Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 615–632

Remaking Body Politics: Dilemmas Over Female Fatness as Symbolic Capital in Two Rural Tuareg Communities

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s11013-010-9193-8

Cite this article as:
Rasmussen, S.J. Cult Med Psychiatry (2010) 34: 615. doi:10.1007/s11013-010-9193-8


This essay explores nuanced, debated and changing meanings of female fatness as a bodily aesthetic ideal in rural Tuareg communities in northern Niger and Mali. I compare two communities—one where nomadic herding, of longstanding importance among the Tuareg, remains prevalent, and intermarriage is rare between aristocratic and formerly servile persons, and the other where residents have become more settled in hamlets, now garden, and where intermarriage between social categories is frequent. Both communities have experienced conflict with colonial and postcolonial nation-states, but the more nomadic herders have had especially tense relations with French colonial and postcolonial state regimes. Although many oasis residents express greater ambivalence toward female fatness, these communities do not express neatly polarized attitudes but admire it to varying degrees, for different reasons, and attach different meanings to it from their experience of different double-binds over achieving it. Fundamental to understanding these meanings, I argue, are psychosocial dilemmas arising from historical change and regional variation affecting power relationships between persons of aristocratic and those of servile origins, between husbands and wives and between nomadic herders and the nation-state. More broadly, these data show the importance of reversals of power in symbolic capital and suggest more nuanced processes surrounding body politics.


BodyGenderSymbolismCultural medical anthropologyAfrica

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of HoustonHoustonUSA