Monday, October 12, 2015


by Kate Collins

What we won't do to make ourselves feel beautiful. Or at least attractive. But we have nothing on the Chinese women of a few thousand years ago -- up to a few decades ago, when foot binding was the custom. You can see the photo here of their tiny shoes. Why did women deform their feet? For beauty, of course. Deformed "lotus petal" feet were consider signs of status and men thought them erotic.   But first, the backstory.

I had the good fortune to sit beside a young Chinese woman at a book signing following a writers' conference this past weekend. This remarkable woman, whose name is Wang Ping, came to the US with $26 in her pocket. She had graduated from Beijing University and wanted to get her masters here, which she managed to do at NYU. Now she's an author, poet, editor, translated, and academic.

She has put her considerable talent to work on this book of her heart, peeling back the layers of fear, desire, and social climbing behind the ancient Chinese tradition of foot binding. As I thumbed through her book, ACHING FOR BEAUTY, and saw the photos of what feet looked like after being curled under and taped for years throughout childhood, I was both appalled and fascinated. The photos were so gross that I decided not to post them here.

The women mutilated their feet because it was the fashion. But isn't that what people here do when they pierce their skin? Get tattoos? Have face lifts and breast implants?

What does that say about humans? That we are insecure being our natural selves? I don't have an answer to that. I color my hair and slather on anti-aging cream all in the hopes of staving off the effects of aging so I can feel attractive.  I can, say, however, that I would't mutilate my feet.

My question for you is, how far would you go to feel beautiful, or does that matter to you? Would you have body work done? Do you feel comfortable in your own skin?

I think we have a way to go before we stop trying to make ourselves feel more attractive and just be ourselves. Or maybe it's just me.


Anonymous said...

I have a yes and no answer. I do have pierced ears but only one hole in each ear---really don't want more and can't imagine piercing my nose, tongue, lip, belly button, etc. Won't get a tattoo because I don't like needles and actually don't think most of them are very attractive. I don't color my hair and was lucky because it mostly went from dark brown to white with no yellow/gray in between but still get perms. Stopped wearing heels years ago and now wear sandals year round and athletic shoes when appropriate. I've been to exhibits with Chinese clothes and also think the bound feet were awful. Cordella

Jeanetta said...

My answer yes but I have limits (so far). I do have pierced ears (only one hole per ear) and that is it. I also don't wear heels (unless it is to a wedding but then I have shoes to change into afterwards). I don't have any tattoos but I have been thinking about using some temporary tattoos (I have to do some research to make sure the ingredients are safe). Most of my co-workers do have tattoos or are wanting tattoos (they made fun of me because I didn't - so I said I wanted to do temporary seasonal/holiday tattoos). A few years ago, I switched my cosmetics to mineral cosmetics due to the unsafe ingredients (I realized were in the cosmetics I was using). I use moisturizer for my skin to keep it hydrated (and hopefully youthful). But I have never had surgery for beauty enhancements.

Margaret said...

I am not saying I don't like to put my "best foot forward" and don't try to look my best at all times. But, I guess you can say I am comfortable in my own skin. My looks are my looks; Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I know some people who think "they are all that" and I may not live up to their expectations of beauty; but i don't think they are attractive (and so there you have it.) So, no I will not go to an extreme to attempt to look like someone elses definition of beauty. I don't believe there is a definition of beauy.

Anonymous said...

I join Cordelia and Jen in having one piercing per ear and wearing sandals and flats year 'round. Anti-aging seemed a waste of energy since the minutes, days, years accumulate anyway (for which I am gratefully alive). Now in my mid-seventies, I look in the mirror and wonder when I became my grandmothers. I've found a good haircut raises my spirit as well as doing what I love. As John Campbell said, "Follow your bliss." And I lived each wrinkle with both laughter and tears. Zena

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, and about binding feet and seems to me that following those paths are living others' desires and definitions. I was horrified when I learned of binding through Pearl Buck's writing. Part of that horror was that women of particular classes were forced into this at a very young age. They weren't given a choice, and it determined so many actions they would be able to do and not do. And for surgery, my view is it is a choice, and, I'm sorry some women feel they must live by others' definitions of beauty. One woman I saw had such limited expression she seemed more like a doll. Zena

Kate Collins said...

You put it well, Zena. Those poor young girls, 3 yrs old, had their toes curled under, then smashed to break them, then bound and the material sewed so they couldn't undo it. I can't imagine how painful that must have been. Thank God modern women came to their senses. They wanted "western" feet.

Unknown said...

I do not think I would do surgery. Tattoos do not appeal to me. I got my ears pierced because the earrings appealed to me.
Surgery for vanity seems excessive to me.
I wear minimal makeup, powder or light foundation, mascara, a neutral eye shadow.. I don't like the look of my pale eyelashes.
I color my hair, part for vanity and part because it seems to be a part of my identity. I am a redhead, but I don't have much natural pigment left in my hair.
I would like to say I can go completely unaltered, but I really feel more comfortable with a little help.

Vicki W. said...

I have one piercing in each ear but that is because I LOVE wearing all kinds of earrings. And I had to talk my mom into letting me do that when I was 14 (42 years ago.)

No hair coloring....because it is transitioning nicely. I considered it for 10 years and finally, said nope. Quit the perms 15 years ago.

Went to wearing flats or half inch heels 29 years ago after an accident where my ligaments were torn.. Once I got used to no heels, I never went back.

No surgery, no tattoos, don't even wear any make up. I did used to do lipstick, blush, eye shadow but just gradually quit.

The nearest I get to a "beauty product" is nail polish...I like playing with that. I get very creative with what I put on/do to my toe nails. Not so much my fingernails as I feel way too prissy when they are all polished. So usually if I do anything to my fingers it is just the thumbnails. Occasionally maybe a very neutral polish on the other 4 fingers.

Kate Collins said...

You sound like a woman comfortable in her own skin. I'm amazed how many of us got off of high heels and never went back. They hurt!