Chinese Women’s Deformed Feet Have Comparison in Occident.
The tortured, deformed feet of the Chinese woman have long been the objects of pious horror in the civilized world. They are pointed out as a sad relic of barbarism, the extreme of personal vanity. We shudder at the twisted stump, with toes doubled back and great cleft in the sole, and we watch pityingly the tottering gait of the Chinese woman, with its absolute lack of freedom of movement, while along State street every hour of the day hobble women whose fashionable footgear, we are told by artists, chiropodists and orthopedic specialists, hides deformities that are relatively as atrocious as those of the Chinese.
Beneath the snug ties and trim boots are toes pinched and twisted and joints diseased and enlarged by the constant wearing of shoes to which the foot is forced to conform, since ultra-stylish footwear makes no pretension of conforming to the foot. Clicking along on two or three inch wooden heels, tortured toes rebelling at every step, ligaments strained and nerves tingling, thousands of women bear these torments cheerfully for the satisfaction of having a small, attractive foot.
Nor is it only the women who follow the extremes of fashion, it seems, whose feet are misshapen and abused. Shoes too large or too heavy and heels too low are as largely responsible for abnormal conditions as are the other extremes. Women of the laboring classes, forced to be on their feet a great deal and wearing the cheapest grade of shoes, bought for comfort and durability, which would aw well fit a hitching post as a foot, are among the greatest sufferers, while men, whose vanity takes the form of desiring a substantial, sturdy underpinning, fall into the same error of getting the shoes too large and too heavy in weight. Even children as young as 2 years have corns and dislocations resulting from carelessly shod feet.
Artists Find Few Perfect Feet
In perhaps nine cases out of ten feet are disfigured and positively deformed by corns bunions, dislocations, great callouses, overlapping toes, "hammer toes," so-called because the toe, usually the second, is pressed back and upward until the tip rests on the ground; club nails, when the nail becomes thick and brittle and hard as bone — and ingrowing nails, which fortunately are now curable by less stringent measures than were formerly employed, when the whole nail was pulled off.
Artists declare it is now almost impossible to find a foot of perfectly proportions and foresee a time when they will be driven to the feet of classic sculpture as their only models. Bourgereau’s famous painting, "The Bathers," might be said to illustrate this deterioration in the beauty of the foot. The chief criticism of the beautiful painting has been that the ankle of the woman bending over is too thick and the small toe is curled under, until it looks like a tiny pink snail shell. Even Corot, whose painting of a young girl about to bathe in a nearby stream, which is tucked in a corner of the field room at the Art Institute, seems to have painted from a model whose foot was disfigured by a fairly well developed bunion!
And small wonder, indeed, if the foot has not been able to withstand the eccentric abuse to which it has been submitted since the days when sandal strode through the streets of Greece and Rome, and Julius Caesar is said to have trod majestically on soles of gold.
Sandals Underwent Many Changes.
Though at first simple in form, the sandal underwent many variation and every grade of military and civil life was known by the manner in which feet were clothed. The straps were often highly colored or studded with metal or jewels. But these sandals, which protected the feet from contact with the ground, were finally, owing to the rigors of climate, superseded by a sort of shoe of leather with an upper part of silk, cloth or leather, reaching sometimes to the need. These allowed great latitude for fancy and were gayly embroidered in many hues. Sometimes shoes, or rather boots, as these were of contrasting colors were worn, a fashion which was made more than fleeting by the familiar costume of the king’s jester.
Up to this time the sole of the shoe had conformed generally to the shape of the foot, but a certain count of Anjou, we are told, being the unfortunate possessor of goodly sized bunions, conceived the notion of having the soles of his shoe extended into a long point, which tended to hid his deformity. The shade of the count had doubtless smiled down through the ages, at the multitudes who are literally following in his aching footsteps. Or perhaps in the purgatory of fops he is made to suffer sympathetic pangs with each devoté of the "pointed toe."
The pointed toes are carried to such an extreme that it was necessary to stuff them with moss to retain their shape and finally they were chained to the knee to facilitate walking! The clergy were forbidden to wear them and it can readily be seen that they were some hindrance to devotional exercises. At last fines were imposed for wearing boot toes over two inches in length, which sounded a temporary death knell.
King Henry Partially Responsible
Now it seems that Henry VIII had feet whose misshapen contours could best be concealed by shoes with wide soles and broad toes, so shortly shoes had spread out to such an alarming extent it was necessary to impose a fine regulating the width of shoes! About the time the Venetian and Persian women began to wear chopinays, which were cylindrical blocks of wood, worn under the shoes and curiously painted and gilded. A woman’s rank was indicated by the height of her chopinays, so it was only a matter of time before they had reached such extremes that the women had to be supported as they walked.
These grotesque stilts can still be seen worn by women in the Holy Land at the present day. The heel seems to have been a result of the modification of the chopinay and the exaggeration of the corked shoes, which had a thick pad of cork on the sole, rising considerably toward the heel. The French heel appeared about 1780 and has held its own up to the present day, although about ten years after its introduction a decided change occurred in the shoe fashions and low heels were favored for awhile.
Prof. Thomas has the following to say as to the psychology of the heel:
"Relatively small and weak hands and feet are another distinctive mark of woman, and to render these more dainty has been another persistent effort of fashion. High heels, like long skirts, add to this apparent magnitude of woman, and at the same time give her a delicate and distinguished underpinning. If, then, a woman walks on her toes and places the heel of the shoe under her instep instead of under the heel, and if the skirt so covers the foot that the shoe heel seems directly under the real heel, we get the spectacle of a small foot indeed. The shortened length attained by Chinese women through doubling the toes back is secured by western woman by means of the high and illusorily placed heel."
Small Toe Remains Intact
Has this constant skipping from one extremity of form to another, with the foot constantly striving to adjust itself to cramped imprisonment, resulted in developing a race of splay, or flat, footed individuals whose feet have been tortured out of all semblance to beauty? Some scientists would have use believe that it is only a matter of time until the small toe will have entirely disappeared — that many people now have no trace of nail upon it.
A prominent chiropodist says, however, that in the sixteen years he has practiced he has noticed not the slightest cause for alarm on that score, and that he has yet to find anyone without a nail on the small toe. The flesh crowding over the nail keeps it in a soft condition, when it is easily broken off, but so long as the matrix of the nail remains the nail will continue to grow. he has noted, however, the increase in the number of persons having the arch of the foot broken down, as a bow straightens out when the bow string is cut, and he says he sees a foot with a well defined arch only about once a month.
This condition of flat foot is more prevalent among peasants and farmers who are on their feet constantly, straining unduly the ligaments which support the arch, until they sag, as it were. Of course this condition is exaggerated when there is general malnutrition of the nerves, as among the poorer classes. Orthopedic specialists say that high heels strain and weaken the ligaments of the arch and in time produce flat foot.
Revolution in Footgear Necessary
If, indeed, conditions are as serious as they seem, what is to bring about a revolution in footgear which will prevent the complete demoralization of our feet? Perhaps a revival of the ancient art of pedomancy made an anthropological science and admitted to the ranks of the "ologies" as "pedology." And why not? Although the feet have been maltreated for centuries, essential characteristics remain as various and doubtless interpretive as the lines of the palm. Shoemakers tell us that in measuring the feet they find no two persons with exactly the same measurements. Some day, no doubt, great tables of statistics will be formed of the measurements of feet of statesmen and musicians and artists and criminals and lunatics from which the science of "pedology" will be derived.
We have only to study the sculpture of both the old and the new master to realize that they appreciated keenly the distinct characteristics of the feet of various casts and the importance of the foot as an aid in delineating moods and emotions. For example, note the invariably long, muscular, almost bony, feet of the Greek athletes, in the well known statues of the "Dying Gladiator," "The Discus Thrower," and "The Wrestlers," And you will find the satyrs and all the states of Mars, the god of war, and of Hermes, represented with broad, proportionately short feet, while Apollo and Morpheus and other gods, typifying the more spiritual manifestation, have slim, narrow, high arched feet.
In that famous group, "The Laoccoon of Troy," the feet of the father give mute but powerful testimony to the great nervous agony of the doomed man. In direct contrast to their tense exertion are the feet of the bronze "Drunken Faun," masterpieces in the portrayal of licentious abandon.
Significance May Be Learned.
Perhaps some day we will have learned the significance of long feet and short feet, narrow and broad feet, long toes and short toes, high arch and low, nails flat and curved — and the various meanings which may be attached to the way in which people put their weight on their feet — whether with the greater share of it along the line of the great toe or more evenly distributed.
An illustration of this is found in two modern pieces of sculpture — that of "Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii," by Randolph Rogers, whose fleeing feet seem to bear her weight on their inner side, and "Diana and the Lion," by Edwin Elwell, in which the delicatd feet of the goddess rest quite squarely on the ground.
With the return of interest in the beauty and character of the foot it may become quite the fad for society women to engage the services of a mystic "pedologist" in place of the passé palmist, and about the time when another revival of the Greek fashions is upon us guests bidden to the reception of the Anglicized Roman villa of the leader of the social world may tread the mosaic floors with sandals rivaling the splendor the classic footgear of the long distant past.
How many of us today would care to display our poor crippled feet in shoes which revealed rather than concealed their unsightliness?