Walking Wild, Walking Free

One of the themes of my show Bound Feet Blues is the power of being able to walk on your own two feet.  This theme is a very personal one for me as I love being able to stride about. In my daily life, I value being able to choose where I go and taking in the busy urban landscape of London at a walking pace. I also love long walks in the countryside and in particular, walking on long distance trails.

With my partner and our friends, over the last three years, I have walked almost 300 miles along some of Britain’s most beautiful long distance paths.

So, as you can imagine, I am an avid fan of Cheryl Strayed‘s hiking memoir Wild – about her 1,000 mile transformational hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in America. And last weekend, we headed off to the movies to see the film version starring Reese Witherspoon. See the trailer below.


The movie is a terrific adaptation of the book, bringing out the internal journey as much as the external journey. The story is as much about a an intense mother-daughter relationship as it is about Cheryl’s discovery of who she is through the solo challenge of the long distance  hike – in fact, the two themes are inextricably linked. This thread means a lot to me as Bound Feet Blues is also about intense mother-daughter relationships  – and self-discovery is portrayed through two life transforming hikes!

Here’s what the New York Times Review said of WildContinue reading


Beautiful women are evil – so said the Ancient Greeks

Bound Feet Blues explores female beauty in the context of Ancient China and the practice of footbinding that was meant to make a woman more beautiful. My work on this project has led me to reflect on modern concepts of beauty in the modern West. Now, I have just  seen this article on the BBC website by historian Bethany Hughes looking at the beauty in the world of the Ancient Greeks – and it points to a rather different view of beauty from what we are used to.

The article says “In ancient Greece the rules of beauty were all important. Things were good for men who were buff and glossy. And for women, fuller-figured redheads were in favour – but they had to contend with an ominous undercurrent”

In Greek mythology, the first woman to be created was …” “the beautiful-evil thing”. She was evil because she was beautiful, and beautiful because she was evil. Being a good-looking man was fundamentally good news. Being a handsome woman, by definition, spelt trouble.”

This point of view contrasts with most notions of beauty which ellide goodness of character with good looks. In Ancient China, for example, an Exemplary Woman was one who was obedient and dutiful – and who was also beautiful, where her beauty was entirely defined by the tiny size of her feet. In modern times, heroines in movies and books tend to be beautiful, too, rather than plain or ugly unless their plainness is part of the plot device/ reason for the story.

However, this Greek notion of female beauty as evil does live on today in the modern trope of the evil seductress whose beauty is Continue reading

Dramatic video clip showing footbinding in ancient China – from “Snow Flower and The Secret Fan”

“Only through pain will you find beauty,” says Snow Flower’s mother as she makes her daughter walk with her feet bound.

In my research for Bound Feet Blues, I’ve been looking into what it was like for young girls to have their feet bound. I came across the movie Snow Flower and The Secret Fan – see my blog post from earlier this week “Beaches” with Bound Feet – footbinding and female friendship – which is all about footbinding.

Here is a clip showing the sequence where one of the girls has to endure footbinding:

It is painful to watch and is  a moving dramatisation of what it must have been like for little girls who had to endure this brutal process.

The one comment I would have, however, is that from my research, footbinding is a process and not just a one-off as the film suggests.

As a girl grow up, her feet keep growing so Continue reading

“Beaches” with Bound Feet – footbinding and female friendship

In Chinese tradition, where marriages were made for social or business reasons and where women – especially those with tiny bound feet – were seen as trophies, there was a recognition that women would not find much emotional comfort, love or meaningful human connection with their husbands.

So as part of this tradition, girls were given “sworn sisters”  who would be their emotional partner – rather like the “blood brothers” relationship that boys would have. These formally sanctioned and socially accepted partnerships were known as “laotongs”.

I learnt about this intriguing custom from the film Snow Flower and The Secret Fan which I discovered over the weekend, based on the novel by Lisa See. How had I not known about this touching tradition before now!

Here is the official movie trailer:

The movie is about two female friendships, one set in modern Shanghai and the other in 19th century China, during the Boxer Rebellion. The same two actresses portray the two pairs of friends. The arc of the story has echoes Continue reading