Popular Science Monthly/Volume 80/February 1912/Narrow Jaws and Small Feet




A FEW simple precautions in rearing our children would redound to the development of the race in quite unexpected ways. The writings of Bogue and others have proved that the small jaws and irregular teeth of Americans are due to the simple fact that the teeth and jaw bones have never been developed by chewing hard foods as nature intended us to do. As one consequence of this non-development, the teeth are poor in their chemical constituents, which, added to their irregularity and consequent non-occlusion, renders them so prone to decay that a middle-aged man or woman with a complete denture (i. e., 32 teeth) is so great a rarity that dentists are wont to rejoice when they discover such an one, even as the angels are said to do over one sinner that repenteth. In like manner the chiropodist might be supposed to rejoice, if one in his humble calling has the springs of joy within him, over the equally great rarity, a perfect adult human foot. For there is only one other thing so generally distorted and defective as the average human jaw, and that is the average human foot. We bring our children up to despise the Chinese who deliberately distort and malform the feet of their female children. Our virtuous conversation incites in our children's minds a horror of the foot-binding process by which the Mongolian parents prevent the natural growth of their daughters' feet and thus improve (sic) upon nature, and yet we allow our daughters to wear so-called Cuban heels and French heels and pointed-toed shoes, sometimes called one-toed shoes, until their feet are as truly malformed as the Chinese woman's, albeit in a less degree.

There seems to be more logic in the Chinaman's distortion of the foot than in that of the occidental races. We are assured that no Chinese woman of rank can expect to marry well if she has natural feet, like a working woman, any more than our girls expect to marry well if they have a natural waist. A Chinese lady of high degree abroad upon the highways must be attended by two or three maids or helpers supporting her, to show to the admiring multitude that she can not walk without help. This is what her feet have been compressed for. This proves that she is a lady and fully fitted to marry a gentleman of rank and attainments. The gentleman, on his part, has also taken pains to show that he is incapacitated for manual labor. His finger nails have been allowed to grow to an incredible length and for fear that they may be broken and look stubby, like a laboring man's he has small cases made, I believe, of ivory or some fancy wood, to draw on over those prolonged nails and preserve them intact.

Americans do not seem to be quite so anxious to prove to the outside world that they are incapable of walking, or of manual labor, as the Chinese, but they are extremely desirous of looking chic, smart and up-to-date, and we have seemingly as great a horror of feet which have grown to their natural size, as the celestials. We uniformly buy our shoes from a size to a size and a half too small for us. We do not realize that our feet should spread, not the toes alone, but the whole foot, like an animal's paw, with every step we take. Why we have the insane delusion that our feet should be small, out of all proportion to our bodies, no one so far as I know can explain. Orators have praised small feet, and poets have sung to them. Fashion plates have depicted them and lovers have sighed for them, and really from want of proper use, from compression and from the consequent arrested development because of their being encased in unyielding leather boxes from early childhood, our feet are much smaller in proportion to our size and weight than they should be. But this is not all. By reason of the absurd pointed-toe shoes, which men and women both wear, man is becoming practically a unidactylous animal. That means that we cultivate our great toes and let all the others atrophy for want of use, when they are not doubled up or twisted over each other so that standing on the feet for any length of time, not to mention walking, is exceedingly painful and sometimes impossible. In these cases the pointed shoes have been adopted after the smaller toes have grown somewhat, and like those of the unfortunate Chinese girls, they must be crowded out of the way, for no genteel person in either China or America can afford to have the toes spread out as nature intended them to be. Often, however, the pointed shoes have been worn in early childhood and the poor little toes, in consequence, have never developed, and are only rudiments of what they should be. In the classical foot the second toe is longer than the first, the third toe is the same length as the first and the fourth and fifth toes are well shaped and free from corns and spread out and take good hold of the ground when the person to whom they belong is walking. This is an exceedingly important point. Our toes should spread apart, as said before, like an animal's paws when we put our weight on the forward part of the foot in stepping out with the other foot.

There should be plenty of room in the shoe for the toes to do this, and it is largely because the toes are so tightly confined in pointed shoes and can not spread out that Americans are such poor walkers. The ridiculous high heels are unsightly and injurious and make walking difficult, yet they do not deform the foot, the most beautiful and exquisitely designed of all our organs except our hands, to the same extent as do the short and pointed shoes so commonly worn.

So far as walking for any distance is concerned, no American expects to do that. It is because the feet are so undeveloped and their ligaments and muscles are so weak, that so many people suffer with flat feet or with weak arches. So that now, all the shoemakers are putting steel arch supporters in the shoes. This is about as sensible as it would be to support a weak arm by binding it up in splints and making it immovable, hoping that if it could not be raised, it would gradually grow strong and robust. Even a shoemaker would laugh at such a method of making a child's arm strong, and yet he boasts that he makes a weak arch strong by preventing it from taking its natural exercise. The arch of the foot must go down whenever one bears his weight upon it, and the foot must spread out. For long tramps nothing could be more painful than shoes with metal arch supporters in them. Like all these attempts to interfere with nature's methods, of which man, not to say woman, has ever been guilty, wearing arch supporters may be a cause of terrible suffering, if one has to walk any distance with them in his shoes or boots.

Of course if people walk very little, they can endure the arch supporters, just as the women endure the high heels. It would seem that ordinary boots and shoes are not made to walk in, but to look at, or perhaps to ride in.

I knew a Hebrew gentleman on the frontier who sold a man a pair of riding boots. In a few days, the purchaser of the boots came back complaining that the seams of his new boots had burst out, whereupon my Semitic friend, with a look of mingled horror and surprise, broke out with, "Why my frent, you didn'd valk in dose boots, did you? Dose was not valking boots, dey was riding boots." I often think of this occurrence when I see women trying to walk with Cuban heels and shoes far too short and too narrow for them. That their gait is singularly stilted and ungraceful every one knows, yet how they manage to walk as well as they do is surprising. I can nearly always tell by a woman's gait whether she is wearing shoes that really fit her or not. A woman properly shod may and often does show the queenly dignity and lissome grace which should characterize the most graceful of God's creatures. However, as an old walker myself I have to say that for good walking the human foot and ankle need a more thorough development than they are now allowed to attain. Every one of the ten toes should be allowed to grow to its proper size and should exert its due pressure on the ground when we walk, jump or run. The natural foot is a perfect arch, and its two columns the ball of the foot and the heel should be on an exact level, which means that the heel of the shoe should not be over a half inch in height. The heel of the shoe should also be large, in fact, nearly as broad as the broadest part of the sole. The inside of the shoe should be three quarters of an inch longer and a half inch broader than the foot that it is meant to cover. Incidentally, people that wear such shoes and learn to take hold of the ground with their toes do not fall down and break their bones in slippery weather.

A friend of the writer's, a middle-aged man who has had his share of falls on slippery steps and icy pavements every winter, last winter escaped without a single hard fall because he was wearing low-heeled, broad-toed shoes, which the shoe-maker assured him were "a size too big for him." Here is a hint of value for stout people who are afraid to go about in slippery weather and who can not always have on a new pair of rubbers.

Just as our jaws suffer from non-development, which is the foundation of our adenoids, mouth breathing, poor digestion and mal-assimilation, not only because of our poor and irregular teeth, but because we do not get enough oxygen in our systems when we are growing for proper development, so we suffer from weak and malformed feet because these have not only not been developed by exercise, but have not even been allowed to grow to their natural size. Then we wear an arch supporter to still further cripple a weak foot and wear high heels under the mistaken impression that they keep up the instep. Of course when the arch gives way, as it often does because it is too weak to spring back after it has spread out in stepping under the weight of the body, a supporter in the shoe must be temporarily worn. Yet every effort should be made to strengthen that arch by running, walking on the toes in the bare feet, applying massage and electricity to the muscles of the calf, and toning up the general system.

The breaking down of the arch is really of more significance as an indication of general bodily weakness than as a local deformity, and its treatment should be quite as much general as local.

We shall not get perfect manhood or womanhood until we obey nature's obvious laws and allow our children's feet and jaws to develop as they were intended to do.