“He said I’m not fat,” says Verida to her horrified friend in Flesh Out. The man who has insulted her so much is her fiancé, for whom the young Verida is trying to gain as much weight as possible before they marry. She has three months to put on 20kg in order to look her best for the big day.
Director Michela Occhipinti examines the practice of gavage (force-feeding) in Mauritania, using actors that were influenced by real experiences of this tradition. Verida is awoken by her mother and forced to eat 10 meals a day in order to gain enough weight to reach Mauritanian beauty standards. Scolded for being too thin by her mother when she’s weighed at the start of her three-month eating journey, she spends her days forcing down litres of milk and bowls of rice and meat.
When she’s not eating, Verida becomes a normal teenager, hanging out with her friends who, though they come from less strict backgrounds than her, are there to retain some normalcy to her life. Flicking through magazines, talking about boys and university and makeup, these are girls that are fully realised and complex, not just a vehicle for the film to deliver a preachy message about body image.
That being said, Flesh Out‘s message is important: beauty standards differ across the world, but whether women are being told to become thinner or fatter, the real damage is the act of trying to achieve an unattainable goal, and the dangerous lengths some women feel obligated to go to just to try and reach that goal.
Flesh Out manages to delve into a well-trodden subject by coming at it from a non-Western viewpoint. With excellent performances from the young cast, Occhipinti has created an engaging, direct drama on a current issue.
CAST: Sidi Mohammed Chingaly, Verida Beitta Ahmed Deiche, Aminetou Souleimane
DIRECTOR: Michela Occhipinti
WRITERS: Michela Occipiti, Simona Coppini
SYNOPSIS: A woman living in Mauritania is ordered to eat excessively so that she becomes more desirable and finds a husband.