Culture Shock

A long time ago, in a world far, far away, plump women were considered pretty. Sexy. Attractive.

Aside from the fact that I hate the word 'plump,' this may have been a good thing. Except for Kate Moss and Nicole Ritchie perhaps.

I came across an interesting article yesterday in the New York Times about girls being "overfed" in the mostly Islamic country of Mauritania in North Africa.


Men find them sexier that way.


In days gone by, fat was a symbol of fertility. It meant that you had enough energy reserves to sustain a pregnancy. That you could survive a famine. I'm guessing (hoping) that this was a woman's natural fat and curves, but even so. While I'd wager that carrying too much weight on your body is far less harmful than carrying too little, it's still not good. Especially psychologically.

The article describes the ordeals of girls being overfed, such as being forced to drink 5 gallons of camel's milk, and having to eat their own vomit if they couldn't keep it down. It's the total, utter, and complete opposite of dieting young girls here in America. That it's normal. That health will be risked in order to achieve what society calls the ideal body. That the ideal body is so far off from reality that you have to alter yourself physically to achieve it.

Basically, it means that just about everyone, everywhere idealizes a female figure that is not compatible with the way most women look.

I heard it explained in one book on evolutionary psychology that beauty has to be somewhat rare because ordinary really isn't beautiful. And beautiful is a good way to find a mate with ideal genes.

Bollocks. Yeah, beauty is on the inside, but people also find different things beautiful in the opposite (or same) sex. Nor is this a ticket to eternal happiness, as much as current weight loss companies would have us believe.

Of course, the article started with a little vignette about Mauritanian women taking walks, all fat and huffing and puffing. Why?

One woman said, "Because I am fat."

Another woman said, "For my health and to be skinny."

And this is where cultures collide. Big time.

Is this tradition of overfeeding girls dying out because of health risks? Or because men are finding different things beautiful in women?

I'm no expert, but I have a hunch that it's the latter. Or maybe it's driven by the women, thinking that they will have a better chance of finding a mate if they look thinner.

Basically, the moral of the story is this: why can't we be beautiful just the way we are? (cue Christina Aguilara music) Why do we have to starve or binge in order for someone to find us attractive?

I think it also goes deeper than just what men want. It's the little snarky competition between women as to who will get the best guy. I feel much more insecure about my looks when I'm in a group of women than when I'm in a group of men. How am I being judged? Do I measure up? It's all of this primal competition. For years, this sexual selection has allowed our species to survive.

Isn't it time for a better way?


mary said...

"why can't we be beautiful just the way we are?"

We already are!

Be you and don't compete with the others as if you are the best prize for some man. pick me, pick me!
Screw that! That'll get you Mr. Wrong! hehehe
Instead be true to who you are, be patient, and keep working on being as comfortable with yourself as you can.
It's really sick wherever they expect woman to conform to what a man desires. UGH! Sad that friendship and a connection of the heart isn't the only way we all live in these times. Life is hard enough without feeling we are mere objects to be used and admired.
I am woman, hear me roar!
Or howl!

samsi77 said...

Bollocks to that, I learned a new term!

Jeanne said...

I second mary - we all are already beautiful.

So my question to the world is:
Why are we allowing ourselves to be ruled by some ideal criteria of beauty?

Why are we going with the lemming masses on who is beautiful (thin, fat, curvy, stick, whatever) and who is not?

When are we as the human race going to collectively wisen up and realize that each of us can have an opinion on our own??? Without succombing to the crowd's mentality (as published by the latest magazine/newspaper/tabloid/TV/movie/website)????

carrie said...


We ARE beautiful the way we are! Why is it that so few people recognize it? And appreciate it?

With the people I love, it's the imperfections that I hold most dear. Well, some of them. ;)


If you ever go to the UK, I can give you a crash course in swearing. It'll be fun!


I honestly have no idea why we let other people tell us what we're supposed to look like and who we're supposed to be.

There are some gems out there, even male ones! If only the women who looked like supermodels got married, the human race would die out pretty damn fast.

Laura Collins said...

You nailed an essential fact: I think you are right that this isn't about attracting guys - women need to stop doing this to each other.

Is there an office kitchen, ladies room, or line at the grocery that isn't a breeding ground for competitive self-hate?

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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