When it comes to body goals in this new era, becoming “fat” doesn’t appear on the list. However, these clans – Kalabari, Efik, Ibibio – embrace it as a culture, hence the existence of the fattening room.
The fattening room is a place where young women experiencing puberty are taken to in order to be prepared for womanhood. In ancient times, fat was viewed as a sign of prosperity, fertility and beauty. Acceptance into the fattening room was viewed as a privilege as it was a demonstration of virtue, sexual purity and proven virginity. The ability of the young girl to gain weight in the fattening room was a sign that she possessed all the above-mentioned qualities.
This cultural practice, just like any other, has its own procedures whereby the father of the girl pays what is called ‘Eme’ (coral beads) to appease ‘Nku’; the river goddess of the house before she is accepted into the fattening room. The concept is to show that the parents of the girl are wealthy enough to give their daughter a good life.
Once in the fattening room the girls are kept away from their family members and friends, the only visitors allowed are the elderly women in the community who come to pass on lessons on marital etiquette and acceptable social customs and behaviour. The girls are also fed heavy meals rich in carbohydrate and fat. They also give an all-around beauty treatment from head to feet, using what is called ‘ndom’ (native chalk) and other massage oils made from natural plants.
The training and beauty therapy is carried out over a period of one month or more while the girls are each housed in seclusion away from the public as they undergo preparation for marriage and womanhood.