Girls Forced to Eat to Become Delicious Wives
I was at the gym, doing the obligatory 40 minutes on an elliptical. I was willing to read anything I could get my hands on to help pass time and minimize the drudgery of pumping toward nowhere. To my great joy, wedged among the body-building magazines was an outdated issue of Marie Claire magazine. So with legs straining and heart thumping, I settled in for a light read.
Then I got to "Forced to Be Fat," an article that stopped me and my elliptical in our conjoined tracks. Writer Abigail Haworth pulled me into a fascinating but completely troublesome description of leblouh, a practice of unrelenting force feeding (we're talking 16,000 calories a day of oily gruel, pure animal fat and more) of adolescent girls in the West African nation of Mauritania. The purpose? To coax young forms into the copious, undulant, multi-chinned, fat-rippled figures of women considered the ideal of femininity and eroticism by men descended from the Moors, nomadic Muslims who traversed the rural western Sahara Desert region of the country.
Hardly able to believe what I was reading, I was jolted further by the magazine's image of a young woman, heralded for her beauty - "largely" because of her ample supply of adipose tissue and the status-building stretch marks all over her 20-something cocoa skin.
Eating or Beating
It seems premarital young "women" (mere children by U.S. definition, at 12 or 13 years of age) are sent to "fat farms" where they are forced (by threat of beatings) to eat. And eat. And eat. Haworth noted that the experience is so harsh that these girls are sometimes forced to eat their own vomit if they have the unfortunate necessity to get sick.
They are restricted from moving - no burning of precious calories at this fat factory. They must languish on the ground until the next gruesome, gruel-some meal begins. The girls, often sent to the farms without realizing the eventual outcome, have been known to cry and scream at feeding times, according to BBC News.
Once the deed is done and the portly figures are in place, these women are highly prized as brides. In time, some women turn to hunger-inducing drugs to help them continue to ingest massive quantities of food - all to maintain their ample girth. The intentional fat retention stands as a sad salute to their men who have been known to threaten divorce if their wives fall "prey" to healthful, svelte bodies.
How did this passion for obesity begin? According to a report on msnbc.com, the preference for excessive fat evolved from a Nomadic past, in which people fought to eat and simply survive against harsh conditions. Fat meant wealth, success and status. And in time, fat meant beauty and sensuality.
Women Face Health Consequences
Too bad for the corpulent desert women of rural Mauritania. Marie Claire reports that diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and depression are becoming the reality of Mauritania's roly-poly beauties. One doctor quoted in the article told of a 14-year-old girl whose heart was so huge it nearly "collapsed under the strain."
The Mauritanian government had tried to effect change, producing get-thin campaigns along with television ads poking fun at fat females. And many Mauritanians in less rural areas prefer Westernized ideals of slender women, and are vocal about it. However, in August 2008, a military coup removed the country's Democratic government and installed a junta (later maintained in a questionable election) extolling "tradition." And that tradition includes fat women.
The voices of anti-force feeding activists are starting to be heard in Mauritania, largely in cities where the "old ways" are less attractive. Most heartening is the fact that gyms have begun opening their doors to women who are determined to shed the weight that has become their own human bondage. They are reclaiming their bodies by trading mulafa robes for sweatsuits. While change is slow to infiltrate the Sahara region, it's coming as sure as a shift in the sands.
As I finished the article, I rethought the drudgery of that elliptical machine. Somehow the last 10 minutes didn't seem such a chore. To make a free choice to do what is best for mind and body is a blessing, on any continent.
On another note: Join me and fellow ADVANCE staffer Kay Bensing, MA, RN, as we launch a new blog in the new year all about fitness, weight loss and universal struggles along the wellness trail.