“Feeding Desire” by R. Popenoe

“Feeding Desire” by R. Popenoe

In the contemporary world, the perception of female sexuality and beauty varies dramatically. In spite of the dominant western view on female beauty, which is based on thinness of female body, researchers draw a lot of examples which have absolutely contrary views on female beauty and sexuality. In this regard, the work “Feeding Desire” by R. Popenoe is particularly noteworthy, because the author researches the traditional stereotypes and standards related to females in the Azawagh Arab community. Unlike traditional western stereotypes, the Azawagh Arabs develop absolutely different standards of female beauty and sexuality, which are defined by the fatness of a female. Basically, the author researches causes of these stereotypes and she attempts to explain the strife of Azawagh women for fatness. However, her conclusions and assumptions are not always unarguable. Even though her position seems to be quite logical and supported by evidences, conclusions she makes are not always absolutely correct. In fact, R. Popenoe lays emphasis on the fact that the fattening process is primary about socializing sexuality, but, in actuality, the evidence she gives strongly suggests that the purpose of fattening is more about marking status differences than sexuality.
First of all, it should be said that R. Popenoe analyzes evidences and facts collected in the result of the fieldwork. Basically, she views the fattening process in the socio-cultural context of the Azawagh Arab community. At first glance, her position is very strong, since she argues that the process of fattening is closely interrelated with sexuality and, what is even more important, this process begins from the very early age and is related specifically to females. In actuality, this means that Azawagh women may be viewed as objects of the formation of a specific ideal of beauty and sexuality. Since the early age, after the loss of milk teeth, Azawagh girls are fed excessively or, to put it more precisely, they have a special diet that contributes to their fattening.
Moreover, their sedative lifestyle is another important factor that contributes to the formation of the desirable body shape. In fact, the sedative lifestyle targets at the increasing of the effect of the diet of Azawagh women, which serves to the same purpose – fattening. At the same time, the author also claims that a fat female body is traditionally associated with the ideal of beauty and is considered to be sexual. In this respect, it is possible to remind about the Muslim background of the Azawagh community, because, according to the author, the fattening process is a way of the control of sexuality.
In such a way, the author suggests that the process of fattening is the process of socializing sexuality, because the ultimate purpose of the fattening is the formation of the sexually attractive body shape and, therefore, the interest of representatives of the opposite sex. It is worth mentioning the fact that the fatter a woman is the more attractive she is considered to be in the Azawagh community. Consequently, the author presumes that the process of fattening is directly linked to socializing sexuality.
However, in actuality, such a conclusion is not absolutely convincing. At any rate, the profound analysis of evidences given by the author implies that socializing sexuality is not the major purpose or function of the process of fattening, but what is really important is the social status which the fatness of a woman symbolizes. In this respect, it is important to underline that it is not only the high social status of a woman proper that may be distinguished by her fatness, but it is also the social status of her husband. In such a way, it is possible to presuppose that the process of fattening is beneficial in a way not only to the social status of women, but also and mainly to the social status of men. Obviously, on choosing a fat wife, an Azawagh man can emphasize his social status and wealth.
Strangely enough, the author, intentionally or not, ignores these obvious facts and conclusions that may be drawn from her own evidences and the entire research. To prove this fact, it is primarily necessary to focus more carefully on the process of fattening. In actuality, this process, as it has been already mentioned above, consists of two major components: the diet and the sedative lifestyle. These two components perfectly prove the righteousness of the presupposition that socialization of sexuality is, at least, secondary compared to the emphasis on the social status of both men and women.
Firstly, it should be said that the diet, which stimulates and accelerates the process of fattening, naturally implies significant material resources and wealth of the family of a woman. Taking into consideration the fact that the processing of fattening begins at the early age, it would be logical to presuppose that a family, in which a girl grows, should possess significant wealth and material resources to feed the girl since, as a rule, Azawagh families have several children. Consequently, excessive feeding of girls and women is directly dependent on the social position of the family. It proves beyond a doubt that poor families can hardly afford feeding girls since early childhood. Obviously, richer family will have better results, because girls that grow in rich families will apparently have better nutrition, while poor families will not be able to afford nutrition for girls equal to that which girls in rich families can receive. In such a context, the process of fattening has little in common with sexuality.
Furthermore, it is possible to prove that the social status as the major factor that stimulates the process of fattening by the fact that the process of fattening naturally implies the sedative lifestyle of a girl. It also proves beyond a doubt that representatives of lower classes are forced to work since the early age and girls are not an exception from this rule. Consequently, girls growing in families that have a lower social status will have to work and, therefore, they will have less sedative lifestyle, which girls growing in upper-class families can enjoy freely, because they do not need to work. At the same time, it is necessary to remember that worse nutrition and more active lifestyle cannot contribute to the process of fattening of representatives of lower classes, while better nutrition and sedative lifestyle stimulates fattening, which becomes a mark of the social status of a woman.
Moreover, it is important to underline that the ultimate goal of the process of fattening is a successful marriage, which does not imply love between spouses but rather wealth that a wife can get access to in the result of the marriage. On the other hand, men can emphasize their social status choosing a fat wife, since such a wife will prove that the husband can marry the woman from an upper class and can maintain her standards of life.
Thus, in conclusion, it is possible to say that R. Popenoe conducts a really noteworthy research but her conclusions or, at least, some of them are quite arguable and contradicting to factual evidences and common sense. In this respect, the emphasis on the socializing sexuality aspect of the process of fattening is inconsistent compared to the factor of the social status, which is the determinant stimulus of the process of fattening.

References
Popenoe, R. (2003). Feeding Desire. New York: Routledge.