The definition of beauty in today’s world, especially for girls, usually tends towards having a slim frame and curves in the right places. However, this beauty standard does not hold water in the southern part of Nigeria as the society there prefers ladies to be plus-sized.
In communities like these, being fat remains a symbol of affluence and beauty – despite the well-known problems medical practitioners say is connected to obesity.
In Cross River, the Southern-Nigeria where the Efik and Ibibio ethnic groups are located, you can pay for special “fattening rooms” to put on extra weight.
Among the Efik and Ibibio peoples, “Mbodi” (bride fattening) is a cultural practice. Mbodi is a rite of passage which subject women of marriageable age to undergo the process of body fattening.
In most cases, Mbodi goes with circumcision. The fattening process involves the continuous feeding of would-be brides to make them add extra weight.
In these cultural communities, a fat would-be bride is considered beautiful and presentable to the future husband. Girls are taken to this room in order to be prepared for womanhood.
Acceptance into the fattening room was viewed as a privilege as it was a demonstration of virtue and sexual purity. To the Efiks, the ability of the young girl to gain weight in the fattening room was a sign that she possessed all the above-mentioned qualities.
Mbodi is a rite of passage which prepares a young woman for marriage and is done when the bride price has been paid.
In some cases, more than one person can be kept in a fattening room.
The expenses of cooking and other costs related to accomplishing the fattening of the bride are not necessarily borne by the bride`s parents. The would-be husband shares the financial burden.
Once in the fattening room, the girls are kept away from their family members, friends and neighbours. The only visitors allowed are the elderly women in the community who come to imbibe lessons on marital etiquette and acceptable social customs and behaviour.
The girls are also fed heavy meals rich in carbohydrate and fat like Eba and native vegetable soups, known as Ekpang Nkukwo and Edikang Ikong with little or nothing to do.
The girls also enjoy an all-around beauty treatment from head to feet, using what is called ‘Ndom’ (native chalk) and other massage oils made from natural plants.
This training and beauty therapy is carried out over a period of one month or more so the difference will be obvious when they’re out.
At the elapse of the allotted time, the bride is paraded in the market square, placed on a horse or carried by able-bodied men.
She wears ‘ireke’ (native beads), which are wrapped around her waist. She wears precious jewels called ‘ntong’ on her wrists and legs. At some points, she is brought down to dance and as she dances people shower her with gifts.
Although this practice is going extinct due to western exposure and health implications, it is still highly practised in some communities. Despite all these, some men still prefer that their wives get some pampering in the fattening room.
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