Sunday, December 9, 2007

Fat Farms

Dates [from here]

Sally got me thinking about the issue of what it means to be physically attractive and how we as individuals choose to pursue that, or not.

One fun (or disturbing) aspect of that issue is looking at how different people and cultures define beauty.

One counter-example to white America's obsession with female skininess comes from Mauritania, in West Africa, where fat women have traditionally been preferred by the Arab culture. (This is the dominant class in the country. The black Africans are generally of lesser standing.)
But it's not a happy one:
while some American kids suffer in diet camps to gain the coveted skeletal look, some Mauritanian girls suffer in diet camps in order to look like giant pillows.
Just goes to show Americans have no corner on the out-of-whack-body-image market.

I came across this article about Mauritanian fat farms, below, while I was researching neighboring Mali a couple years ago. Here's an excerpt from it:
Mauritania's 'Wife-Fattening' Farm
By Pascale Harter
BBC, Mauritania

Obesity is so revered among Mauritania's white Moor Arab population that the young girls are sometimes force-fed to obtain a weight the government has described as "life-threatening".

A generation ago, over a third of women in the country were force-fed as children - Mauritania is one of the few African countries where, on average, girls receive more food than boys. Now only around one in 10 girls are treated this way. The treatment has its roots in fat being seen as a sign of wealth - if a girl was thin she was considered poor, and would not be respected.

"I make them eat lots of dates, lots and lots of couscous and other fattening food," Fatematou, a voluminous woman in her sixties who runs a kind of "fat farm" in the northern desert town of Atar, told BBC World Service's The World Today programme.

Although she had no clients when I met her, she said she was soon expecting to take charge of some seven-year-olds.
"I make them eat and eat and eat. And then drink lots and lots of water," she explained. "I make them do this all morning. Then they have a rest. In the afternoon we start again. We do this three times a day - the morning, the afternoon and the evening."

She argued that in the end the girls were grateful.
"When they are small they don't understand, but when they grow up they are fat and beautiful," she said.
"They are proud and show off their good size to make men dribble. Don't you think that's good? ...Once they are fat and beautiful they can serve their men well, once they are fat they can be married."

However, the view that a fat girl is more desirable is now becoming seen as old-fashioned.

A study by the Mauritanian ministry of health has found that force-feeding is dying out. Now only 11% of young girls are force fed.
"That's not how people think now," Leila - a woman in the ancient desert town of Chinguetti, who herself was fattened as a child - told The World Today.
"Traditionally a fat wife was a symbol of wealth. Now we've got another vision, another criteria for beauty.

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