CW: Child abuse
The arrival of the spring season symbolises new life, new growth and, for many a newly invigorated dietary obsession. Anyone who is familiar with the onslaught of pro weight-loss propaganda in the run up to summer may be enticed to live in a country where big is beautiful. And where might you find such a place? Mauritania, where women with back rolls, overlapping thighs and stomach ripples stand the best chance of securing a good marriage. But don’t get too excited. Sahar Zand delves deeper into Mauritania’s body culture in Channel 4’s documentary Young Girls Force-Fed For Marriage in Mauritania, shedding light on its deeply abusive nature.
‘Putting pressure on your body to look a certain way is nothing new’, Zand reports after spending her first week in a rural Mauritanian feeding camp, ‘what makes this shocking is that these are little girls, and this is pain and torture’. She is describing the practice of ‘Leblouh’, a Mauritanian tradition of force-feeding girls as young as five enormous amounts of food in order to permanently increase their appetites and expand their stomachs.
At the beginning of ‘feeding season’, girls are forced to eat around nine thousand calories a day (twice the amount a heavyweight boxer eats) and gradually build to a daily intake of 16,000, all in the hopes of increasing their bridal value. Their mothers, grandmothers or feeding camp monitors tie them down, beat them and force them to throw up – all with the purpose of maximising their consumption. Despite showing no violence or gore, the documentary is incredibly graphic. Several close-up shots show the young girls or their feeders desperately forcing dry couscous and camel’s milk down their throats, reminiscent of pigs being fattened for slaughter.
The main question that remains is why a country that struggles with starvation would force young girls to permanently damage their bodies by overeating. The answer is always the same: as long as the female body is treated as a commercial product, cycles of abuse akin to this one will continue. Zand reveals this and more, highlighting the universal obsession with controlling the female body by drawing attention to a niche cultural practice few in the West are familiar with. It Is truly one of the most enlightening and shocking documentaries I have seen to date.