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Fattening: The Social Implications On The Azawagh Arabs And The Real Meaning Behind It

1668 words - 7 pages

Throughout the ethnography, “Feeding Desire” written by Rebecca Popenoe, we see one consistent theme that is brought up time and time again – women and the fattening of them to obtain a desired look. From the perspective of a Western third party, the idea of fattening to appear beautiful/appealing seems ridiculous. It simply makes little sense because fattening, is incredibly unhealthy, something that is recognized in Western culture and at the same time we prefer women to be as fit as possible. Looking through the ethnography we see that there are many reasons for fattening being a key factor in making women “an object of desire” (Page.. citation) as stated by Popenoe. We can examine these cases through the work of Popenoe and determine as to how she came to this conclusion.

At the start of the ethnography we can see from Popenoe’s initial experience while working with the Peace Corps in Niger, that the idea of fattening and how the women she saw originally seemed as “unattractive lumbering” (Popenoe 2004: 20). It was however while working with the Peace Corps that Popenoe noticed that this rounded shape that was the norm among the women and was far more appreciated and desired. After having decided to live with the Azawagh Arabs, Popenoe expresses the obvious indication of her being the outcast when it came to female sexual competition shown through the statement, “With collar bones protruding and not a stretchmark to be found on my upper arms, I believe many women considered me a poor specimen of my sex.” (2004: 20). Even though it is shown that women and men are usually separate, Popenoe’s lack of physical beauty as per the Azawagh Arab women, allowed her to communicate with the men with no fear from the women that she would be a threat. What becomes important is determining the historic use of fattening. Simply examining how/when fattening came into place, explains a lot more about the process and its meaning in more current societies in Niger.

Popenoe indicates fattening as a process for Azawagh’s likely originating at around 1352, “The first reference to a practice resembling, the fattening I observed in the Azawagh comes from as long ago as 1352, when the Morroccan traveler Ibn Battuta witnessed an earlier incarnation of the aesthetic among a Berber group near what would today be the Mali-Niger border.” (Popenoe 2004: 33). Furthermore Ibn Battuta indicates the process as through the consumption of cows’ milk and ground sorghum being digested in the morning, afternoon and evening being mixed with water and without being cooked whatsoever. Popenoe further strengthens her evidence with accounts from Scottish explorer Mungo Park, 1799, who indicated that girls were forced to swallow large amounts of kouskous and camel’s milk, shoving down as much as possible with their own mother’s sitting with sticks ready to beat them until they finished. French explorer René Caillié in 1830 described a similar cruel force feeding...

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