“How beautiful a woman can be if kindness is her true beauty”, is a quote by Debasish Mridha.
People are occupied with preconceived notion about how a woman should be slim and thin to look beautiful. We live in a hypocrite society where a woman is judged by her looks instead of her intelligence and smartness. This is the veracity of today’s world, where so many young and talented women are struggling to make their way into society. Women across the world have always been harassed, body shammed, and slut-shamed due to their weight, height, and complexion.
Imagine a place where the definition of a ‘beautiful woman’ is completely opposite to what we have been taught until now. A place where obese women are considered desirable and are categorized as “Marriage Material.” Isn’t it strange?
Now let’s unveil the culture of “Leblouh”. Leblouh is the practice of force-feeding young girls between the age group five to nineteen. Where other girls of this age group consume 1,200 – 1,400 calories a day, these girls are forced to consume 14,000 to 16,000 calories to satisfy the community at the cost of their health. This culture is practiced in several parts of African countries such as Mauritania, Niger, Uganda, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. According to the people living in these countries, the tradition of force-feeding increases the chances of a woman’s marriage and is a sign of wealth. People of this community think that fat and thick women have higher chances to get married to eligible men.
The practice of force-feeding is also widely known as “Gavage” which is the synonym of “Leblouh”. The term Gavage is a French word that means fattening up geese to produce “Foie Gras.”
In Mauritania, men often see large women as more desirable. They believe fat women are the sign of wealth and these women will make a good wife.
In order to make these young girls obese, older women often called as “Fatteners” force the girls to consume a huge quantity of food along with the liquid. However, if any girl denies consuming the food they are punished by pinching a limb between two sticks. This is a society where a woman’s power is to be beautiful and to be beautiful a woman has to be fat.
A normal six-year-old girl is forced to drink at least 20 litters of camel’s milk and has to eat two kilos of pounded millet mixed with two cups of butter every day. Young girls can weigh 140 kg after force-feeding which can leave these girls with diseases like diabetes, hypertension, kidney failure, and in the worst-case scenario, it can put a huge strain on their hearts, jeopardizing their health. These girls are married off as young as 12 or 13 years old.
Around a quarter of Mauritanian girls are force fed but in rural areas, it can be as high as three quarters. Mauritania is considered being a poor country, where people are forced to practice slavery. The draught has left many families to starve in the country.
In this harsh environment, various girls find different ways of fattening themselves. One of these is known as “Chemical Gavage”. Girls are buying these drugs such as corticoids a type of steroid hormones to get bigger, or dexamethasone which affects the body’s metabolism.
These drugs are not only bought by the force feeders but also by the normal girls in the city to look glamorous. Although it’s illegal for anyone but licensed pharmacists to sell these medications. However, among 50 stores, 10 are openly displaying these drugs without the fear of being caught and arrested.
These pills can be even more dangerous than eating too much food. Consumption of these harmful drugs really set the priority for what women of Mauritania do and the length they are willing to go to achieve the ideal body and to be called as “beautiful”.