Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gambia and a Few Good Pounds

Gained a pound or two over the season? Worried about looking too heavy? Fear not! There truly is a solution that not only involves no effort whatsoever, but also actually allows for even more eating and the accumulation of even more pounds.

The solution is to move to Gambia.

In Gambia, "women do not battle the bulge, they celebrate it. A body is not something to be tamed and moulded."

Writer Catherine Pigott found this out during an extended trip to Gambia to teach English. She wrote about her experience in The Globe and Mail (March 20,1991). The Gambian women thought Pigott was far too thin and called her "Chicken-hips."

Pigott "marvelled at this accolade, for [she] had never been called thin in [her]life." She found it difficult to explain that in her North American culture, women with too hearty an appetite were thought unattractive and that they denied themselves food to achieve "perfect slenderness."

Dieting is unnatural in Gambia where there is "no place for thinness. It made people sad. It reminded them of things they wanted to forget, such as poverty, drought, and starvation." Pigott changed her weight and her attitude towards weight during her Gambian stay, coming to believe that their views of body size and female beauty were much more natural than those in the North American culture of denial and disapproval.

Despite wishing to retain her new attitude towards her body image and weight, when Pigott came home, she was bombarded with the familiar cultural messages. They "don't use words such as 'cheating,' 'naughty,' or 'guilty' when they talk about eating" in Gambia, but they do in Canada. "Family members kindly suggested that [she] might look and feel better if [she] slimmed down a little."

Pigott joined a gym, dieted, and felt her freedom about weight slip away. The fear of fat had returned, as had the "time to exert control over [her] body."

Pigott's article underscores North American attitudes towards female beauty and body image and towards an ideal of thinness. Yet there can be too much of a good thing. In Mauritania, fat women are so desirable that until only the last few years girls have been force-fed to make them more attractive to prospective husbands. Fortunately, the practice is very much on the decline, and attitudes towards it are changing.

As Pigott writes, it is not good to "romanticize...rock-hard lives" of Gambian women; the value placed on a heavier body may indeed be restrictive for some women in that culture (although not, I think, nearly to the degree it is in Mauritania!).

So there you have it. Worry no longer about those extra pounds! Move to Gambia! The only other sane solution is to change our attitudes about control, thinness, and female beauty. (Why do I think that planning and moving to Gambia might be easier?)

(The Catherine Pigott article originally in The Globe and Mail is anthologized in The Act of Writing: Canadian Essays for Composition. Ed. Ronald Conrad. 8th ed.Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 2009. 197-199. The quotes are from the anthology.)


lifeshighway said...

Dang, you should have posted this before fudge season. I choose not to make fudge this year for the holidays because of the nasty side effects as in pounds.

Very interesting though. In our culture, thinness is a sign of success both personally and financially. You need to have the freedom money allows to maintain a slender figure and the funds to buy nutritious fresh foods.

The Sole Sisters Collective said...

In many countries bigger women are considered more desirable. It seems the more people have the less they want to be visible. In my country, Jamaica, I am considered very unattractive because I do not have big hips etc.

I married a Yemeni who lived in Egypt and one of the first things he said was, "wow, you are so thin...". He was very unimpressed.

ChrisJ said...


If I had only known about the fudge!

When every one does it differently, that tells me that it's cultural, nit natural as many think.

@ *

Interesting point about having more and then being less visible. I hadn't thought of that.

Dorothy said...

This is wonderful and we should only wish that beauty would be from the inside not the wrinkles or chubbiness on the outside. What a wise country and thanks so much for visiting our blog but also for having such a great one yourself..

Dorothy from grammology

ChrisJ said...


Wrinkles and chubbiness sum it all up. But you are quite right about inner beauty.

One of THE GUYS said...

Our views about body type, especially regarding women have to change. People come in different shapes in sizes and that's a good thing. Men seem to get a free pass when it comes to this, which obviously is quite a double standard.

But on the flip side, Americans are getting heavier and heavier and it's not doing us any good. Childhood obesity has been skyrocketing as kids drink more soda, eat more fast food and generally eat too much.

So if it's about image, I completely agree. But as far as overall health, all of us, men included should try to slim down.
Of course, each person's "slim" weight is different and that's where it becomes tricky.

Engaging post!

ChrisJ said...


Excellent point about being overweight. I'm going to address it in a post. Also, I expect the Gambian women are in much better condition than many North Americans, so weight isn't so much of an issue.

Anonymous said...

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ChrisJ said...


Thank you for commenting. I've been blogging for over a year.

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