Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-Chief
Last Modified: 02:18 a.m. EDT, 11 April 2010
MAURITANIA, West Africa – Thousands of young girls in the West African country Mauritania, continue to be subjected to the cruel practice of gavage or force-feeding to make them more desirable for marriage.
Every year girls as young as five are routinely forced to undergo the traditional practice of Leblouh so they will be fat enough to secure a larger dowry for their families.
This inhuman practice of force feeding girls, often until they vomit, is as reprehensible as another predominant cultural practice of genital mutilation. Both practices seek to enrich the family through dowries because the girls have been physiologically altered to inflate their marketability to perspective husbands.
Even more traumatic and heart-breaking, is the fact that the perpetrator of these indignities are not strangers, but the mothers and other female members of the girls’ immediate and extended family. It is a vicious cycle that becomes a twisted rite of passage wherein the victim becomes the victimizer.
Although the Mauritanian government denies that the practice continues while clerics assert that it is contrary to Islamic law; it is a country with over 50% unemployment and vast rural areas populated by nomadic people who live in abject poverty.
It is within this context that obesity among children and the plague of poor body image among women has recently captured international attention. Historically, woman have struggled against fickle standards of beauty established by male perceptions and desires, and promulgated through various mediums and industries.
Currently, in the West an inverse standard of beauty exists as ‘waifs’ adorn our advertisements and daily assault us through film and video. Thinness has become synonymous with status and wealth, and is yet another way for people in America to discriminate.
In Mauritania and other parts of the world where fast food is not readily available, it is very difficult to gain weight. However, in America poorer women and their children are most susceptible to the accessibility, ease of obtainment, and low-cost of fast food and other non-nutritious food products.
Based upon my experience, the cost of eating healthy, buying organic, and supporting local producers and farmers comprises an astounding 30% of my monthly income. For most people in this country, especially in these challenging economic times, this type of expenditure is impossible.
Thus, when the effects of unhealthy diet manifests in obesity and the attendant physical and health challenges, becomes yet another identifier in class distinction. More about this subject of food in America can be explored by watching the movie “Fast Food Nation,” by Eric Schlosser.