Foot binding for women became popular in 10th-century China for its erotic appeal to men, as women wobbled when they attempted to walk. It became a status symbol and cultural mark of beauty. By the 19th century, half of Chinese women had their feet bound; among upper-class Han Chinese almost 100%. Attempts to ban foot binding failed until the early 20th century, when changing social conditions led to its decline.
The selfsame concept still holds sway in high-heeled shoes, which can deform feet and cause serious back problems. But crippling the feet is just one of many self-alterations modern women subject themselves to for sex appeal. From corsets – which displace internal organs – to push-up bras, women have historically tried to tailor their bodies to appeal to men.
Today, the pains of cosmetic surgery and body waxing are endured to embody cultural ideals of feminine beauty. Breast augmentation is a perennial favorite.
Women mask themselves with cosmetics while accenting features, notably lips and eyes, which have sexual allure. The eyes signal a range of emotions and are a focal point of attention during conversation. Their decoration augments emotional communication. As the mind integrates pleasurable sensations, a pleasant scent, such as perfume, adds to physical attractiveness.
In Muslim cultures, sex appeal is utterly wrapped up. Women must entirely cover their bodies to keep them from tempting men. Beyond the message of ambivalence about women’s bodies that this conveys, it poignantly insults men by implying that they are unable to control themselves – with good reason. The stunning rate of sexual violence by Muslim men strikingly shows severe self-control problems as a cultural trait.