The paper reinforces the concept of health is actually very complex and political, and it explains why and how the traditional ways of understanding health are socially and culturally constructed. The main idea that underpins this paper is the notion of "healthism". Healthism is an ideology and a critique term that refers to an obsession of being "healthy". Indeed, there different ways to stay healthy, but the dominant ideology of health promotes individual responsibility and the medicalized ways to treat the body. This ignores, or sometimes denies the political nature of health, thus, it is not an effective health promotion. The meaning of healthism is very broad, and involves multiple ideas such as, medicalization, holistic health, self-care, individual responsibility, etc.
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The paper reinforces the concept of health is actually very complex and political, and it explains why and how the traditional ways of understanding health are socially and culturally constructed.
The main idea that underpins this paper is the notion of "healthism". Healthism is an ideology and a critique term that refers to an obsession of being "healthy". Indeed, there different ways to stay healthy, but the dominant ideology of health promotes individual responsibility and the medicalized ways to treat the body.
This ignores, or sometimes denies the political nature of health, thus, it is not an effective health promotion. The meaning of healthism is very broad, and involves multiple ideas such as, medicalization, holistic health, self-care, individual responsibility, etc. Healthism shapes people impression on health. In the article Crawford states: healthism "As an ideology which promotes heightened health awareness, along with personal control and change, it may prove beneficial for those who adopt a more health promoting lifestyle.
But it may in the process also serve the illusion that we can as individuals control over our own existence, and that taking personal action to improve health will somehow satisfy the longing for a much more varied complex of needs" p. Therefore, healthism is underpinned by the power of individual responsibility, because personal actions often involve a certain degree of subjectivity, thus they despite the societal influences that underpin health. Moreover, healthism considers health issues as individual fault.
Self blame, is "the failure to maintain health is ascribed to some kind of unwillingness to be well, or an unconscious desire to be sick, or simply a failure of will" p.
An individual may feel more pressure because a health issue could be seen as a burden in the society, thus the ideology of individual responsibility is underpinned by "morality" as well. Healthists are predominantly from middle class workers. Stress is in you: exploitation is in others" p. Healthism provides the middle class an identity and "standard of life". So healthists could escape from the daunting reality, and find happiness and recognition in their own term.
To some extent, healthism creates a non-existing health problem, and thus provide an solution to it. So that people will gain satisfaction from fitting into the social norms. It is an endless pursuit, and healthists will continue to find definitions for health and wellbeing, trying to put them in practice. Another key term from the article is medicalization. It means the medical ways to understand health, treating people by their physical and biological symptoms. Medicalization is an ideology that serves as a form of social control by expanding the professional power over wider spheres of life.
Medical professionals and practitioners would try to relate all sorts of social activities to the consequences of health, and telling what is right or wrong to their life. The idea locates the root of health issues in the individual body, the medical practices are useful to eliminate immediate symptom, and is useful to understand the causation of the disease.
As stated by Crawford: "No one argues the medicine is an unimportant therapeutic tool. However, the well-known inability of medicine to find a cure for many of the chronic and degeneration disease It could only solve the immediate biological and physical symptoms, but not the social political and environmental circumstances. From the s, there was a raising concern in America about the importance of health.
People consume more under the name of health, and the media attention was increasingly significant. There were two types of health movement starting to gain popularity particularly among the middle class : holistic health movement and self-care movement.
They both pose challenges to the orthodox medicine, but they take different approach in health. Holistic health adopts various of stress-reduction therapies and healing methods from around the world. It reinforces the importance of the balance between the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects in life. It provides a more inclusive insight than medical perception does.
Self care, on the other hand, takes a DIY approach to health and simply transferring medical competence to individual. It refuses to rely on alternative healing methods. Therefore, self-care treats the body in a medicalized way, but holistic health treats the person more inclusively. People who practice these two health movements are still consider as "healthists", because "central to the holistic health and self-care models is the concept of individual responsibility" p.
The entire article poses criticism on healthism and medicalization, and largely summarizes these ideas as ineffective health promotions. The root of the problem is the sense of individual responsibility. Individualism provide limitations to understand the political nature of health, and it is extremely vulnerable to the dominant ideology. It consequently created the one-dimensional and subjective ways to look at health and well-being.
Individual responsibility shifts people from passive objects to active subjects of themselves, it could be seen as a form of empowerment. It could heighten individual consciousness, serve as a first step beyond the personal level to a more complex political stage. However, "the failure to adopt an explicitly political understanding of the health problem amounts to a refusal to confront the massive, ideological de-politicalization being promoted" p.
Regarding to health issues, political activists take society as the problem, but healthists take individuals as the problem. They take objective and subjective approach respectively. However, healthism is merely a short term measurement that ignores the social and environmental constraints. It is interesting to see how an article from thirty odd years ago is still applicable in contemporary times. The notion of individual responsibility serves as a strategy to shift pubic attention from existing social issues to relatively unnecessary personal issues.
Especially for adolescents, when they are in mostly searching for self-identity. The notion of self-blame could be very problematic to our young generation. To sum up, healthism leaves the society at risk. Subjectivity will led man-kind to nowhere. Therefore, it is time for people to look beyond individual, to a border scale in multiple dimensions.
Healthism and the medicalization of everyday life.
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