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Forced to be FAT

by Abigail Haworth
by

Gabriela Abrishamian

on 26 April 2010

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Transcript of Forced to be FAT

Forced to be FAT By Abigail Haworth In Mauritania, where the ideal woman is fat, young girls are brutally force-fed in order to prepare them for marriage. About the Author - Journalist
- Published article in Marie Claire in 2009
- Awarded the Oversears Press Club's "The Madeline Dane Ross Award"-
Best international reporting in the print medium showing a concern for
the human condition

"In a world where the 24/7 media seems omnipresent, Abigail Haworth
clearly went where no one else thought to go. Her riveting, well-sourced
and fascinating story explored a topic that was unique, introduced readers
to a different world view in a non-judgmental way, and
clearly told us much that we did not know..."
The setting The Issue Anthropologial Approaches Cultural Approach Political Approach Ecological Approach Cross-Cultural Analysis Comparison to Assigned Readings Approaches - Capital = Nouakchott
- Rural Mauritania
- Desert of West Africa Ideal of Feminine Beauty:
Obesity - Men prefer their women fat

- Traditionally a symbol of a man's wealth to have a fat wife

- "The Lure of Larger Women"- BBC Video The Practice of "Leblouh" - Girls are brutally force-fed up to 16,000 calories per day
- Recommended daily consumption for a healthy 12-year-old girl averages 1500 calories/day and an adult male bodybuilder eats up to 4,000

- "Fat Camp" - Girls are sent to the desolate desert where they are force-fed to eat without a choice
“You’re going on vacation to the desert to meet other girls and eat sweet food”
"The aim is to feed them until their bodies blow up like balloons"

- Physical abuse

- In Atar, outside of Nouakchott, proportion of girls being force-fed has reached over 80% Professional Force-Feeders - Usually older women

- Beat the girls if they refuse to eat

"I beat the girls, or torture them by squeezing a stick between their toes. I isolate them and tell the that thin women are inferior."

- Their rationale: "...it's for their own good. How will
these poor girls find a husband is they're bony and revolting?"

"The stomach flab should cascade, the thighs should overlap, and the neck should have thick ripples of fat...Parents will give me a bonus if a girl develops stretch marks."

- Typical foods they prepare: bowl of goat's milk, balls of crushed dates and peanuts, oily couscous, pint of pounded millet with water, cups of fat
Link with Child marriage - Most girls wed between the ages of 12 and 14

"Increasing a girl's size creates the illusion that she's physically mature, that she's ready for a husband"

- Family often arranges marriage

- Fatter girls are more eligible and desired

- Cultural note: Originally, fat women represented a wealthy husband, but now girls are expected to be fat even before marriage. - View of large women as beautiful is a
cultural preference

- Belief that it makes women more
attractive

- Traditional customs - Practice has never been outlawed
- 2003: Government campaign to fight child abuse and raise awareness of the health risks of obesity
- 2007: Terrorist attack decreased tourism, which led to decreased global influence and revived the practice
- 2008: Military coup removed the democratic government and installed a junta that favored "a return to tradition."

"The authorities want women to return to their traditional roles- cooking, staying indoors, and staying fat to keep men happy." - Aminetou - Practice occurs at 50 to 60% in rural areas and 20 to 30% in cities

- The more isolated, the
more likely the practice
to occur

- Girls in cities are more exposed to global media influences - Body image ideals differ across cultures
- Parker Article: White vs. African-American women beauty ideals
- Brown/Konner Article: Compares within U.S and around the world

"The definition of obesity is ultimately linked to cultural conceptions of normality, beauty, and health."

- Differing connections to socioeconomic status
- Mauritania: Fatter women reflect wealthy husband that can afford to pay for food and does not need wife to work to help family income
- U.S: Skinny women reflect sufficient wealth to pay for gym memberships, weight-loss products, plastic surgery, etc Works Cited Background Health Concerns Historical Approach - Originated centuries ago among the Moors

- Fat wife (like "fat livestock") was a symbol of a man's wealth

- Proof that he had enough resources to feed her Questions Research Questions - Why are so many women in Mauritania obese?

- How do Mauritanians rationalize the abusive practice of force-feeding? - Serious matter of public health

- 25% Mauritanian women obese

- Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, depression

- Pharmaceuticals are "the new form of leblouh" and create drugs with detrimental effects
- City markets secretly cell hormones used to fatten camels and chickens - can cause death
- Allergy medication with appetite-increasing side effect - can cause low BP, blurred vision, kidney failure, etc

- An ER doctor describes one patient:"She was only 14, but so huge that her heart had almost collapsed under the strain" http://www.cooltravel-morocco.com/medias/cooltravel/desert/desert-camel-donf0338.jpg - Haworth: Journalism
- Interviews, research

- Brown/Konner: Biocultural, Evolutionary
- Evolution, genes, cultural adaptation

- Parker: Ethnography
- Longitudinal study, survey methods QUestions 1. Why do you think Mauritania in particular has maintained such an abusive cultural practice?

2. Does "leblouh" compare to any other extreme eating behavior?

3. What types of interventions do you think would be most effective? Signs of
Change Changing perspectives Activism - Women are becoming more aware of the negative health effects of the practice
- Increasing Western influence
"One woman hopes to be the next Shakira of Mauritania."

- Men less attracted to fat women
"We're fed up of fat women here."

"Some girls have asked me whether they should get fat or stay thin. I tell them if you want to find a man, a European or a Mauritanian, stay thin, it's better for you."

- Fitness centers for women
“Some women join on doctor’s orders, but others are image conscious”

"Young people in Mauritania today, we're not interested in being fat as a symbol of beauty. Today to be beautiful is to be natural, just to eat normally." Quotes from "Mauritania's 'wife-fattening' farm," Pascale Harter, BBC. 26 January 2004. - Aminetou Moctar from the Association of Women Heads of Households- equal rights organization in Nouakchott
- Anti-force feeding activist
- Petitioned the junta to take action Women's Perspectives - Envy for fat women
- Negative childhood memories
- Desire to be active
- Conflict between traditional culture and outside influence "Where did she get that incredible body? I was so jealous."

"I was force-fed as a child. I vomited and suffered heartburn and diarrhea, but I gained weight fast. When I realized I had power over men, I started to enjoy being fat."

"I don't want to be fat. I don't think it's beautiful...I love sports.I'm scared I won't be able to run fast when I'm fat."

"I'm always tired, and I wheeze when I walk. I want to be slimmer so I can be more dynamic... I'd love to be able to wear jeans and high heels. I want to diet, but I'm scared men won't like me anymore."

- "Forced to be Fat," Haworth, Abigail, Marie Claire (US), Oct 2009, Vol. 16, Issue 10.

- "Mauritania's 'wife-fattening' farm," Pascale Harter, BBC. 26 January 2004. Next Steps - Triple E
- E mpower women to be healthy
- E nforce laws against force-feeding practices
- E ducate older and younger generations about dangers of obesity
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