Its name is “leblouh” or intensive force-feeding, and its victims are young girls. The price: her health, future, happiness and dreams. In the African country of Mauritania young girls are terrified of food because the more they are forced to eat, the closer they are to early marriage, young motherhood and deferring their ambitions of working in the professional world, as doctors, nurses, and teachers.
The process of “leblouh” entails placing young girls in a camp during school breaks where they are broken down and told that “thin women are inferior” and that men find skinny women revolting. In one camp, the girls are EACH fed 40 egg-size balls of oil foods in addition to 12 pints of goat’s milk and gruel. The total intake for the day equals 14, 000-16,000 calories, this is 10,000-12,000 more calories than is recommended for a male body builder to intake in a day. If the girl refuses to eat she is beaten and tortured via the placement of two sticks around one toe, which is then squeezed. Even more disturbing: if she vomits the food, she must drink it.
Girls between the ages of 5-14 go through this fattening process. The aim of which is to make them more attractive to their male counter-parts. It is said that Mauritanian men like their women to be fat. Overweight women are sexy and erotic; the fatter the woman, the more beautiful and appealing she is to them. This preference for bigger women dates back to the ancient Moors (nomadic Muslims of the Arabic and Berber stock) who desired fatter wives, as it was a symbol of a man’s wealth. A fat wife meant that the man could afford to hire maids and servants to do the heavy housework, which left his wife plenty of time to lounge around and eat to her heart’s desire.
While the end result is aesthetically pleasing to men, the women pay a hefty price for this beauty ideal. Mauritanian women are literally DYING to be beautiful. These young girls are prone to diabetes, heart disease, depression, hypertension, and low self-esteem. The extra fat creates the illusion of a physically more mature girl, a 14 year-old can look 30 with the added fat, this makes it easier for her to marry at a younger age, giving her ambitions an earlier deferral. Marie Claire Magazine reported Dr. Mohammed Ould Madene, an emergency specialist saying, “The fat ideal is a grave matter of public health” he continued to describe a case where a 14-year-old girl was rushed to the hospital because her heart had collapsed under the enormous weight of her body. Sadly this is becoming all too common. Older married women, desperate to maintain their weight and keep their husbands, go to the black market to purchase drugs to aid in their weight gain. As MC reported, one woman bought weight gain pills that can cause low blood pressure, kidney failure, and blurred vision if she were to misuse it. The woman did this in response to her husband telling her that he “didn’t like sleeping with a bag of bones”. In another case, a pregnant woman died after taking animal hormones in an attempt to give birth to a fat baby.
Before the military coup in August 2008, the practice of “leblouh” was declining in Mauritania; there were even some claims that “leblouh” was extinct. However, after the coup, which replaced the democratic government with a Junta (it became official after the July 2009 election) traditional rules became law. When this happened there was a push for women to revert back to traditional roles, hence “leblouh” became the standard for young girls. According to the Mauritanian Government, before the coup, 20-30 % of girls in the urban areas practiced “leblouh” while in the rural areas 50-60% of girls went through the process of “leblouh”. Now however, approximately 80% of girls undergo “leblouh” regardless of their location.
While the Mauritanian government has not legalized this deplorable practice, it has made attempts to stop it by implementing information campaigns about the dangers of diabetes and heart disease, one of which included ballads condemning fattening. In 2010, the Mauritanian government plans to launch a program along with the UN Population Fund that is aimed at eliminating harmful practices, including force-feeding to women.