The Strange Mauritanian Tradition of Force-feeding Girls to Find a Husband

The Strange Mauritanian Tradition of Force-feeding Girls to Find a Husband

Agreeing to the fact about different perceptions of beauty around the world, there are some far-flung places where obesity is a sign of beauty. It is also seen as a symbol of wealth. We are talking about the tradition in Mauritania. The world may be obsessed with getting slimmer, Mauritanians have a story of their own. Read this post to know its history and its underlying effects.
In 2013, the HBO documentary series, Vice highlighted the plight of Mauritanian women. They sent Thomas Morton, an American journalist, to investigate and experience the tradition of Leblouh, which resulted in him gaining 10 pounds in two days!
She's gonna go to a magical place on vacation to the desert. She'll get to eat sweets all day and meet and befriend other girls of her age. The holidays will be spent relishing the stay and savoring mouths. She'll return home turning into a beautiful woman.

This is the story narrated by every mother in Mauritania to her girl child. The girls get all excited for their "summer camp" and takes a leave to the desert, only to return by becoming "beautiful." Let's resume the story.

The girl is having breakfast in an incommodious hut cramped in the Sahara desert, accompanied with five other girls. She's just done with sopping up a pint of camel milk, but the meal ain't over yet. Her stomach is bloating with oily couscous and the next course is waiting ready to enter her tummy. She's expected to finish a huge quantity of thick gruel prepared with pounded millet. And if she refuses to have it, she'll be caned. Worse, if she pukes, she'll be forced to eat her puke.

This is what they call "magical"? This is what happens in their camp? The girl is getting beautiful by feeding on every possible fat given to her, and sometimes, even steroids to boost her weight, making her more attractive and eligible to get married.

The Tradition

For Mauritanians, big is beautiful. They consider an obese wife to be a sign of wealth and prestige. The tradition holds that, the size of a woman will suggest the space she'll take in her husband's heart; the flapping layers of fat in her body will define the degree of eroticism. So, the bigger the girl, the wealthier and more mature she looks. The heavier and wealthier the girl, the more desirable she becomes, and so the earlier she'll get married. Thus, slimmer women are viewed as inferior and poor.

Leblouh or force-feeding is a practice to groom young girls for potential suitors. Girls as young as five are sent to 'fattening farms' in their holidays to undergo hours of feeding during the day. To attain this physical state, the girls are fed with breadcrumbs soaked in olive oil, around 12 pints of camel milk, oily couscous, and goat meat―consumption of elephantine amounts of food. This practice is known as gavage.

If a girl refuses, the woman or matron who runs the camp is likely to punish her physically. She may be caned on her toes until she screams. If she throws up, she'll be forced to feed on that vomit. Furthermore, sticks are squeezed under her thighs for her muscle tissues to erupt, speeding up the fattening process.

The Adverse Effects

On an average, a girl is fed with 12 pints of goat milk and copious amount of gruel, resulting in an intake of about 14,000 to 16,000 calories per day, which is like 4 times a male bodybuilder's intake. If successful, this process will make the child look double her age. It causes a 12-year-old to weigh 180 ponds (approx. 80 kg).

They have also found a new form of leblouh, 'chemical gavage'. Girls who refuse to feed on the diet, are forcefully injected with animal-growth hormones, those that are used to fatten camels and chickens. They are also dumped with steroids and pills made for birds that causes bloating of abdomen and breasts, but thin legs and arms.

Owing to this feeding of gavage, the girls develop a disproportionate body shape, and more importantly, become obese, leading to life-threatening issues! The bigger threats involve regular heart attacks, heart failures, malformations, reproductive health complications, renal failures and joint pain.

Concluding Remarks

Young women are fighting against this practice. They idealize models, watch television, are aware of the world that is trying to get skinnier. They refuse to bulk up. Although there is a fall in the number of women practicing force-feeding, this nescient notion needs to be dozed with awareness about its hazardous consequences. Campaigns, reaching out, making a provision for education, are some of the factors that can stave off this wrongdoing. There is a sheer need of not just health awareness, but the downsides of child marriage and abuse!