In a study of 500 KwaZulu-Natal Indian schoolboys, youngsters said they felt pressured to mould their bodies like movie actors.
University of KwaZulu-Natal post-graduate Jarred Martin investigated the relationship between traditional masculine beliefs, body-image discrepancy and socio-cultural influences on appearance among Indian boys aged 13 to 19.
The study followed an earlier research project into body image among all race groups, in which Indian boys presented with high anxieties about their appearance compared with their black and white counterparts.
It also showed that other race groups perceived Indian boys as having a “softer” masculinity.
Among the latest findings:
* 57% of boys indicated they thought Bollywood films put pressure on males to look muscular;
* 5.5% had used or were using illegal steroids;
* 25% had used only legal supplements or drugs; and
* 79.3% believed that having a muscular frame was tied to enhanced feelings of self-worth.
The study found that steroid use peaked in boys who experienced issues with their body image and thought Bollywood films put pressure on men to look muscular.
Doctors, pharmacists, pedlars at local gyms, veterinary nurses and assistants were the main suppliers of steroids such as deca durabolin, dianabol and equipoise (a horse steroid).
Professor Yoga Coo-poo of the University of the Witwatersrand’s Centre for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine said the use of steroids had a number of ill-effects on young users, including muscle tears and reduced HDL – the high-density cholesterol that helps reduce heart disease.
“The Indian community generally has lower HDL levels, and a further decrease in it with the use of steroids creates greater risk of heart disease as they grow older,” said Coopoo.
Former and present steroid users who took part in the study and spoke to the Sunday Times Extra on condition of anonymity through Martin said they wanted to emulate Bollywood stars.
One said: “You see the guys like Salman Khan. This guy is so popular with girls. I wouldn’t mind looking like Khan.” Another said: “The only way you can get like that is by using steroids.”
He added that Indian boys were perceived as “softer” because “we have such close families. I think they don’t believe we are independent guys, that we are just mommies’ boys.”
Martin said: “The way in which these cinematic heroes are portrayed is that they always get the girl. They get respect, adoration and envy from other men. It may be that Bollywood cinema, in its portrayal of its action heroes and leading men as muscular Adonises, simply capitalises on the anxieties of young boys about their masculinity and body image.”
Counselling psychologist Rakhi Beekrum said: “The six-pack is portrayed as being favourable and desirable among Bollywood stars – this can be seen in the shift from Amitabh Bachchan and Rishi Kapoor to Salman Khan, Hrithik Roshan, John Abraham and even Shahrukh Khan.”
Clinical psychologist Sherona Rawat said being perceived as “soft” was a “contributing factor in the young Indian male’s decision to use a substance that has been clinically proven to be dangerous and damaging to the body. The pull on South African males of Indian descent to prove themselves masculine in relation to their South African counterparts of other cultures and communities is understandable in this light.”