Saturday, September 24, 2005

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Girls Here Are Force-Fed to Get Very Fat

It may be hard to believe but there is one place in the world where being fat is such an honored trait of beauty that pre-teen girls are force-fed to gain weight. That country is Mauritania, an Islamic republic on the western edge of the Sahara. Reuters reports that the Mauritania people believe that corpulent women make more desirable wives. If a man's wife and daughters are voluptuous, it shows the rest of society that he is wealthy and powerful and they are well fed so they can survive the hardship of desert life.

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But there is trouble in Mauritania, a place where men and women still walk the streets in flowing robes and headscarves. Thanks to satellite television images, the young women see a new definition of beauty: women with flat tummies. And as more Mauritanians travel to other countries, fat as beautiful is beginning to change. Change is hard, though. It's long been a custom that Mauritanian women should not engage in any strenuous activity so exercise must be done under the cloak of darkness. "Sometimes I walk, sometimes I run. We come after dusk when the men have gone home," a 31-year-old woman named Fatimatou, who was force-fed as a child, told Reuters. "It's no longer the modern fashion to be overweight. Women have evolved. Now they work in offices and they have to be fit."

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It is thought that some 20 percent of women in Mauritania were force-fed in a brutal practice called "gavage." Some were even tortured during the force-feeding. Fingers and toes were broken so the pain would distract them from swallowing the food. The feet of some girls were crushed in a wooden vice and the pressure was only relieved when they started to eat. Others were forced to eat their vomit. Gavage has dropped in popularity since the government has initiated an educational campaign to highlight the health risks. But the desire to be fat runs deep. Men still tend to prefer fat women as sexual partners.

Click to see a photo of Nene Drame, a Mauritanian writer who is working on a novel about force-feeding.


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