint, qualities which were thought to make a good wife.

Foot binding has been banned in China since the early 20th century after the fall of the Qing dynasty when China became a republic; however, it wasn’t until the Communists took power that they were able to enforce a strict prohibition and eradicate it. Although it’s been over a hundred years since foot binding became illegal, there remains a small population of women in their 80s and 90s that provide a living testament to the practice that is now seen as a form of violence against women.

British photographer and anthropologist Jo Farrell has studied and documented such women in a small Chinese farming village annually over the last decade. Although foot binding is now seen as barbaric, Farrell reminds us that many cultures, even today, perform¬†different practices of body-modification, “From Botox, FGM [female genital mutilation], breast augmentation, scarring and tattooing, to rib removals, toe tucks and labrets”. These women did not lead lives of privilege and status, but suffered through a cultural revolution that deconstructed their society while still having to live with the physical disability that it produced. She believes they deserve¬†to have their stories told.

Since three of the women she has been documenting have died in the last year, Farrell believes now is the time to complete her photo project and share it with the world. She took to Kickstarter to raise funds that would allow her to turn her project into a hard-cover book complete with black-and-white photos and translated interviews. The project was successfully funded with almost two times her goal.

Source: The Huffington Post



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Category: Photography