Women In A Poor West African Country Are Force-Feeding Themselves For Beauty's Sake

Mauritania gavage overeating

In Mauritania, a West African country situated in between Western Sahara and Senegal, thin isn’t considered beautiful. Skinny women are viewed as

poor and not able to afford food.For women to find husbands in Mauritania, they have to be fat. So they force-feed themselves large quantities of camel milk, bread crumbs soaked in olive oil, and goat meat. This practice is referred to as “gavage” — the same name used to describe the force-feeding of ducks to make foie gras.

HBO’s new documentary series Vice calls gavage a self-inflicted obesity epidemic. The show sent correspondent Thomas Morton to Mauritania to experience the tradition for himself — and he gained about 10 pounds in two days.

Even so, about 20% of females in Mauritania are obese, and more than half are overweight. Comparatively, only about 4% of men are obese and 20% are overweight.

The number of obese women is striking for a country that struggles with drought.

Source: AP

Obesity has long been the standard of beauty in Mauritania. Being fat is considered a sign of wealth, where being thin is a sign of poverty.

Local men who spoke to Vice agreed that in Mauritania, big is beautiful.

The country's men

As a result, mothers begin force-feeding their daughters at a young age to ensure that when they're old enough to marry, they are attractive under Mauritanian standards.

Vice sent Thomas Morton to Mauritania to experience gavage first-hand. He heads to a gavage camp in the desert to see how much weight he can gain in two days.

But soon, the heat and copious amounts of milk and food start to take their toll.

Breakfast consists of breadcrumbs soaked in olive oil.

Lunch is goat meat, bread and another bowl of milk. Mauritanian women sometimes eat two or three lunches a day.

After two days at the desert gavage camp, Morton goes from around 120 pounds to around 130. If that's the effect two days of force-feeding have, it's hard to imagine what a lifetime of gavage does to one's body.

Fortunately, some Mauritanians are beginning to realise how dangerous the practice is. Morton's gavage partner says she'd never make her daughters participate, because she's worried about what it could do to their bodies.

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