A Cushion to Fall Back On

A Cushion to Fall Back On

Man is the only desert—dwelling creature that has not developed a natural means of surviving comfortably in the desert. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, one of which is exhibited by the women of the African San (formerly called Bushmen) of the Kalahari Desert.

These women have developed a specific anatomical adaptation to desert living, a condition called steatopygia. It is well known that all human beings store food as fat, some more efficiently than others, and much time and money are spent on diets that are successful only for the duration of the program.

These layers of fat typically encircle the abdominal region and portions of the limbs. This fat becomes a great disadvantage in warm regions, because it is no easy task for the body engulfed in fat to get rid of excess heat. When a person moves or uses energy, heat is generated in his or her muscles. In desert regions, if there are fat layers in the limbs and abdominal regions, heat is retained, and it becomes very difficult for the person to stay cool. He or she could easily perish from heat prostration, as unwary desert travelers sometimes do.

The adaptation of the San women very effectively overcomes the fatty handicap suffered by other races and peoples, because their fat layers are concentrated in their buttocks. This part of their anatomy becomes huge and protruding and contrasts markedly with the rest of their lean, stringy bodies, which are devoid of fat. The exaggerated development of their buttocks reaches incredible proportions so that their girth at the hips often approximates their total height, which is less than five feet.

Doubtless the women appear strange and misshapen to outsiders, but they should be a source of envy to any sweat—drenched traveler who has visited the Kalahari desert. No one cold help noticing that these "deformed" women are relatively cool most of the time and rarely, if ever, sweat. Moreover, beauty being in the eye of the beholder, the San tribesmen consider these enormous buttocks a sign of great and lasting beauty and care little what the rest of her looks like!

From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth