Big is Beautiful, in Mauritania
Fat - A Badge of Wealth
Mauritania, in the western Sahara, is one of the poorest regions in the world. Food is so scarce, at times, it's a struggle to survive. The Arab Moors, the ruling tribes in this country, are harbouring an extraordinary secret! A generation of women, disabled by obesity, immobile and helpless, because, as children, they were force-fed.
Mayma hasn't walked for years she tells: "It was hard. The girls were beaten. Their arms and legs were broken. They fed us on milk and couscous. They would beat us, and beat us until we ate and drank the food. It was the tradition".
Officially, the practice of force-feeding young girls has stopped. But a Canadian film, shot last year, showed the pain of girls tortured and forced to drink more milk than their bodies would take.
The country's hospitals are full of women who were force-fed as children. The obesity causes many health problems; high blood-pressure, diabetes, arthritis of the knees, and heart or kidney problems. By the time they are in their thirties, most of these women have difficulty walking. At fifty or sixty they can't do anything because of the pain in their bones. From sixty onwards, in the unlikely event that they live so long, these women are completely handicapped.
Mauritanians ride the months of famine waiting for the rain. When it arrives and the cows have milk, the girls are made to stock-up. Forced to drink vast, unnatural, quantities to bring on puberty so that they can be married-off. The young girls are raised to believe that fat is beautiful. It you aren't fat, you can't be married.
Oil is boosting Mauritania's economy, and with have come short-cuts to obesity. Pharmacies are besieged by women demanding steroids and weight-gain pills, powerful drugs that should not be taken without prescription.
Health campaigns urge women to eat less and get fit. What they don't address is why women want to be fat. One answer lies in a word, so sensitive, it can hardly be spoken: "slavery". Mauritania has always been ruled by the light-skinned Arab Moors, the richest tribes, who traditionally traded in black African slaves. Moorish women became Muslim princesses, feasting in idle luxury, with slaves at their beck and call. Being fat became a status symbol, a badge of wealth.