Body Image Revolutionary Kate emailed me this morning, with a link to a vid of Jessica Simpson’s Pric eof Beauty TV Show, specifically to an extract of an episode called Fattening Hut (opens in a new window; you’ll get an ad too, sorry).
Kate said “aaaggghhhh ! SANDY!! FAT IS BEAUTIFUL!!!??? but YIKES! look what happens HERE!”. So I did go look, because while I’ve heard of the show I’ve never watched it.
So in Uganda the Huma tribe take great and probably expensive pains to prepare a bride-to-be for marriage. They sit her down with a couple of her female relatives in a hut for a couple of months. There she does nothing but attend to calls of nature, rest, and drink 5 litres of fresh milk, straight from the cow, everyday for months. In this episode, the bride-to-be has been in the fattening hut for two months where she gained 80lbs/40ish kgs.
She’ll be going to her husband luscious and round and clearly healthy (though two months of sitting around is probably bringing on some stagnation that can have life-long health effects). So the fattening hut is a rite of passage from childhood to womanhood and presumably motherhood.
Physiologically, I can see why this is probably a good idea – a well-nourished woman is much more likely to be fertile. Fertility is obviously essential for community survival in rural populations in “undeveloped” countries, where starvation and its resultant drop in fertility, and high death rates, are so heartbreakingly common.
So a fertile woman is highly, highly valued. She is valued equally with a man’s cows which are his livlihood, and a major part of the tribe’s ability to survive. More on this in a minute.
The fact that this story is featured on a show called The Price Of Beauty is interesting. From what I remember hearing about the show, it’s meant to show us all that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that we’ll do pretty much whatever it takes to conform to the expectations of our society’s idea of beauty.
We’re seeing this Fattening Hut extract right out of cultural context so there’s lot of information missing. For example, what do men do to prepare for marriage? What happens to the bride’s size after the wedding when she resumes her pretty active life? What other cultural norms don’t we know about, like infant mortality, maternal mortality, life expectancy? What are the other expectations and rights of women in this culture? Can they divorce an abusive man? Is abuse even recognised? What about property? Does anyone even own individual property, or just other creatures?
Not knowing those answers, there is a question I feel compelled to ask: Is this just another way to make women conform to the desires of men? After all, here women are prized equally with that other highly valuable possession, cows.
Except that we women also shape society, being half of the sky and all… We ‘educated’ women in developed countries choose to conform to the expectations (currently the Thin Ideal) that society has for and of our bodies, and we are part of the structure imposing those expectations onto other women.
The truly great awesome amazing exciting thing about being a woman in a developed country in this time, is that we can make a different choice.
Each one of us can say “I choose to love my body exactly the way it is, today, and recognise what an amazing gift this body of mine is”, which frees us up to take better care of ourselves. All it takes is a shift in our own personal perspective, because clearly it’s possible to see our fat bodies as desirable in every sense – the Huma clearly do.
So is the fattening hut, as I said above, a smart practice in a continent where even as I write, thousands of people are dying of starvation and complications of malnutrition, or is just what appears to most Westerners to be a weird unhealthy practice?
If you’ve seen the full episode, or know much about the fattening huts, or have another opinion, please feel free to comment below.
And thanks Kate for this interesting heads-up 🙂