The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Beautiful and Deadly

One of the strongest debates still going on in the world involves whether or not big women are more beautiful than their skinny counterparts. Africans - well a good number of them - believe that a woman's beauty is determined by her size.

In some African cultures especially in rural areas, from as early as the age of 4, girls were force - fed fattening milk among other things, in preparation for the men who they'd get married to in the future. Obesity was and still is (in some cultures) a sign of great wealth and beauty.

Although few women are force-fed today, many still feel compelled to be bigger-than-average because of the tradition that was forcefully imprinted on them. Daphrose Musazagore who owns a motel in Nyamata said that in her family, being big was the only thing that mattered. "My father had me and my siblings stay with our grandparents and be fed all sorts of things that made us bigger than we wanted to be."

"When we were little, grandma would hit us because we didn't want to be fat. She said no man would ever want to marry us if we were skinny. I grew up with that mentality and now, I'm using foreign made appetite inducing pills to help me eat more," she said.

Whereas most people do not believe such primeval and unwholesome traditions still go on in societies today, it is in fact true. In Eastern provinces like Nyagatare, Gatsibo and Rwamagana, women are pretty much still practicing the tradition more commonly known as Gutinya.

Although the tradition originated from provinces in Western Uganda, it has quickly spread to these Rwandan provinces. Essentially, women are placed in a room, and not allowed to go out or be seen by anyone till evening when they are permitted to use the bathroom.

Should anyone wish to see her, she is covered in traditional cloth as her face can not be exposed. Her days are spent weaving mats and baskets to keep her busy. Throughout the day, she is fed with goat's milk and ghee to help fatten her up.

In newer times, when a woman is about to get married, she is put in a room maybe weeks to the wedding and pampered with milk and ghee. Sometimes they apply the ghee on her body to soften her skin so that come D-day, she's as soft and plump as a baby!

Jean Pierre Gashumba, also living and working in Nyamata said that fat women have some sensuality to them that skinny women don't. He went on to add that he simply worships his wife's 98 Kg body. "I don't like undernourished women. I want to be able to grab her love handles and also see some stretch marks. I think they are sexy," said the 39 year old. "I threatened to divorce my wife if she ever loses weight."

Gashumba quickly added that he was not to be judged for his preference in size and that regardless of his threat; his wife was all too willing to keep the weight. "When we got married she was 78 Kgs but I wanted her to be bigger. I will do anything to keep her that way," said Gashumba who weighs 67 Kg's himself.

Just like Gashumba, many men prefer voluptuous women. In my honest opinion, voluptuous should mean curvaceous and not something the size of a baby whale. "My husband thinks I'm not fat enough," said Annette Karemera, owner of downtown clothing boutique Hot Fashionz.

"He literally loved me to bits when I was pregnant but after giving birth, I chose to workout and lose some of the weight and that made him mad and his desire for me dropped conspicuously."

"I love my husband and would do anything for him but I don't want to end up with diabetes or heart disease. He looks pretty fit himself which angers me because I am the one who will suffer in the long run," she complained.

Journalist and column writer Carol Lunkuse said that men who still insist on fattening their wives most definitely do not know the health hazards that come as a result of obesity. "As the media, it is our responsibility to enlighten people on the dangers of obesity through anything that will pretty much send the message across."

"Most people insist on preference but health should be a top priority. In fact, I find it strange that some people still do that because in the world I know, women are desperate to lose the weight and look like super models," Lunkuse commented.

In concurrence with Lunkuse, much of this tradition has been watered down. Both women and men are approaching a more sensible perspective. To fully wipe out these brutal feeding practices and also raise awareness, the respective governments of communities still in the habit should launch both TV and radio campaigns highlighting the dangers of obesity.

"I just don't see how in this day and age a man can insult me that way. Yes, if he is going to want a fat bride then I suggest he looks for one already that way. When I'm bed ridden with heart disease, he will be out looking for another plump woman to kick it with."

"Women should learn to stand up for themselves and open their minds to what is good or not good for them and not just be good at pleasing their men," said Ugandan KFM radio presenter Veronica Tindichebwa.

It shouldn't be a matter of who looks better; it should be a matter of health. Seriously anorexic people are also at risk - according to www.bulimia.com , Anorexia has a multitude of medical complications ranging from mild to severe. In fact, 5-20% of anorexics die, usually from complications associated with self-starvation, like heart, kidney or multiple organ failure and illnesses like pneumonia.

Health awareness together with the rising popularity of foreign soaps and movies featuring model- thin women has helped reduce the practice, especially among the urban elite.

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