Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Eat Until You're Beauti-Full

Too tired to workout at the gym? Prefer big macs to salads at lunch? Jealous of the size 0 model on magazine covers? Well then trade your jeans for pants with elastic waistbands, cancel your gym membership, supersize your order, and move to Mauritania.

In Mauritania, beauty still appears to be measured in pounds. Situated in northwest Africa, this country has traditionally encouraged and sometimes demanded that its women stay overweight. Certain households, particularly in more rural areas of the country, continue to force-feed their daughters at an early age (1). This ritual is referred to as gavage, and is the same term used to describe the practice of fattening geese (1). Many of the country's middle-aged women can recall repeatedly tolerating physical punishment when they refused to drink excessive quantities of camel milk (1).

Though these brutal feeding practices are not as common today, societal pressure remains. Husbands even threaten to divorce wives who exercise and lose too much weight (1). Since the country's ancestors often had difficulty foraging for food in the desert, obesity became a symbol for health (1). However, this cultural preference greatly jeopardizes the physical health of these largely overweight women. Though their love handles are admired, they are ultimately at a much higher risk for major health complications, such as Type II diabetes and heart disease (1). Even simple tasks become laborious for these obese women who are frequently short-winded (1).

Conscious of this health dilemma being perpetuated by tradition, Mauritania's government has turned to the media. Aimed at increasing public awareness, many television and radio advertisements now contain information on the consequences of overeating (1). Still, reversing popular attitudes is a slow process.

1. Callimachi, Rukmini. New views in desert culture on fat women. Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 16 April 2007.

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