Girls began hand spinning yarn as young as 6 or 7 -- roughly the same ages as when their feet were bound. The women they spoke to made the connection between the two:
"My mother bound my feet when I was around 10 years. At around age 10, I started to spin cotton. Each time she bound my feet, it hurt until I cried," one woman who was born in 1933 told the researchers.
Foot-binding dates to the Song dynasty (960-1279) and spread from court circles to wealthy elites and eventually from the city to the countryside. By the 19th century, it was commonplace across China.
It began to decline in the early years of the 20th century, with its demise usually attributed to ideological campaigns led by missionaries and reformers, and subsequent moves by the Nationalist government followed by the Communists to ban the practice.
Bossen said she spoke to women born as late as the 1940s whose feet had been bound for a short time.