Obesity is so revered among Mauritania’s white Moor Arab population that the young girls are sometimes force-fed to obtain a weight the government has described as “life-threatening”. Obesity has long been the ideal of beauty, signaling a family’s wealth in a land.
Although few women are force-fed today, many feel pressured to be bigger-than-average. Many have turned to a more scientific method of weight gain, using animal steroids intended for fattening camels and foreign-made appetite-inducing pills.
To end the brutal feeding practices, the government has launched a TV and radio campaign highlighting the health risks of obesity. Because most Mauritanian love songs describe the ideal woman as fat, the health ministry commissioned catchy odes to thin women.
These efforts, combined with the rising popularity of foreign soap operas featuring model-thin women, has helped reduce the practice, especially among the country’s urban elite.
Listen to Assignment – Mauritania, fatness and beauty (BBC World Service) for the complete story.