Adventures in Sngal: They like big butts.

Nora G. Hertel

In the U.S., any suggestion that a woman is not skinny can be taken as an insult. It seems to me that the Sngalese embrace more body types. When they point out someone’s thickness, it is not generally meant to offend.
I think that most American women carry the same cultural complex thin is in. It is foreign to us that women can be a) openly ogled and b) admired for being curvy. I appreciate that various body types are admired, but struggle to accept the open commentary directed at myself and other women.
It is so shocking to hear blatant discussion about our bodies. Any woman or girl who is not absolutely skinny will have it brought to her attention. A few men told one friend that she had a nice body because she was curvy like a Coke bottle.
One of my Sngalese friends patted my stomach and said, “I can tell you’re not an athlete,” and when I acted offended he said, “No, it’s good for having children.” In addition to with the above anecdotes and numerous other stories, almost every woman is called “jaay-fond,” which is a term that deserves an explanation of it’s own.
In Wolof, “jaay-fond” literally means “to sell fond” – fond is a type of porridge that people eat with yogurt. Jaay-fond is more accurately translated as “big butt.” I believe that the term was made popular by a song by Ali Farka Tour.
The song is about the woman who sells (jaay) the fond. The singer says she shouldn’t worry if she can’t sell all her fond because if she eats all her leftover porridge, she’ll gain weight, get a big butt, and her husband will love her more.
Jaay-fond is almost part of the daily vocabulary here. My dance instructor yells at our class to move it. Men on the street shout it after Sngalese and foreign women. My friend with the coke bottle curves heard, “Hey! Jaay-fond!” and looked up to find two teenage girls peering at her over their fence, waving and smiling. One Lawrence student’s host mother coaxed her to eat more dinner saying, “You must have a jaay-fond,” with her brother insisting that it was a good thing.
I think it’s great that thicker bodies are seen as healthy and beautiful here. I’m frequently told to eat more so that I don’t get skinny and people at home think there’s a famine in Sngal.
There is not pressure to be skinny like there is in the U.S., but there are constant reminders if you do have curves. The feminist in me cringes at the commentary, because they are objectifying women. The insecure part of me cringes because the American standard of beauty doesn’t leave room for a jaay-fond.
Nevertheless, I find solace in the fact that a woman can be seen and admired for having curves, and a jaay-fond – if she’s lucky.