At first it was interesting to read about recent efforts of the Mauritanian government to encourage women to lose weight.  See, in Mauritania (West African country in the Sahara) they like their women fat.  Hmm, I thought, how refreshing.  But no.  According to an article in the NYT, to which I can’t link, because the NYT is just that way:

For decades, the Mauritanian version of a Western teenager’s crash diet was a crash feeding program, devised to create girls obese enough to display family wealth and epitomize the Mauritanian ideal. Centuries-old poems glorified women immobilized by fat, moving so slowly they seemed to stand still, unable to hoist themselves onto camels without the aid of men’s willing hands.

Girls as young as 5 and as old as 19 had to drink up to five gallons of fat-rich camel’s or cow’s milk daily, aiming for silvery stretch marks on their upper arms. If a girl refused or vomited, the village weight-gain specialist might squeeze her foot between sticks, pull her ear, pinch her inner thigh, bend her finger backward or force her to drink her own vomit. In extreme cases, girls died.

Gross.  So now the women are turning up with strokes and diabetes and heart attacks, and the government is airing public service announcements. The article featured a handful of women on a walk around the public stadium, trying to drop the weight that was forced down their throats when they were too young to even know the consequences. 

It’s ironic.  These women wear the mufala, head-to-toe Islamic covering that looks to my western eyes like a pretty, colorful version of the Afghan burka.  Part of the reason why they like their women fat is because no one can really see their bodies well, and the skinny ones look like "a stick wrapped up," one of the local men says. 

As I approach my yearly beach vacation in agony over the ten new pounds I bring along, it comforts me / breaks my heart to think that there is yet another way for women to feel wrong and ashamed about their bodies.  That there is yet another way for women’s bodies to become a thing to be manipulated, fetishized, covered up and still found wanting, and for the women inside those bodies to be simultaneously tortured and ignored. 

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