Cinderella surgery—part health care, part fairy tale

The Vancouver Sun recently reported that the foot-lift, sometimes referred to as “Cinderella surgery,” is becoming a fast-growing and somewhat controversial sector of the cosmetic surgery industry. Surgical procedures include bunion removal, toe shortening or lengthening, separation of webbed toes, varicose foot-vein removal, and foot plumping (fillers introduced to smooth bony feet). Some physicians think that surgery may be indicated to correct painful foot problems but that cosmetic surgery would not be needed if people would just wear sensible, well-fitting shoes. Physicians are also concerned about potential poor outcomes of cosmetic procedures leading to painful locomotion or even unsteadiness in walking. Other physicians may recommend cosmetic surgery when they encounter individuals who are experiencing psychological stress because of the size or shape of their feet, sometimes to the point of social isolation.

There is also the poorly understood, but real, romantic or sexual attractiveness factor (e.g., foot fetishes), which can be a consideration for some people in choosing cosmetic surgery. In various cultures, small, shapely feet for women and medium-sized feet for men are important attractiveness features; other cultures may hold different preferences.

The somewhat-whimsical reference to Cinderella and our preoccupation with foot size and attractiveness have deep literary roots. The oldest version of the popular Walt Disney story is an ancient Greek story, Rhodopsis, probably written about 7 BC. While a beautiful Greek courtesan was bathing, an eagle picked up one of her sandals and dropped it into the king’s lap. Stirred by the beautiful shape of the sandal, the king had his men trace it to its owner, who eventually became the king’s wife.

Another version of this story appeared around 866 AD in China, wherein a beautiful woman loses her slipper while fleeing her stepfamily. The king is consumed with desire when he sees the slipper, sets out to find its owner, and marries her when he does.

A European story published in the Kingdom of Naples in 1634 revolved around La Cenerentola’s (a maiden servant’s) lost and found shoe, and an infatuated king searching for the shoe’s wearer. “Cenere” in the maiden’s name referred to her ash-smudged face and clothes, which hid her beauty.

In 1697 the French author Charles Perrault published one of the most popular versions of the story. Entitled Cendrillon it introduced the fairy godmother character and the glass slippers. In this version it is a prince who finds his future mate thanks to the fanciful footwear.

In Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Aschenputtel an ash-stained beauty loses her slipper and her mean stepsisters mutilate their feet to fit into the molded golden slippers in order to catch the eyes of the handsome prince.

Regardless of whether there may be a king or prince or princess in sight, many women and men have problems fitting into their fashionable shoes of choice if their toes form a less-than-smooth arch. While surgery may be indicated for relief of foot deformity or pain, it may also relieve psychological problems or even social withdrawal attributable to foot shapes that are perceived to be unsightly. And it certainly is curious that feet have been the focus of romantic and sexual attraction since ancient times. 
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Suggested reading
Leah Hardy. Cinderella surgery: Keeping feet in shape. Vancouver Sun. 10 September 2018. (Originally appeared in the London Daily Telegraph.)

Cinderella. Wikipedia. Accessed 17 September 2018.

This posting has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board. 

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