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Bodybuilding: the pursuit of beauty in war-torn Kabul

Making a mark: Afghan bodybuilder Hares Mohammadi, 25, posing at a gym in Kabul.

Making a mark: Afghan bodybuilder Hares Mohammadi, 25, posing at a gym in Kabul.   | Photo Credit: WAKIL KOHSAR

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Listening to Hindi scores, Afghan men work out for hours

Hindi music pumps from the speakers as dozens of Afghan men grunt and sweat their way through a workout beneath the watchful eye of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose muscle-bound image hangs from the wall.

The scene inside this Kabul gym is repeated at venues all round the capital, where bodybuilding has become ubiquitous since the fall of the Taliban regime.

The sport has a long tradition in Afghanistan, and was even tolerated by the Taliban when they ruled the country from 1996-2001 — so long as the men wore long trousers as they lifted. But as security deteriorated and the initial euphoria after the U.S. invasion dissipated into stress, trauma and loss, more and more young men took to the gym.

“Everyone, everywhere in Afghanistan, wants to have a beautiful body shape, and this sport is a favourite sport for every young man,” says Hares Mohammadi, 25, a law and political science student turned champion bodybuilder who is also a trainer at one gym in Kabul.

Despite a surge in bombings and suicide attacks, life goes on, he says, and young Afghans want to “make their mark”.

One way is through sporting success. So, along with Schwarzenegger, other stars from Hollywood and Bollywood such as Sylvester Stallone and Salman Khan are held up as heroes, and the gyms stay busy for hours, filled with music and camaraderie as men tone their bodies to perfection.

It was not always so.

Afghan bodybuilding legend Aziz Arezo reminisces about his time as a teenage lifter, when there were “very, very few people” in the capital who knew anything about the sport.

“Arnold was my... role model,” he .

Regardless of the method, sport can help ease the psychological trauma of nearly four decades of war, says Ali Fitrat, a psychology professor at Kabul University.

Easing trauma

Afghans are stressed socially, culturally, financially and politically, he said.

In such a conservative, gender-segregated society, sexual frustration is another stress factor. “People do not have access to sex, and men and women are segregated in all parts of their lives,” Fitrat said. “(But) sex is also a need, and (the lack of it) is one of the reasons for stress in our society.”

As such, he says sports such as bodybuilding can play a “vital role” in helping to release stress and tension.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2019 10:39:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/bodybuilding-the-pursuit-of-beauty-in-war-torn-kabul/article24255964.ece

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