Different cultures view the idea of being fat or obese differently. Some cultures believe it is a bad thing and shame people when they do see it happening. Some cultures approve of it and openly make people obese in order to satisfy their traditions. Either way it is something that has been deeply ingrained into our consciousness to take note of and do something about.
When taking in consideration the Nigerian peoples and their views on weight, this is one instance where they approve of the “more is better” rule. They go to extreme lengths to fatten up females in their society and consider thinness to be unattractive. Girls grow up spending time in a fattening room where all they do is eat and avoid strenuous activities. This tradition of theirs is influenced by many things about their society.
One major reason that Nigerians find that they want their women to be on the heavier side is because it signifies a wealthy, healthy, girl. This is because this is an area where there is possibilities of food shortages. Food is something that is not taken for granted and in making their daughters gain more weight, it gives her a better chance of seeming like a good choice for a wife. It makes her appear as if her family is not struggling for food and has enough to spare. Another reason that this tradition is practised here is because in some places, being plump is a sign of fertility. In a place that might have to worry about food, another major concern would be child rearing or if a woman will have a strong enough body to support a child. There is a phrase called “child-bearing hips”, that is taken to extreme measures in this society because they want their women to be good, healthy, mothers. Lastly, being obese is important to some societies, particularly this one, because it is tradition. This is something they have been doing for a long time and it works for them. To not do it would go against their nature and what they have always been taught to do. Tradition is something that a culture will hold tightly to so that they do not loose themselves and become like another people.
Using the United States of America as an example, we see the complete opposite of a society that approves of obesity. While what they do have in common is that both societies place a lot of importance on weight, for the United States, it is important for people to be very thin. Being obese is something that is generally frowned upon by society and there have been many, many things that society has come up with to maximize ones weight loss goals. One ritual that some Americans have taken up, especially teenage girls, to stay thin is becoming anorexic. Anorexia is an eating disorder where the person does not eat. It can also be paired with bulimia which is when a person forces themselves to vomit up their food after they eat in order to stay thin.
People in America resort to this because our society now has this need to stay thin. Our society, and others like it, do not have to struggle for food. Food is something that is readily available and is not a commodity. One of the reasons that being thin is so important is because now, our society can afford to limit food intake and not think twice about it. This is also influenced by the fact that since these societies do not have to struggle for food, they can also afford to be picky about what they eat. For instance, in a society where food is scarce, an important dietary need would be carbohydrates. However, in a society with an abundance of food, it is not necessary to have more of something than the other which means that they can choose what nutrients they want to receive. Another reason being thin is important, especially for women, is because now it is normal for women to be in the work place and not just men. Historically, it was generally womens role to raise children while men worked. During this time, it was acceptable and even welcomed for a woman to be more plump. This was for the same reasons as the Nigerian women, fertility. However, with the shift of gender roles from the house to work for women, it was only natural that women felt they needed to look more masculine in order to be taken seriously because of gender discrimination. When looking at the other side of the situation, at people who have excess weight, they are shunned. This is because in other peoples eyes, they have gone lengths to over eat and are not practicing discipline or have “given up”. This could or could not be the case in situations, however, because it is now not the social norm, it is looked down upon.
In a society, views on weight are determined by a multitude of different social influences. Fertility, or how easily women can bear children plays a major role because in poorer countries it is generally thought that the more plump the woman, the healthier she is, while in more rich countries, it is perhaps more important to have a social standing in the work force. Another major role for deciding whether being fat or skinny is the social norm is if food is readily available. In societies where food is abundant, people feel the need to practice discipline and deny themselves large proportions of food. However, in other societies where food is a commodity, the more a person eats, the more it appears they have. In every society they are going to have their own views about weight, however, no matter the case, the appropriate answer is whatever is healthiest.
Simmons, Ann M. “Where Fat Is a Mark of Beauty.” Los Angeles Times 30 Sept. 1998: n. pag. AnthroProf. Web. 8 Dec. 2012.
“What Is Anorexia?” What Is Anorexia? Mirror Mirror, n.d. Web. 09 Dec. 2012.