Fear of sickness leads to 'Angelina Jolie' syndrome
Moscow, Dec 13: Highly commercialised standards of health and beauty can lead to the 'Angelina Jolie' syndrome - taking preventive action, such as surgery on a healthy body, for a hypothetical disease, researchers have claimed.
The politicisation and commercialisation of health issues in today's Western culture have led to growing healthism - a peremptory idea of self-preserving behaviour.
This approach criticises everything that fails to fit into the glamorous standards of a beautiful, young and slim body, researchers said.
In extreme forms, healthism is close to eugenics, which selects a 'correct' heredity. However, even simple concerns about the 'standards' of physical condition may provoke hypercorrection, such as surgery on a healthy body, said Evgenia Golman, from the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Russia.
Angelina Jolie syndrome has been frequently mentioned in the media recently, implying increased attention to the probability of dangerous diseases, researchers said.
The famous case of the Hollywood actress, who underwent a preventive mastectomy, is symptomatic of this obsession and fits into the healthism concept.
However, Jolie's story is an extreme manifestation of the 'new understanding of health'. More widespread displays of healthism include the boom in diets, fitness, plastic surgery and organic food, as well as the popularity of mobile apps for health monitoring.
Such 'body worship' is extensively supported by beauty salons, manufacturers of 'superhealthy' food, fitness and yoga centres, and even healthcare officials in many countries.
Popular healthcare policy today often shifts the responsibility for health from healthcare institutions to individuals themselves, and shifts the focus from treatment to prevention, including prevention of even purely hypothetical pathologies, Golman said.
Preventive medicine undoubtedly helps prevent many diseases and can saves a lot of resources for families.
However, if 'calculation' of sicknesses and idealisation of beauty and health standards are understood improperly, in a purely commercial way, they can lead to mass neurosis and a social obsession with complying to healthist fashion.
The most dangerous thing is that such an approach stigmatises everything that does not fit in with the model of a 'healthy lifestyle'.
'Health' is becoming a social and moral imperative, and 'unhealthiness' can become a source of stigmatisation - this is the source of one of today's social clashes, Golman said.
In other words, a reasonable willingness to stay healthy is carried to absurd levels in public discourse, and particularly, in mass media.
Everything that does not fit into healthist standards (from excessive weight to face features) can become an object for discrimination. The study was published in the Journal of Social Policy Studies.