Steroid laws are sexist, say bodybuilders

16 Nov 2016

Prohibition of steroids is not only failing to stop recreational bodybuilders using them, but it is sexist and causes harm, according to participants in a first-of-its-kind University of Queensland study.

Study author Dr Mair Underwood from the School of Social Science said her research focused exclusively on recreational bodybuilders.

“It used to be mainly athletes and competitive bodybuilders that used image and performance enhancing drugs, but now that bodybuilding has been mainstreamed the majority of users are recreational bodybuilders.

“We need to understand how and why they use if we are to prevent drug-related harm,” she said.

She gathered information from recreational bodybuilders who idolise the deceased Australian internet fitness celebrity Zyzz (Aziz Shavershian) through participant observation in social media sites including Facebook.

“Until now we have had little idea about the perceived benefits of recreational image and performance-enhancing drug use because previous research has focused on use as a criminal activity or a body image problem,” Dr Underwood said.

“Recreational bodybuilders don’t use to improve their performance in competition like athletes and competitive bodybuilders, but rather they use to change social relations.

“Some recreational bodybuilders said they were using these drugs in order to take revenge on women because women had rejected them before they became muscular.”

Until now there has been no research investigating recreational bodybuilders experience of and attitude towards current drug policies.

“Some said that women are allowed to ‘cheat’ with regards to their looks through invasive methods such as cosmetic surgery.

“They said that steroids were less risky than surgery, and not allowing men to enhance their looks by using steroids was gender discrimination.”

In the study recreational bodybuilders said that prohibition had no effect on rates of use and was only causing harm by restricting information and medical monitoring.

“The results indicated society should aim to minimise image and performance enhancing drug related harm, as efforts to stop use altogether were failing and causing harm to users,” Dr Underwood said.

Her study indicated useful harm minimisation steps would be to provide information and services specific to bodybuilders; to make bodybuilders aware of the results of current research and to bridge the divide between bodybuilders and the medical and scientific communities by building mutual respect.

“The bodybuilding community have responded well to the research, and members have been discussing and circulating the study online,” she said.

Exploring the social lives of image and performance enhancing drugs: An online ethnography of the Zyzz fandom of recreational bodybuilders is published in The International Journal of Drug Policy. Access to the paper is free until 7 December by copying this link into your browser:

Media: Dr Mair Underwood, +61 7 3365 2963, +61 (0) 400 290 615,