Body Image in Mauritania: Bigger is Better
Chelsea Seira Thompson
University of Utah
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol IV.
In the North African nation of Mauritania, women are expected to maintain large, voluptuous bodies to the point of morbid obesity. This tradition has been kept alive for countless generations, starting centuries ago with nomads who respected those men who could keep their wives plump. In recent history, the pressure to gain weight has led to excessive force-feeding for young girls, who are often urged to ingest up to 16,000 calories per day. In addition to the initial weight gain, women in Mauritania will oftentimes resort to the abuse of pharmaceuticals in order to maintain their figures. This is an intensive process that demands massive amounts of time and energy throughout the lifespan. When women are expected to gain weight and maintain this image of excess, they are tethered to the home and are unable to engage in the community. For this reason, their voices have effectively been silenced in Mauritanian politics. At the beginning of the century, Mauritania saw a lapse in the trend of feminine obesity, which was accompanied by the entrance of more women into the public sphere. However, a recent military coup has set forth a “return to tradition” and has effectively undone this progress. This shows that body image is a defining factor in a Mauritanian woman’s place in society. The demanding task of putting on weight blocks women from the political sphere as well as from the community as a whole.