Redefining the Role Model

November 24, 2019

This year the International Men’s Day celebrated positive male role models worldwide. Instep spoke to doctor, musician and fitness enthusiast, Osama Karamat Ali Shah, to throw some light on the subject in Pakistan.

The month of November, and November 19 in particular, is a month and date set aside for awareness on men’s health - physical and mental - and the celebration of role models who are defying the stereotype of what and who we believe is the ‘Alpha Male’. Machismo is now considered a term closely related to toxic masculinity and the pressures that come with it.

For centuries men have been living in a world where an admission of emotions is considered unmanly, where sentiment is considered a weakness. And while men have been trying harder and harder to put up a macho image, men’s health all over the world seems to be deteriorating. Hypertension, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, obesity or general body dysmorphism disorders and poor mental health are just some of the issues plaguing men all over the world. Statistics indicate that men have a suicide rate three times higher than women and pressure to exist as the alpha male adds to the problem.

The myth of an alpha male has been selling since time immemorial, but what really is an alpha male? Is he a muscular man who can lead packs and come out unscathed? One who never gets hurt and never cries? One who has an iron will and an inflexible, unflinching persona? We say it’s none of those. What’s essentially wrong is that we’re selling these ideas to our boys without proper context, and it’s high time that the narrative changes.

Fortunately it is changing with the new role model, a man who is unafraid of connecting with his human side.

“We’re all human. People are often afraid to admit difficulties, but I don’t believe that there should be a struggle with anything that’s the truth,” Zayn Malik recently told The Sunday Times Style magazine about suffering with an eating disorder and anxiety. “If you were a guy, you used to have to be really masculine, but now expressing emotion is accepted and respected.”

Dwayne Johnson has spoken on numerous occasions about mental health. “Depression doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of who you are or what you do for a living or where you come from, it doesn’t discriminate, we all kind of go through it,“ he said in an interview.

Men in Pakistan are working on the issue too. Osama Karamat Ali Shah, who rose to limelight earlier this year when people drew comparisons between him and Jason Momoa, has it all on lock down. Role model for menswear designer Ahmed Bham (who designed a collection specifically for International Men’s Day, published in Instep on Sunday last week) Osama is not just a Drogo-lookalike but also a doctor and a musician. He’s someone who actively advocates the need for physical and mental balance in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay sane amidst the pressures of this age.

“I wake up early, around 6am, and make sure that I hit the gym and work out first thing in the morning. This leaves me feeling mentally relaxed and physically healthy,” says the role model better known by his stage name, Osama Com Laude. Osama also runs his own fitness program in Rawalpindi.

Osama’s jumpstart of a routine is not just a fad though. It is backed by science, and coming from a doctor, holds considerable weight. “Our hormone levels, especially that of testosterone, are highest in the morning. Not only does this make the workout more intense, but it also helps with building muscle mass. It also helps burn calories and lose weight that much faster,” he explains.

In layman terms, you’re physically at your peak in the morning, which makes it the ideal time to get your work out mode on. “If I’m physically on point in the morning, then it aligns with me mentally throughout the day,” he says.

Being a doctor, Osama also aspires for a career in sports medicine.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an athlete. Now that I am a medical professional, I want to incorporate my two fields of interest together; one being the practical field and the other, the passionate field,” he explains.

“The thing with athletics and physical activity is that if we don’t know what/how we’re doing, or the actual science behind it, there’s no point. It’s like going to build a house but not knowing how to lay bricks,” remarks Osama, emphasizing on the importance of being aware before starting out on achieving goals.

He graduated from medical school in 2016 and has been doing a lot of volunteer work at the Allied Hospitals of Rawalpindi (Holy Family, Benazir Bhutto and DHQ) but right now, his focus is to obtain his US medical license alongside relaunching his music, which is his passion. It’s the combination of all three aspects of his life – fitness, medicine and music – that allows him the balance to stay healthy and happy. It also makes him a role model for others.

Osama recently chaired a talk in Karachi and spoke to teens about mental health. “I was privileged to speak to some kids at the RCC (Remote Creative Camp) Initiative in Karachi, which is a startup by young adults. The whole initiative seeks to get conversations going, and to provide a platform to teens and young adults to voice their frustrations the way they can’t at home,” he shared.

The stigma attached to mental illness in Pakistan is a ringing reality that makes it ever harder for today’s youth to function, and this is exactly what Osama wants to combat with his talks. “This is just what I believe, but if you’re physically in harmony with yourself, the mind automatically follows,” he states.

The body and mind balance explained, what makes a man complete is connection with the soul, which in Osama’s case comes from music. “For me, music is everything. I believe it’s been given to us as something so therapeutic that it’s an outlet for you. It can really alter your mood within seconds,” he says about his interest in the art form.

Osama has been dabbling in music for almost a decade now, having shared the stage with Ali Zafar, Imran Khan and Edward Maya. “It’s all about feeding the soul, and I know for a fact that I will never be able to escape music because at the end of the day, that is what drives me.”

This connection with music is what completes the holy trinity of peak fitness for Osama, and the fact that he is at the pinnacle of mental and physical health, it sets a precedent for the average male to follow if they’re looking to better their lifestyle. The grim realities of men’s health around the world are as real as the staggeringly bleak statistics, however combating these can be made easy if a steady discourse is created around men’s health.

Osama is wearing Ahmed Bham for an Instep editorial shoot titled ‘The Creation of Man’; photography by Shahbaz Shazi; grooming by N Gents

International Men's Day in Pakistan: Redefining the Role Model