Beauty in the minds of Mauritanian gentlemen (and the rest of the world)

Let us begin with this: activate your Internet modem, take a surf in any browsers, and type the keywords ‘Mauritanian women’. Nearly all the recommendations may have resulted in one correlation: they are fat. Imagine what if someone marries a potbellied, chubby-faced, and buxom lady. That used to be popular during the Middle Ages, where men – particularly the peasants – were commonly perceived as being thin, bony, and well-muscled. And there were their wives; big, fat, perhaps xanthippe-alike, doing the daily chores in the kitchen or mopping or cleaning the floors. And that is still pretty much popular in Mauritania.

It sounds hard to admit here, but to be honest, I am much more attracted to chubby-faced – and short – women. Sometimes, I myself find this notion incomprehensible. I thought of the factors that triggered me for a while. My mom is not that type; she’s instead the one who is used to giving the coldest shoulder on being fat. She frequently exercises on the treadmill, at the same time watching TV, every afternoon. But my mom is shorter than me. Then I saw my younger brother. He’s chubby-faced. He’s quite fat, and some of the clothes I am still wearing today in fact suit his first-grade-junior-high-school body. Perhaps both these combinations subconsciously influenced my mind.

One thing I like from the evaluation of beauty is there is no precise unit on how beautiful a woman should be. Beauty according to me is not assuredly beauty according to you, or beauty according to your friend. That implies societies are free to adjust their own standards of beauty. But sometimes – starting from this point – beauty has its own ugliness, if seen from the wider perspectives. Some societies take extreme measures to define by their own subconscious of what beauty is, and how it should be made.

One example has been shown by societies of Mauritania. In order to obtain recognition, husbands are responsible to feed their wives as much as they can afford, despite the fact that more than half its population still earn less than even one dollar a day, until they turn obese. It’s unusual to conceive a poverty-and-coup-ridden nation where wives are instead obese, but for Mauritanians, it turns out to be ‘no problem’ at all.

Standards of beauty were even more terrible in ancient China. As seen from the former, the women would still be able to have diet. Yet, in the latter, it’s permanently incurable. Women there must have suffered a lot, if I can say. To have feet bound is an uneasy thing to do. Their feet would have to be bound until there came up ‘lotus feet’, one of the men’s must-haves during that period. As I read in Wikipedia, one research showed that ‘at least 10% of all the women in China who had their feet bound died of infection’. Most of the men perceived women with bound feet to be ‘erotic’, as seen from their swaying walk. But the term only applied as long as the women had their feet covered with ‘lotus shoes’, otherwise the rotten odor would be unleashed from the folded parts of their feet which had ended up rotten by the gangrenes. It’s out of the senses, but as the society accepted that norm – for thousands of years, it’s even perilous to mention it ‘insane’.

The neck-ring culture was particularly popular among the women in Kayan tribe, Myanmar. They begin to wear the neck coils as early as they have reached two years of age in order to elongate their necks, and as time passes, the number of the neck coils increases. By doing so, the women are trying to have an impression of what beauty is defined in their own minds. Like the woman pictured above, she must have had more than 10 neck coils. For further medical implications, I quoted these sentences from Wikipedia:

The weight of the coils will eventually place sufficient pressure on the shoulder blade to cause it to deform and create an impression of a longer neck.

The custom of wearing neck rings is related to an ideal of beauty: an elongated neck. Neck rings push the collarbone and ribs down. The neck stretching is mostly illusory: the weight of the rings twists the collar bone and eventually the upper ribs at an angle 45 degrees lower than what is natural, causing the illusion of an elongated neck. The vertebrae do not elongate, though the space between them may increase as the intervertebral discs absorb liquid.

When the coils are removed, there is no health danger. The only concern is that the neck muscles are atrophied, and are understandably weaker than the rest of the body. However, there is no proven medical concern for the removal of the coils.”

All in a sudden (well, actually I’m not trying to be racist, but deep apologies whenever you feel inconvenient with my statement), this elderly woman reminded me of an ostrich. We all learn that the surrounding nature always plays a crucial role in shaping mankind’s mind patterns wherever they live, and my first hypothesis was that either ostriches or giraffes must have lived somewhere in Shan and Kayah State, the homeland of this ethnicity, that gave inspiration to the neck-lengthening idea. But my hypothesis in the end turned out to be null-and-void. Ostriches inhabit the barren, arid lands exactly south of Sahara, stretching from Mauritania to Somaliland, and several territories in Angola, Namibia, and Zambia. Giraffes themselves are scattered from Chad to South Africa. What a coincidence.

Note: it would have been so courteous of you not to call them ‘giraffe women’. It’s known to be derogatory.

When people know how to beautify, they must have also known how to uglify as well. Well, you maybe won’t find this word in any dictionaries, but at least you get the vivid point. Uglifying truly helps, indeed. There was a hypothesis by historians, mentioning that the climax where many women in Africa had their upper or lower lips pierced so that very large clay-made discs would fit in through the holes, was when slave trading was at its height. Thus, the very-ugly impression was made, and the slave traders must have considered their decisions more than twice whether they wanted to purchase these women or not. But slavery itself was not the only single factor that triggered many women to have their lips pierced; a matter of culture and habitude also played a vital role to sustain this tradition, even until now.

Take a visit to Ethiopia if you want. Pick up your world map, and find out where Omo River is situated. Most of the women with lip plates make a living here. It is widely believed among the tribes there that the larger the lip plates are, the more economically and socially climacteric they are. And more beautiful. What an obscurity.

Well, it might seem pornographic, but this picture was once published in National Geographic. Click the link here for more pictures:

In Cameroon, there’s another extreme habit known as breast ironing. It’s the process of making the breasts cease growing by the time the girls have begun to enter puberty. Elders used to, and are still used to, believing that the growth of breasts imply that women are ready for sex. They hold a strong, and strict, belief that women should attend education, avoid sex and early marriage. And they believe flattening the breasts is the solution, in order to preserve ‘the unspoilt beauty of their souls’.

Here is how it works. Tools, be they bananas, coconut shells, grinding stones, or spatulas are heated over coals until they end up as ferociously scalding as an iron used to flatten the shirts and clothes, and afterwards, they are placed over the breasts. The elders would compress these as-hot-as-melting-iron tools over the breasts until the body tissue inside is permanently damaged.


We often consociate beauty with elegance and splendor, but in some parts of the world, beauty speaks an entirely different language. And sometimes, metaphorically speaking, defining beauty itself is like building an imaginary human zoo of your own, where you classify and differentiate beauty and ugliness by your own. But it is what your mind does. Indeed, we never know, there is someone out there, someone out there we know that we have never known before, have their very own ways to interpret it. Human civilization must have been marked with so many human zoos of their own.