The idea of a culture that finds heavier women more attractive than thin women seems appealing. But the practice of "gavage"—force feeding—in Mauritania confirms that living up any female standard of beauty is never easy.
Last night's episode of the National Geographic Channel's series Taboo focused on how obesity is viewed in different cultures. One segment was devoted to Mauritania, where a woman's size "indicates the amount of space she occupies in her husband's heart." Because famine is a regular occurrence in the West African country, bigger women symbolize not only fertility, but wealth and health. In fact, one in five women there practice gavage, which is a kind of force-feeding akin to torture.
Gaining weight isn't exactly easy. Often, the women rely on meals of milk mixed with crushed millet and butter to gain weight, and many of them force their daughters at a young age to consume several bowls of the mixture. Gavage is now beginning to be seen by some in Mauritania as child abuse, since instruments are used to inflict pain in order to force the children to swallow. Additionally, many young girls die from complications of gavage, like choking on their own vomit. In adulthood, the women of Mauritania feel the effects of lifelong obesity, like heart trouble, difficulty breathing, and joint pain. Why must appealing to men always be such a heavy burden on women?