Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Trick of a Dreadful Trade

April 9th, 2010 · 5 Comments

We realize you need no convincing that life in a Bangladeshi brothel is beyond abysmal. But this NGO’s dispatch from the frontlines of the South Asian nation’s flesh trade is still a stunner. As if a prostitute’s lot in life wasn’t bad enough already, there is now tremendous pressure on brothel employees to warp their bodies through pharmacological means:

One girl called Asha is just a teenager but she has to serve customers all day. Her name means ‘hope’ but there appears to be very little of this in her life. She is forced to work seven days a week and gets just one pound per customer. The money goes directly to her madam. Unlike other girls her age around the world, Asha is under pressure to become fatter to make herself look more attractive and healthier to clients, so her madam makes her take a drug called Oradexon – a steroid which was originally meant to make cows fatter.

Asha calls her madam a ‘mother’. The madam owns five other ‘daughters’. She gives all her girls Oradexon because she needs to maximise her profits. “The clients like plumper girls and this is why I give them the drug. I know it has bad side-effects but I also give them vitamin pills,” the madam said.

Lutfun Nahar from ActionAid Bangladesh, who works in the brothels, was one of the first people to realise that the drug was being widely used. “I remember thinking, there are all these bulky girls here – how did they get like that?” she said. “And then I asked around and someone told me they were all taking a drug called Oradexon, which is the same preparation used for cows in the cow farm, to make them fatter.”

Nahar said the drug is a godsend to those who run the brothels. “Here in Bangladesh the girls must be 18 to do this work. But this drug means the pimps are able to get girls who are as young as 12 or 13 – many of them have been trafficked, and have nowhere else to go – and make them look much older.”

The active ingredient in Oradexon is dexamethasone, which can have some nasty side effects, esepcially when taken incorrectly. Alas, we very much doubt that the sex workers of Bangladesh are taking their steroids under a doctor’s close supervision.


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5 Comments so far ↓

  • omellet

    That’s just awful.

  • Jordan

    Reminds me a bit of the forced-feeding of girls in Mauritania because obesity is considered attractive. Thankfully in that case it seems that culture is changing and the practice may die out in time.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: There’s definitely a post to be written about the reasons why some cultures develop a beauty aesthetic that prizes obesity. I believe there’s been some research on this in the South Pacific (though I think that male obesity is what is/was prized there).

  • Jordan


    It seems like there might be an interesting parallel between perceptions of fatness and tanning. In both cases, there seems to be a general trend that as cultures move away from subsistence living. Lower body mass and tanning have become attractive in first-world cultures, whereas being skinny and tan are usually seen as low-class in subsistence cultures.

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