Strangely, there have been cultures in which morbid obesity was highly valued, and at least one such culture still exists. Author Rebecca Popenoe studied the Azawagh Arabs, among whom feminine obesity is so self-evidently, obviously desirable that her interview subjects didn’t even understand why she asked questions. She writes:
Girls are fattened on milk and porridge for several years leading up to puberty to attain the full, abundant, luscious look that is admired by men and women alike, and that is considered sexually desirable. Women work to maintain the folds of fat around their stomach, fleshy behinds, and stretchmarks on every limb…
The Azawagh diet consists of milk, grain, millet, and sorghum. Fruits and vegetables are unknown. The sociologist connects desirable obesity to the value of milk. The whole family achieves high status when a man’s livestock can provide enough milk to keep his wife in a state of “voluptuous immobility.” Her physical bulk will be converted back into milk to feed their children. Fat on a woman is like money in the bank.
An undated essay by Samiha Fariha adds more details to the picture by describing the life of a 10-year-old named Parveen, who is being fattened according to custom. The traditional way involves tough love from her aunt Nusrat, because after all, it’s for her own good, to obtain the right kind of husband.
When before Nusrat used to indulgently feed Parveen porridge, now she yells at her or sometimes hits her to eat the porridge. Furthermore when before Nusrat used to encourage Parveen to go out and play with her friends, now she restricted her from completely going and mixing with her friends.
The Azawagh Arab society is Muslim, like the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, another place where big is still beautiful. The fattening of girls begins when they are eight years old, and when they are old enough to marry, they are sent to a kind of finishing school, a “fat camp” that is the exact opposite of the American understanding of the term.
How does 15,000 calories per day sound? At least their diet is a bit more varied, with the addition of olive oil and figs. Modern science aids in the process by providing steroids, and girls are made to eat veterinary-grade growth hormone pills.
The preference for morbidly obese women has never been limited to one religion. There is a book called Goddesses of Flesh and Metal: Gazes on the Tradition of Fattening Jewish Brides in Tunisia, whose title says it all. As soon as a girl was engaged to be married, the extreme fattening program began.
Supposedly, in Tunisia, the preference for obesity was mainly prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but who knows? Needless to say, these practices are horrendously destructive to women’s health, and even inimical to their fertility, which is especially incomprehensible, since the whole custom is supposedly built around the sanctity of family and childbearing.
Rebecca Popenoe says that worldwide, about 80% of societies prefer plump women, though they don’t all go to such lengths to promote excess flesh. If reincarnation is how things actually work, maybe some obesogenic parents can not help valuing bodily abundance, because in a past life they belonged to a society where that is the norm.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Feeding Desire: Fatness, Beauty and Sexuality Among a Saharan People,” Google Books, 2004
Source: “Feeding Desire: Parveen’s Glorious Future,” Wattpad.com, undated
Source: “Force fed to find a husband,” DailyMail.com, 07/15/13
Photo via Visualhunt.com