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Binding Feet and Breaking Spirits

I recently finished reading a book called Snow Flower and The Secret Fan by Susan Lee. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.

It’s not a “feel good” book, but it’s an incredible story that will have you flipping pages, and maybe even shedding a tear or two.

Foot BindingThe story takes place in China, many years ago, and is told in the first person, starting with the narrator as a six-year-old girl.

The book travels with her through her foot-binding, a contract with her best friend, Snow Flower, and their adventures together through marriage, childbirth, pain, death, loss, war, friendship, misunderstanding and ultimately, forgiveness.

I found myself tearing up through the last dozen pages of this book – and while yes, I’m a crier, I admit it – this book hit a very tender spot for me, and it hasn’t left me.

Reading about these sweet young girls, and the pain of their foot binding, broke my heart. Not because of the foot binding itself, but because of what it represents.

These young girls broke the bones in their feet, so they could be “worthy” of marrying into a good family. The pain was excruciating, lasted for years, and some even died during the process. They were told over and over again that they were “worthless daughters”, good for nothing but marrying into a good family with the hopes of bearing sons for the family into which they had married. Those smaller feet meant they were worth something, and without them, they would be social outcasts.

It got me thinking about the breaking we do to our own young girls today. But the breaking that happens today is internal.

I know that none of us, as parents, set out to hurt our daughters. In fact, so many of us work so hard to do just the opposite. We tell our girls they can be, and do, anything. The recent rise of the heroines in Frozen, the launch of Goldiblox and the hit show Doc McStuffins are testaments to that.

And yet, even with these advances, I think we know that our girls are still receiving the message, “You’re not OK as you are.”

A walk down any drug store magazine aisle will confirm that. A girl must not age, she has to look great naked, know how to please a man in bed, tweeze her eyebrows, have zero body hair, soft skin and dye her hair.

Magazine CoversOf course self-care is important, and we should teach our daughters that. But that’s not the real message of these call outs. In the name of marketing, we are bombarding our young ones with the message that who they are, just isn’t good enough.

Every mother I know has felt the wave of love that wells up within us when staring at an infant baby. The helplessness of the child, the 100% vulnerability. Knowing that they know nothing of the world, if they’re a boy or a girl, what culture they were born into or what language they speak.

Or of bullying, racism, hatred or “thinner thighs”.

With that wave of love and joy, comes the angst of knowing that we’ll have to turn them over to the world eventually, and let the world have its way with them.

And while we all know this is necessary, that doesn’t make it any less painful to witness as our sweet, innocent children come home recounting stories of teasing, mean-spirited gossip and a burning ache to fit in.

They leave our arms full of hope, trust and joy, and can return with confusion, hurt and skepticism.

As mothers, it’s our job to work ourselves out of a job. It’s our job to raise these children in such a way that they no longer need us. And arming them with confidence, a sense of self, emotional intelligence and resilience is critical to succeeding at that job.

In addition, it’s our job to teach both our sons and our daughters that people are to be valued, not because of how they look, what they wear, or in the case of Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, how small their feet are.

People have intrinsic value, simply because they are alive. And every life is to be respected, and accepted, as it is.

And as always, the example starts with us.

If we’re gossiping about a friend’s new car, jewelry, love affair or mistake, our kids will follow that example. If we find fights funny or entertaining, especially between women, we’ll make sure to perpetuate that behavior in the next generation.

If there are trends we want to see stopped, it’s up to us to stop them. If we want to be valued for who we are, we must grant the same to others.

Let’s let our daughters see us lift each other up, share in triumphs and focus on what we can create, not what we can buy.

If China can stop breaking the feet of its daughters, then certainly we can stop breaking our daughters’ hearts. They are perfect as they came into this world, and it’s up to us to instill that lesson through conversations, and ultimately, through our own behavior.

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