The Power of Strong Over Skinny: In Conversation with Commonwealth Powerlifting Champion Karenjeet Kaur Bains 

Karenjeet Kaur Bains

Karenjeet Kaur Bains is the first British Sikh female in history to represent Great Britain in powerlifting. This only became known to me when the ping of my Whatsapp alerted me to a  BBC sport clip in which Karanjeet explains what it means to be a British Sikh occupying the powerlifting space. The unapologetic use of her full name (there are too many Karen’s anyway) and her visibility as a brown Sikh female, invoked a sense of pride that I could only describe as overwhelming. 

There was also a bittersweet feeling. Why does the existence of elite, South Asian women in sport feel so few and far between? I wanted to learn about Bain’s story to not only highlight the barriers to South Asian women taking up sport, but also to showcase her tenacity as a British Sikh female actively on a mission to get more women involved in fitness. 

 I guess I have a different backstory to most typical South Asians families because my family is very sporty and my dad, a former powerlifter and bodybuilder, is my coach. I’ve got twin brothers, ten years older than me, who were particpating in 400 meter hurdles at a national level when I was a little girl. Seeing my dad training my brothers when I was younger got me really inspired. I used to pick up a little dumbbell and see how strong I was. I knew what strength was and I knew what winning meant.

Bains explained that she initially set foot into the gym in order to get stronger and maximise her success in athletics. Up until the age of 17, she was a champion sprinter, three times Warwickshire champion in the hammer throwing and 300m sprint as well as the fastest girl at school, holding seven consecutive secondary school records.  But when an injury prevented her from running, she took up powerlifting in a bid to maintain her fitness excellence.

One of my favourite aspects of her sporting journey was the sense of normality around a young Sikh Punjabi girl’s desire to get fit via lifting weights. She wanted to become stronger and so to put it simply, her father helped her to get her there. The coaching she received from her father enabled her to be immersed in a sport which was otherwise so far removed from the realities of young women. She quickly catapulted herself into success. 

I thought I’d just give it a go and dad taught me the basics – the  squat and deadlifts. I picked it up  really easily and within three months of having never lifted, my dad entered me into my first competition. I won that competition and  never looked back. Within 6 months, I became the British champion. Back then, there weren’t many girls in powerlifting, but I fell into and found my love for it.

Bains was inspired and nurtured to excel in sport at a young age — she wasn’t, however, immune to the cultural images peddled within society which prevent young South Asian women from connecting with their physical strength. 

When I was 18, my dad took me to his old gym. It was very male dominated and full of testosterone. The gym owner saw me warming up and must have thought I was lost. He said “I’m not sure if we’ve got dumbbells small enough for your daughter and my dad said “ I’m not sure if you’ve got dumbbells big enough to be honest.” It was a mic drop moment. That was my time to shine. I had a heavy deadlift session planned that day and safe to say I let my actions do the talking. I was far stronger than the rest of the men there. That was enough to humble the room  and amidst a few jaws dropping, they soon piped down as soon as they could see what I could do.

And this anecdote points to the wider issue of physical strength being seen as a virtue of men only. Poorna Bell, an acclaimed journalist, author and most recently, amateur powerlifter, has documented how her powerlifting journey enabled her to reconnect with joy following the death of her husband in 2015. In her book Stronger: Changing Everything I Knew About Women’s Strength (for which Karanjeet was also interviewed for), Bell talks about the overwhelming focus on girls being mentally strong e.g. through surviving personal traumas, as opposed to being physically strong. These cultural messages which signal to women that they don’t need to be physically strong,  inadvertently contribute to the lack of connection between South Asian women, exercise and therefore sport. 

[Read Related: What British Cricketer Azeem Rafiq’s Whistleblowing on Racism Means for South Asians in the Diaspora]

Whilst physical strength is not often associated with women, being a South Asian adds another layer of complexity to the relationship between womanhood and fitness. 

We are taught as Indians that beauty means being dainty and submissive. I get asked “what if you get too butch? Who is going to marry you?” I hate that in  South Asian society; there is so much pressure and ambition surrounding marriage, as if this is the pinnacle of a women’s adulthood and the point her family duties must commence. I’m trying to break these narratives. I get so many ridiculous comments, but I have a tough skin. Often within the community, men don’t want to see a female who lifts weights, they just want to know their ability to make a round roti if I am really stereotyping here. Within those with a traditional mindset, there’s a box to tick  with regards to a women’s ability to conform to society’s expectations but I truly believe now is the turning point for change

Bains’ responses highlighted the existence of criteria which dictates what it means to be a “good South Asian girl.” Women’s  involvement in fitness and sport, means they can fall outside of these misogynistic criteria. If cultural forces pull South Asian women away from fitness and sport during their youth, how can we expect them to become athletes? Sporting Equals, a leading race equality charity stated that 7 British Asians competed for Team GB in the 2020 and 2016 Olympic Games. Furthermore, when you consider that physical activity levels among south Asians in England are 60% lower than among white British and lowest in South Asian women, a disheartening picture is painted in regard to the relationship between South Asian women, fitness and sport. 

Whilst there are multiple barriers in the way of British south women engaging in sports and exercise e.g. issues relating to body confidence, it would be amiss to not acknowledge how cultural factors within the South Asian community can shape relationships to fitness. Interestingly, the same piece of research  which illustrated  low physical activity within English South Asian women, also highlighted that women over 55 spent 76% of their physical activity doing housework, compared to 46% of Indian women aged 16 to 34. This partly mirrored Karenjeet’s point about how women’s expectations  to commit to domestic duties, is seen as being at odds with a commitment to sport. 

Parents need to be more open minded. We are drilled with this message that we need to be academic which I believe is very important. My parents pushed me toward academics but I took that competitive instinct and applied it to everything and still do. I am a chartered accountant who qualified working for a Big 4 Accounting firm alongside my powerlifting career. I always champion the message that whatever your kids’ passions are, whether that be dancing or sports, just let them do it. Don’t just show them that you are interested and support them, go one step further and be active in showing up to their football matches or rehearsals. Invest in them and watch how they flourish knowing their parents are watching and are proud of them.

Whilst South Asian girls and women need to be nurtured into connecting with their love of fitness and movement within the home and communities, the visibility of  Bains as a physically strong, brown women lifting weights, cannot be underestimated. This is particularly so when you consider that the fitness industry is often dominated by thin, white women or fitness “influencers,” often ditching  muscle building in favour of a toned appearance.

You see me roaring when I’m deadlifting. I am not quiet about anything. I’m just trying to break the norm. I try to be very natural and very raw. You can often  see me in training with sweat pouring down my face and no makeup. That can be cool. You don’t have to look on point all the time. I think that motivates me a lot – knowing who is watching and who is being inspired by my journey being so raw and real! It’s all about toughening up and trying not to let people get to you. I get a lot of comments from men, “Oh you look manly.” Well I tell them; I lift more than you. As Sikhs are supposed to be known as the warrior race. It’s about being fearless, protecting the innocent and standing up to injustice. Often that narrative is fed to the boys not so much the girls but whenever I compete, I imagine a battlefield and talk to God before I go out there.

[Read Related: Meet Preet: This is What an Antarctic Explorer Looks Like!]

Karenjeet’s physical strength is matched by her spiritual strength. One the main tenets of Sikhi is selfless service — the helping of others without incentives for personal gain. She doesn’t just lift weights just for herself but instead, chooses to use her platform as a force to propel women and girls to realise their power and has worked tirelessly to develop a coaching app designed to encourage others to work on their fitness journey. 

I’ve had a lot of exposure to the not-so-great side of things, so I want to help people all around the world. This app is about the narrative of coaching women to be strong over skinny because I believe that strength is for anyone of any shape, size or background. Find your ‘amazing’. If that’s just doing your workouts at home, or you want to help achieve your first milestone of your first press up or pull up, I can work with you on that. I provide a bespoke training programme that’s tailored to your individual needs. There’s lots of different resources including video tutorials specifically critiquing your form as well as female specific tips e.g. how to train during your menstrual cycle. Anything and everything!

The beauty of her coaching app is that it is a true labour of love, catering to vegans, those with health conditions such as a PCOS,  those with allergies and even women going through all stages of life including menopause or even IVF. Anyone can enquire about starting their fitness journey by completing an enquiry form on her website One of the questions on the form asks the enquirer to briefly note what they think is holding them back from achieving their goals. Karenjeet moves beyond generic, clinical coaching to focus on nurturing and  building the bridge between psychological wellbeing and physical fitness. 

My work is about trying to create a legacy and inspire people. I want to inspire the ones that might have wanted to do something, but they weren’t encouraged or have been told no throughout their entire life. I’ve coached really shy girls to start home workouts and we’ve slowly built them up toward going to the gym. Their confidence grew and to me, that’s just the best feeling. 

Brown Girl Magazine was pleased to hear that Karenjeet has been nominated to win the prestigious Sports Personality of the year title as part of the Asian Achievers awards — an initiative now in its 20th year of being run. The awards represent the highest calibre of South Asian talent across business, politics and social enterprise, acknowledging those whose achievements have reflected on the national stage and invigorated their communities. She currently stands in good company with boxer Amir Khan, cricket champion Salma Bi and Blackburn Rovers footballer Millie Chandarana also being nominated for the title. Here’s what she to say about the nomination:

It gives me a great sense of pride to be recognised for my achievements as a South Asian Female doing her best to shatter any glass ceilings about being a female in strength sports especially those coming from a diverse and minority background like myself. This  is just the beginning. I am truly blessed and humbled to be nominated for such an incredible awardI want to set up schools in India  – for girls especially. I want to reach those young people who are on the streets, who have no family. I want these schools to educate them also, to nurture them into athletics, strength sports, and self-defence. I want the most capable and deserving girls to be picked for the Olympics. There are billions of strong, talented girls out there who live in poverty and never get a chance. Imagine if a few of them became Olympic champions? I hope to kickstart that. One day.


As of September 23 2022, Karenjeet has won the Asian Achievers Award for Sports Personality of Year. Massive congratulations from everyone at Brown Girl Magazine. 

By Simran Kaur Takhi

Simran Sahiba Takhi is a scatty psychology graduate with a keen interest in the experiences of BAME groups. Simran is … Read more ›

Dr. Samosa on Sex, Love and Coming out — the Ultimate Taboos in South Asian Households

Dr. Samosa
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Samosa | Photographed by Farzana Chowdhury

I’m going to be a sex therapist. 

I was taken aback when my late cousin shared this with me on the cusp of our twenties. 

As a fairly modest Indo Guyanese girl raised in the Connecticut suburbs, the thought of discussing a stranger’s love life seemed not only foreign but shocking to me. Nevertheless, my cousin was always bold in this way. She took pride in the more daring aspects of our Caribbean culture with natural confidence. It was one of the things I loved and now miss most about her. 

Admittedly however, it was over a decade before I started to understand some of her deeper curiosity in love, sexuality and mental health. This awakening was thanks greatly to Dr. Samosa. 

[Read Related: 3 Indo-Caribbean Mental Health Counselors Talk About Community’s Stigma]

In early 2020, Dr. Sarika Persaud, a New-York based, Indo Guyanese psychologist specializing in relationships, sexuality and complex trauma, took to Instagram as “Dr. Samosa,” an alias inspired by her favorite South Asian snack — and one she feels is a common thread for brown girls. 


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The platform became a safe space for brown girls to connect on topics like mental health, psychoanalysis, sexuality and relationships. From discussing sexual empowerment to building a strong sense of self, Dr. Persaud quietly became a confidant for those craving practical and candid insights the community shied away from. 

Dr. Persaud and I sat down to talk about her journey and breaking these taboos in the South Asian society.

Her interest in psychology started as a journey of self-discovery as a pre-teen.

“I think I experienced myself as different from my peers,” she explained during our interview.

She didn’t get caught up in teenage drama and avoided certain types of relationships and people. Meanwhile, the friends she did make saw her in “this sort of teacher role.”

“I became curious about that about myself — how, in some ways, I found it beneficial to feel my feelings and have a depth people were drawn to, but also use it in ways to isolate myself,” Dr. Persaud said.

She was also beginning to identify as bisexual.

She shared, “I think I was avoiding my sexuality in some ways and psychology became a way for me to understand myself more. It’s always been this confluence of philosophy and science and even art for me.”

Dr. Samosa
Dr. Samosa photographed by Nushie Choudhury

Growing up in Queens, New York, Dr. Persaud saw fellow Indo Caribbean women at a “very specific intersection of religion and culture.” It was the nexus of Caribbean values which welcomed sexuality and more modest Indian traditions. Caribbean influence seemed to “remove a boundary” on how Indo Caribbean women felt permitted to present themselves sexually, she explained. On one hand, after her Bharatanatyam dance classes, she saw her didis (the older girls) leave their classical moves behind for sexy Bollywood choreography and dancehall songs. 

“It was exciting, like they were just beginning to find ways to express their sexuality,” she reflected. Then, around the same time, Dr. Persaud discovered a copy of the “Kama Sutra” at home and her mother was appalled. “What’s wrong with your daughter?” aunties asked.

Confused, Dr. Persaud thought “You own this. This is from our culture and it’s a Sanskrit text. It’s literally a religious text. It all seemed so powerful — and yet so many people were afraid of it.”

Something didn’t add up.

In 2013, she started a blog to bring a voice to topics like these. As word of her content spread, Dr. Persaud was met with backlash from her temple. Leaders said her blog was inappropriate and dishonorable to her community, but she stuck with it and her family stuck by her.  

A few years later, when she launched Dr. Samosa to share her research and insights with a wider audience, sexuality came front and center.

“Sexuality — how you understand and honor what you want and like, and the ways you let yourself experience that pleasure — is intrinsically connected to how deserving you feel in the world,” she explained.  


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A post shared by Dr. Samosa (@doctor.samosa)

For example, if you think you’re worthy of a raise at work, a partner who desires you, or a family that listens to you — all can be linked back to a block in your relationship with yourself as a sexual being. 

However, if you can feel confident in something as “primal, instinctual, and personal” as your sexuality, Dr. Persaud argues you lay the foundation for confidence in these other areas of your life.

Dr. Persaud says the fear of sexuality comes into play for South Asians.

“Being comfortable with your sexuality means being comfortable with your power,” she explained. “If everyone felt empowered and had a healthy relationship with themselves sexually, a lot of our relationships and hierarchies in society would change. And there are just so many people who benefit from women and marginalized communities (like LGBTQ+ and those with chronic illnesses) being disempowered,” Dr. Persaud said.

Throughout her work, Dr. Persaud has found it’s especially difficult for South Asian women to feel pride in themselves as sexual beings.

“There’s so much shame about the self and the body. Women especially are held to a double standard and it’s so confusing. If you look one way, you won’t get a husband. If you look sexual, no one will want to hire you for a job. Regardless of the South Asian ethnic group, there’s the same shame and belief that your body has to look a certain way, and if it doesn’t, you’re not desirable. Everything gets tied up in sexual shame.”

It’s undeniable that Bollywood movies have also heavily impacted many of our views on love and sex, but Dr. Persaud didn’t condemn this.

She says, “People need to realize Bollywood started from a tradition of classical drama and dance from ancient India. Those dances were meant to be explorations of dreams and mythical and philosophical ideas. Bollywood is just a continuation of that. It’s meant to be a break from reality.” 

Real relationships are much more fraught and complicated than in films, but that doesn’t mean you should be ashamed of looking to Bollywood as a way to be in touch with romance and love in your life.

“They’re a fantasy,” Dr. Persaud added.  

She also argued Bollywood isn’t necessarily as “censored” as many claim.

“People don’t have to watch others physically have sex or kiss to be in touch with their sensuality,” she noted. “It can be much more nuanced to see two people just embracing in a way that stirs up feelings. Like, how does it feel to have your lover’s head against your chest? Culturally, we just explore and express sexuality differently than the West.”

When it comes to becoming more comfortable with our bodies and sexual health, Dr. Persaud says it starts with self-reflection.

“Ask yourself why you’re afraid of being sexy or seen as sexual. Are you afraid your family will reject you? That you’ll be thrown out of your home? We all have different triggers, and once you identify yours, you can get to the issue underneath it all.” 

[Read Related: What South Asian Parents Won’t Tell You About the “Birds and the Bees” and… Vaginismus]?

Dr. Persaud encourages women to ask themselves important questions.

“If you’re afraid that if you assert your sexuality, your family will reject or not support you, how can you be more financially independent? How can you find pride in being able to take care of yourself?” She urges women to take inventory of what they like. “Look at books and movies and what you see in the world and consciously take note of what you react to. This puts you more in touch with yourself.”

When it comes to fostering open conversations with others, Dr. Persaud says to lead with vulnerability and clarity.

“If you wonder whether your friends have had sex yet and are embarrassed to ask, voice that concern. Share how you’re feeling or ask yourself why. Leading conversations with vulnerability allows people to connect a little bit more; to feel safer to share.” 


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A post shared by Dr. Samosa (@doctor.samosa)

“If you’re uncomfortable with something your partner does or want more of something else, talk about what you want to change and why it’s important to you. It’s not a shortcoming on their part, but rather you saying ‘this is what I need for myself. Is this something we can talk about and work on together?’” 

With South Asian families, especially older relatives, things can get a bit more complex. Boundary setting is important as the family can bring out your biggest triggers. 

“You need to be at a point where you own yourself,” Dr. Persaud explained. For example, if your mom finds out you were out with someone and questions you about it — “A bai? A boy?!” — you should be able to say confidently, ‘Yeah I was on a date,’ and also not feel obligated to give more details. Of course, that may not always be safe for someone younger, but at a certain age, it is OK to be private, to have that shield to protect and develop yourself and your confidence,” Dr. Persaud says. 

Dr. Persaud also reinforces the importance of knowing your boundaries when reflecting on “coming out” to parents. She wanted to be open about her bi-sexuality with her parents; that she was dating — but not just men. She stresses however, one does not need to be excessively open.

“Not everyone has to come out and not everyone has to come out to everyone. You’re likely not facing anything new from your parents when coming out. If they are critical and judgmental generally in life, they’re probably going to be like that again. South Asian dads can really just be like, ‘Okay, don’t tell me you’re a sexual being,’” she laughed. 

While Dr. Persaud is thankful for her parents’ acceptance, there are members of her family who’ve been less than supportive. She credits her confidence and sense of self for drowning them out. 

“I’ve found the more I become comfortable with myself, the more I have this sexual energy that I can use creatively and in other good ways. If my dad rejects me, it doesn’t change that I am bisexual. Or if my mom rejects me, it’s not going to change this thing I know so deeply about myself. I’m just sharing something true. I can’t change it.”

Toward the end of our conversation, I shared with Dr. Persaud that I wondered how my own family would react to this article. I felt a bit of shame.

But she reminded me, “You can also find pride in it — ‘Yeah, I’m really proud of the fact that I’m one of the people breaking the stigma. I’m talking about something important to people’s health.’” 

And she’s right, as was my dear cousin in her early ambitions. These conversations are never easy, but walking in curiosity, confidence and pride can help us find our power as South Asian women. It can help break the stigma surrounding love, sexuality and relationships in our community and their roles in our greater health. 

In so many ways, sexual health and mental health are not only connected but interdependent. In fact, Dr. Persaud believes the more confident people are in their bodies and identities, the more confident they are as a whole — and the more attractive they are.

“Sexual attraction and energy comes from people being competent and peaceful and calm with themselves; knowing who they are,” she said, and the more we learn to embrace this and speak about it openly, the more we can not only grow but thrive.

For more on Dr. Sarika Persaud’s (aka Dr. Samosa) doctoral work and writing, visit her website or Instagram @doctor.samosa. For more on how to talk to your family or children about sexual health, visit

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By Ramona Sukhraj

With a B.S. in Marketing from the UCONN School of Business, Ramona has made a name for herself publishing over … Read more ›

Painful Sex is More Common Than you Think

Close up on couple having intimacy moments

Ten to 28% of the world’s population of women experience painful sex. Keep in mind, that this is just what is reported. As embarrassing and as vulnerable as you may feel, you are absolutely not alone. The good news is that in addition to your traditional medical care to treat painful sex (also known as dyspareunia) such as medication, injections and surgery — a conservative approach is effective and long-lasting. Conservative care ranges from pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture which are beneficial in treating the root cause of painful sex, as well as symptoms, for long-term healing. 

Some of the signs to look out for if you experience pain are:

  1. Deep pain/burning during or after sex
    • Pain descriptors: sharp, stabbing, deep, dull, burning
  2. Vaginal Dryness
  3. Low Libido
  4. Tightening at the vaginal opening

[Read Related: 12 Beliefs About Sex That South Asians Need to Throw Out the Window]

Treatment Options 

Treatment options for painful sex such as pelvic floor physical therapy, chiropractic care and acupuncture provide a long-lasting and profound effect on the pelvic floor and address your entire physical well-being.

The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that range from the pubic bone to the tailbone. The purpose of these muscles is to assist in bowel and bladder control, support a baby during pregnancy and contribute to sexual sensations. Just like any other muscle in your body, these pelvic floor muscles can become tight or weak which can be a contributing factor to pain.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy can assist by strengthening and relaxing the muscles which is necessary to relieve pain during sex. 

[Read Related: My Awkward First Time at the Gyno]

Chiropractic Physician

Chiropractors can be extremely beneficial with assisting in helping relieve pain. Associated pain and discomfort can originate from the lower back and buttock muscles. Chiropractors are trained in taking a history and performing a neurological, orthopedic and soft tissue examination to identify treatment options. Deep tissue massage, skin rolling, Active Release Technique, muscle energy technique, ice, heat and electrical stimulation are just to name a few.


Acupuncture can activate the human dopamine system which helps regulate hormone levels and can assist in psychological factors. Acupuncture can improve mood, decrease pain and can be vastly beneficial in managing pain and mental health symptoms. 

Ask for help

“Everyone is having pelvic pain and no one is talking about it”

  1. Start with seeing your gynecologist who you trust for a history and examination of current symptoms to rule out any other medical conditions that could be a contributing factor to symptoms. 
  2. Locate a pelvic floor physical therapist through Apta Pelvic Health or Pelvic Rehab.  
  3. Locate proper chiropractic care that is trained as a licensed acupuncturist; look for credentials such as DC, LAc. 

[Read Related: Not Your Auntie’s Tips: 5 Sex Myths Busted]

How to talk to your partner about this in a safe/healthy way

Being open with your partner about your symptoms and painful sex may seem like a difficult conversation. Intercourse should never be painful and learning when to stay ‘stop’ is important in communication. Talking about pain before, during and after sex is important also in your own health diagnosis to see if pain symptoms are improving or becoming worse. Having open communication does not only benefit your relationship but most importantly, your own health.

To experience these symptoms may seem taboo or unheard of but quite frankly, they are common in many women. Women deserve to be directed to proper healthcare. 

Disclaimer: These are based on recommendations from a board-certified chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist. If symptoms become new or worse, consult with a primary care physician and or OBGYN to co-manage symptoms.


Reference: Tayyeb M, Gupta V. Dyspareunia. [Updated 2022 Jun 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:


Photo by anushkaniroshan stock photo ID: 2071991336

jasmine bhoola
By Jasmine Bhoola

Jasmine Bhoola DC, LAC - A chiropractic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Midtown East Manhattan. A graduate from the University … Read more ›

South Asian Masculinity and Mental Health: Can we Find a new way Forward?

toxic masculinity

What is South Asian masculinity?

Masculinity and mental health have come under greater scrutiny by researchers, particularly as traditional masculinity is often cited as the reason why men are less willing to reach out for support regarding psychological issues. However, the influence of masculine norms on well-being has been insufficiently viewed through an intersectional lens and is understudied within South Asian mental health. From a South Asian context, traditional masculinity can include focusing on material success while displaying suppressed emotionality, which can be manifested through anger or practicing other harmful behaviors.

[Read Related: Brown Boys Do Cry: How Toxic Masculinity Screws With Us, Too]

In order to understand its influence, it is critical to examine the impact of traditional paradigms of masculinity across the diaspora. For instance, some traits associated with traditional masculinity among South Asian men include displaying control over others. A Sri-Lanka-based study found that most male participants “associated manhood with dominance…” A Forbes India article asserted how boys in India are “taught to … apply themselves to the task of growing up to be a strong, unwavering support system for their families,” which in turn forces them to be silent about topics that may make them seem weak. This pattern of behavior becomes manifested in a particularly harmful way because boys grow up with the inability to handle their emotions or formulate healthy coping strategies during challenging circumstances. 

These norms can have drastic implications and harm other community members. For instance, a focus group conducted among Nepali men found that failure to deliver for their household economically as breadwinners eventually resulted in heated disputes, which escalated and led them to engage in domestic violence. The presence of domestic violence can also be observed through media stories on the pervasiveness of gender-based harm within South Asian communities, as seen in the murder of Sania Khan. 

Traditional masculinity also hides the wounds that South Asian men may be battling within themselves. One paper asserts that for a sizable number of Indian men, “…sadness and despair find a distorted manifestation in destructive behaviors that deny their emotional pain to themselves and to others.” Thus, performing conventionally masculine behaviors can mask deeper mental health issues. 

Repercussions of South Asian masculinity on mental health

Because of the pressure to adhere to such strict standards of conduct, traditional masculinity has significant, greater repercussions for mental health and well-being. For instance, because of the narrow ability of men to compartmentalize their feelings, this restrictive emotionality can result in an inability for others to recognize their mental health issues, thus failing to target the deeper causes of men’s behavior. Furthermore, men themselves might engage in fewer help-seeking behaviors. This is also further complicated due to gaps in culturally competent services that can serve South Asian men when they do utilize support systems. 

Additional social forces experienced by South Asian men might explain mental health outcomes, particularly when considering the role of immigration. Among South Asian American men in the United States, one study noted that “a lower social position” within their community was linked to higher distress, indicating how critical it was for first-generation men to be leaders and actively participate in their ethnic community’s organizations. Thus, social expectations of men within South Asian communities influenced their well-being, as did their social status and relative power. 

What we can do to change the status quo on South Asian masculinity and mental health 

In order to ensure that men in South Asian cultures can embrace their mental health, it is important to formulate a prudent, welcoming paradigm that encourages greater help-seeking behaviors. Greater attention to this topic can also contribute to theories on feminist and sociocultural therapeutic frameworks, which both offer the following includes suggested remedies:  

Challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging mental health care as a means to discuss issues about well-being

It is imperative to encourage South Asian men to show more emotion, thus changing the existing narrative and social pressure they face to limit the expression of their feelings. Fortunately, there is a platform, known as @BrownManTherapy, that posts content about the struggles South Asian men experience. Furthermore, therapy ought to be recommended as a means to deal with mental health concerns, which should be combined with support from the community. 

More South Asian male clinicians

In addition to instituting changes in community norms, there needs to be more diverse representation in the mental health field. In doing so, there will be greater platforms to have conversations about the negative repercussions of traditional masculinity that are unique to South Asian men. Furthermore, it is critical to challenge the social stigma that mental health is a female-dominated profession or that seeking therapy is emasculating. 

More research studies examining cross-cultural differences in masculinity across South Asian cultures

The connection between masculinity and mental health ought to be investigated much further. Studies should particularly assess masculinity within non-white contexts in order to examine the standards of manhood across several communities and truly understand the unique stressors men face across different cultural backgrounds.

[Read Related: These 5 South Asian Men Are Opening up About Their Mental Health and Toxic Masculinity]

While the connection between South Asian masculinity and mental health is not discussed among psychology professionals, it is critical to study the association since it plays a role in South Asian gender inequities and in mental health behaviors among South Asian men. More broadly, given the prevalence of intimate partner violence within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the role of patriarchal norms in inflicting this harm, it is now more important than ever to reimagine expectations surrounding men’s behavior. 

By further examining the problems caused by adherence to traditionally masculine norms and implementing certain solutions, these ideas can be challenged and dismantled to create a progressive and more inclusive model of manhood. Above all, identifying and eradicating toxic ideas rooted in traditional South Asian masculinity will lead to liberation for all people.

If you need additional resources, please visit:

Photo: Shutterstock/Roxanne 134

paritosh joshi
By Paritosh Joshi

Paritosh Joshi is a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. His background includes a Master of … Read more ›