"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Old Woman in Tiananmen Square and the Foibles of Cultural Fashion

A few days ago, I returned home from cleaning up litter along a section of the Seward Highway.  I unlaced and took off my hiking boots and thick socks, then gingerly removed the tape and lamb’s wool from my feet. 

I stood up to take off my dirty jeans and happened to glance down at my feet that were now clad in black crew socks.   I was stunned at the outline of my right foot.  It tapered to a point!

That foot, I thought,  would fit perfectly in the high-heeled shoes I wore fifty years ago when I was employed in white collar work in Anchorage.

Not my shoes.   An internet photo.

Suddenly I remembered an old Chinese woman I saw in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China.  I noticed her because she was hobbling, inch by inch, across the flat paving squares.   The sneakers she wore appeared normal,  but something was amiss.    Her progress appeared to be a painful one, and I turned to my guide and—discreetly—asked her about the woman.

“Foot binding,” was her answer.  “It is no longer done, but many of the older women have that problem.”


Once the exclusive fashion of the rich and idle ladies, foot-binding soon spread to the masses in China.  It was a symbol of status, though it was excruciatingly painful and crippled generations of women.  There seemed to be two outcomes of foot binding, with one being to wrap the toes under the foot so the foot came to a point, and the second being to wrap the foot so that the arch bent up into a “U” shape, with the foot called a Lotus foot, no more than four inches long!!!

This foot was bound to make a pointed foot.   The toes were broken to facilitate this practice.

A Lotus foot.

And I thought I had foot problems!

We’re all familiar with the body alterations that various peoples around the world have practiced in the name of fashion or religion, such as inserting larger and larger objects to stretch an ear lobe or lip, or adding rings to stretch a neck.

Why on earth people did such things was beyond my ability to comprehend when I was younger. 

Well, it still is beyond comprehension, but my point is that I unknowingly conceded to the same ritual body alteration by putting my feet into those high-heeled shoes every working day.   They were the cultural norm for that time.

I walked miles in those shoes.   Fifteen block to work and fifteen blocks home before I got a car.  I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me to wear flat shoes during those commutes. Then, when I worked as a newspaper reporter, more miles as I covered my beat as a reporter on the courts.

When I finally moved out of Anchorage for a simpler, more pastoral life in the country, I left the high heels behind and haven’t worn any since.

A few years ago, I trekked 28 miles of the Resurrection Trail with a 40 lb. pack.   It was torture on my feet.

I used paper tape, but it didn't help much.

That white stuff is  tape residue.

Blisters and tape residue and very tender feet.

Every summer for the past  eleven years, I have picked up litter along the highway, often cleaning fifty miles of roadside on both sides.

My friend Carlene, who unknowingly saved my life ten years ago, once again came to the rescue and saved my life again after hearing my frequent foot complaints.  

“Lamb’s wool,” she recommended.  “It’s what ballerinas use so they can stand on their toes.”

I couldn’t find lamb’s wool anywhere in Anchorage, and still can’t.   She sent me several packages and they was a godsend.   I began ordering those little 3/8 ounce packages online and used paper tape to secure the wool in needed places.

This is what I have to do to my feet so I can walk those miles:

My feet still hurt.   Bunions from wearing those pointy-toed heels have forced the big toes inward with a large bony protuberance at the base of the big toe.   That leaves no room for the second toes, which now climb up and over, messing up the nail beds.

Because the feet are now deformed, and because I am almost always walking on slopes, the outside of the feet are very sensitive to pressure.

But lamb’s wool has made it possible to walk distances with reasonable comfort, so you can imagine how delighted I was when I went to the post office and received an item that I’d ordered online.

A one pound package of lamb’s wool!   

Lamb's wool!   A whole pound of heavenly lamb's wool.

Soft, fluffy, foot-saving lamb's wool.

No more parceling out bits of wool from a  3/8 ounce package.   No more saving used scraps, hoping they can be used again.   The wool can be washed, but it packs into a tight wad and does not cushion as well..

Now if Walmart will just restock their supply of paper tape, I’ll be set.  If not, I’ll be ordering that online, too.

But I will never, never reach the depths of mutilation that some people are doing to themselves these days, all in the name of cultural fashion and fad:

PS:   Thanks, Carlene, for saving my life TWICE!