Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Forcefeeding in Mauritania" from Marie Claire, Oct 09

Today while at the gym, after both my Time and Nylon Magazines had run out with me (I'm too hardcore to be contained on the elliptical as far as reading material is concerned), I turned to Marie Claire and stumbled upon an interesting, albeit very sad article about the practice of forcefeeding young girls in Mauritania for cosmetic purposes. That article can be found here.

A summary of the article, essentially, is that because of cultural norms associated with female obesity representing a husband's prosperity, obesity and stretch marks have become the height of cosmetic allure in Mauritania. Further, a woman's soft, rolling flesh has been considered to make a girl seem older and thus ready for marriage, allowing her family to marry her off earlier. Consequently, girls are being sent to "force-feeding" camps for weeks at a time where they are forced to consume as much as 16,000 calories a day and lie around without exercise to insure that the food becomes fat, rather than muscle.

The story is shocking and truly sad in many ways, not least because many of these girls have no desire to change their bodies. Many of them have at least been exposed to Western culture and are not of the mindset that fat is beautiful. Further, it is clear that forcing so many calories on a young girl, let alone contributing to morbid obesity so directly, is tantamount to child abuse. Ethnocentristic views on the relative merits of fat beauty aside, its not healthy and ought to be viewed as an issue worthy of intervention.

However, what I find a little shocking is the brazen manner in which the article handles such an issue with shock and horror but makes little mention of the reverse behavior being essentially condoned by western society. Our obsessive views on the merits of thinness lead to fat camps, parent inflicted dieting, and widespread eating disorders, and our media only perpetuates these impossible norms, markedly influencing the behavior of young women. It is a near guarantee that in many cases, these views are reinforced by overbearing parents who continually remind their daughters of the importance of remaining thin.

This is not to say that combatting obesity is a bad idea. Of course it is a good idea, because promoting healthy behavior, especially in youth, is always a good idea. I am simply stating that the opposite behavior of perpetuating overly thin ideals is just as unhealthy as perpetuating obesity.

I don't mean this to downplay the sadness of the article itself, but given that the pages of Marie Claire are littered with ridiculously thin models (particularly because this seasons shows, more than many I've seen previously, seemed overwraught with skeletal gauntness), Marie Claire could pay heed to the fact that our culture perpetuates the opposite views at times to similar extremes. I think its just a bit sad in general that all over the world, women are held to impossible standards of beauty (relative to their culture) that for most women are impossible or unhealthy to achieve.

Photo credit of Marie Claire/Joost De Raeymaeker

1 comment:

Katie K said...

oh wow. First of all: I LOVE the way you handled this issue and the way you tied it back to our society. Very well written, very pointed. I like a lot.

Secondly: I think that Marie Claire was banking on the fact that this issue would increase their readership and appeal for two reasons: 1. The girls who think of starving themselves to be so thin, secretly wish they lived in a society where they were forced to be they could eat what they want and be happy. 2. The girls who support starvation for beauty are doubly horrified that these girls are subjected to fattening treatments to make them beautiful (because in their eyes it doesn't).

Yes, I am forgetting a third group of readers: Those who support healthy eating and exercise and don't let the media put too much emphasis on our opinion of our waistline. But perhaps we don't account for too much of Marie Claire's readership? Or they don't care about our slice of their ratings?