No is categorically the answer. Big feet are not monstrous. If you imagine a human version of a Barbie doll, and that human version has the same tiny bent feet, they would be like the tiny broken and bound ‘Lotus feet’ of millions of Chinese women living between the 16th and 20th centuries. That is monstrous!
The practice of foot binding was endemic in China and there are still living women with bound feet today.
But how much of the enduring practice was about beauty versus ugliness? And how much was about social conformity? Some historical records indicate the initial practice was a about the beauty of ballet shaped feet:
…the practice is likely to have originated from the time of the 10th-century Emperor Li Yu… [He] created a six-foot tall golden lotus decorated with precious stones and pearls, and asked his concubine Yao Niang… to bind her feet in white silk into the shape of the crescent moon, and perform a ballet-like dance on the points of her feet on the lotus. Yao Niang’s dance was said to be so graceful that others sought to imitate her. The binding of feet was then replicated by other upper-class women and the practice spread.
But a primary reason millions of women imposed this on their young daughters, time and time again, was because this act of social conformity ensured their daughters’ social acceptability as potential wives. Being married into a new family was the primary way to survive and thrive. Ideals of beauty and social conformity seem to fuse together. The most ‘beautiful’ woman was able to marry the richest man who would ensure a long, secure life with plenty of children. So people competed to be the most beautiful, which in a strange way meant a competition to be the most broken.
The competitive element can cause an ideal to become an extreme. I’ll make my waist smaller than yours, by wearing this tight corset and then I’ll be more attractive than you? Or I’ll pay for a breast enhancement and then I’ll look more striking than you? Or worse, I’ll look more acceptable to myself? Do human Barbie doll emulators such as Valeria Lukyanova and Rodrigo Alves actually suffer from body dysmorphic disorder? Does society suffer from body dysmorphic disorder?
It seems ironic at any rate that the Barbie lookalikes appeared so beautiful (according to current western ideals) before they had plastic surgery. In my eyes they now look ugly. I feel discomfited with their appearance. Strangely, although I enjoy dolls and find them fascinating and charming I don’t consider them beautiful. I associate true beauty with something fresher and more innocent – something less contrived. In terms of a person, I think it’s more about the experience of a person and joyful moments with them. The surface beauty of appearance is attractive and engaging, but not deeply satisfying.
One reason that Barbie dolls have small tiptoe feet is to fit easily into high heeled moulded plastic shoes. High heels being extremely popular, I guess there is a big customer demand for fashion dolls with heels. I do enjoy the look of heels. There’s something pleasing about the rounded shape of the shoe at the back, above the heel. And you can see more of the shoe – from all angles. But is that really attractive, or am I just culturally brain washed? I’ve given up on wearing them in any case – just too uncomfortable and impractical.
I do have a Mego doll that wears midi heels. They’re the ruby slippers worn by the character Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz story. The doll resembles Judy Garland circa 1939 and crucially the heels are articulated, allowing the foot to flex.
Strangely, one of the most recent and most popular Barbie dolls, Made to Move Barbie has fairly realistic body proportions… except for the miniscule feet. I wasn’t even able pose the doll in a free standing position for the photo. What a shame!
However, Mattel have made some large footed dolls – as I discovered when I unpacked my bumper 1996 box. I found Hula Hair Barbie and In-Line Skating Barbie. Rock on girls! Dance like no-one’s watching.
In yoga lessons, I’ve learned about the importance of connection with the ground. Whatever pose you do in yoga, it has be be earthed. You have to think about that and be aware of it, to achieve balance and release. So I vote for big feet. Ground connection, balance, release, stability. Big feet could be the foundation for a more stable society. I’m only half joking.