Forced to be fetishized–Is forcefeeding in Mauritania that different from America’s obsession with thinness?

Mauritanian girls forced to gain large amounts of weight so they will be more appealing to men
Mauritanian girls forced to gain large amounts of weight so they will be more appealing to men

Some things simply exhaust me. An article in the October 2009 issue of Marie Claire magazine, titled “Forced to be Fat”, is one of them. It also made me sad, angry and horrified. And you know what? It made me a little bit jealous.

In the country of Mauritania, girls and young women are often force-fed up to 16,000 calories a day to make them fat. The article states:

Now big women are back in vogue, and the custom of funneling rich food into young girls like geese farmed for foie gras is once again thriving unchecked…Government figures from before the 2008 coup put the rate at 50 to 60 percent in rural areas and 20 to 30 percent in cities. “The practice is re-emerging because men still find mounds of female flesh comforting and erotic,” explains Seyid Ould Seyid, a Mauritanian male journalist. “The attraction is ingrained from birth.”

Let me be clear: The practice of force-feeding is barbaric and abusive. It’s an invasion of your body no less violent than rape. Picture a young girl in Mauritania sent by her parents to a remote hut where she is force fed gruel and animal fat. She feels sick, scared and alone.

But while you’re at it, also picture a young girl in the United States, laying alone on the bathroom floor after binging on so much food she vomits it all up. She feels sick, scared, and alone. Both are equally painful and unfair. Neither girl is able to have a healthy relationship with their own body.

Here is my disclaimer: I am a fat woman. I weight over 250 pounds and wear a size 22. And I have wrestled the eating disorder monsters most of my life. I have binged to the point of vomiting. I have starved myself dizzy on lemonade and maple syrup fad diets.

This Mauritanian women fits her cultural beauty standards.
This Mauritanian women fits her cultural beauty standards.

Can you blame me for fantasizing about living in a country where men would flock to my “mounds of female flesh”? Ironically, I think I even experienced this cultural difference when I took a cab and was actually proposed to by the Somali cab driver who, upon finding out I was single, replied that he would marry me because I was the “perfect size”.

I am struck by the realization that women’s bodies are considered beautiful only in how they appeal to men. As the article states, Mauritania’s view of beauty is the United State’s obsession with super-thinness in reverse. We are valued in a way that makes our bodies nothing more than fetishes.

What is missing in Mauritania as well as the United States is the idea of choice — the choice we are all entitled to regarding our own bodies. Do any of us really feel we are able to choose what we would like to look like and be okay with our bodies? How much does each of us prescribe to what society is telling us we should look like?

I believe in my own worth and my own beauty whether I’m a size 22 or a size 2; it’s been a hard-fought battle, and I have to renew my commitment every day. I keep thinking about how every time I watch the evening news there is a story about the obesity epidemic. It is drummed into us on a daily basis accompanied by those infamous anonymous headless photos of fat people walking down the street.

Now I can picture the same news story in Mauritania, only the headless photos depict skinny idealized Western images of physical attractiveness. In the end it feels like none of us win and quite frankly, that exhausts me.


2 thoughts on “Forced to be fetishized–Is forcefeeding in Mauritania that different from America’s obsession with thinness?

  1. Having struggled with an eating disorder for most of my life, I’ve often wished our ideals of beauty were of fat women, forcing themselves to stuff themselves. But I read this article, and afterwards, realized that every woman, everywhere, is suffering- I’ve starved myself until a tube was put into my nose to force nutrients in me, binged on uncomfortable amounts of food and made myself puke until I’ve landed in a cardiac ward, to fit what America wants- but these girls go through EQUAL amounts of terror to fit their own culture, which is what I thought I’d prefer. This, in the end, is about US, women- the culture changing will not help anything, because there will always be ideals- we need to decide to NOT. CARE.

  2. Thank you for the article, Jodie. Thank you for the comment, Emily. I hope others find this illuminating and it helps them “not care” a little more, as well.

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