Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Footbinding for the 21st century?

This month I read a novel about the life of Chinese women in the era when footbinding was the norm for women above all but the lowest social levels.* The more effectively mothers mutilated their daughters' feet, and the more perfectly they were deformed, the higher their value would be on the marriage market. One in ten girls died as a result of this practice.

I'd just finished shuddering over this, and wondering how on earth it had ever become so entrenched, when I came across an article about its 21st century equivalent in the Sunday Star-Times:

"Women forking out for a killer pair of high heels are also paying for the ultimate accessory - Botox to make their legs look better in stilettos. An Auckland cosmetic physician has found a demand for his calf-thinning services, in which he uses large amounts of Botox to sculpt women's legs and make calf muscles appear less bulky."

This "physician", who charges between $2000 and $7000 (depending on how thin your legs are to start with) says the procedure is "far safer than surgery to achieve the same result, a practice common in Asian countries. Surgery involves removal of the muscle through an incision in the crease behind the knee or, alternatively, destroying the nerve."

"What happens is that they chop the peroneal nerve [running from the knee to the foot] and this can cause permanent foot drop." As it happens, my husband has foot drop, the result of a degenerative muscle condition. It makes walking extremely difficult.

So let me get this straight. First you get the "killer" high heels - which can occasionally kill their wearers, but usually just cripple them over time. Then you deliberately use either surgery or drugs to make your legs look better in these ludicrous shoes, by reducing your leg muscles - and stopping them building up to make you stronger (so it's "strictly for the non-sporty"). Oh, and you need regular injections every nine months to "maintain the new shape".

A 25-year-old who got the Botox did it because she used to do a lot of running and had big muscles in her legs. She believes it has "given her more confidence" and "can't wait" to wear high heels.

The whole article reads like a promo for this "procedure". The accompanying photo could have come straight out of an advertising brochure.Susan Pepperell, the reporter, apparently did not ask for any other medical opinions on it.

I guess it's only a matter of time before teenage girls start asking for it for Christmas. At least it won't be their mothers forcing them to stop running and start Botoxing? Will it?

*Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See.


  1. At least those women who wear unfeasibly high heels and get toxins injected into their bodies choose to do so. The little girls who had their feet bound did not, and in a way neither did their mothers who did this to them.

  2. Um - somehow I think that almost makes it worse.

  3. I must be getting old. I was told as a teen that high heels are supposed to make your calves look bigger.