What does it mean to be “healthy”? The standards of health are heavily influenced by culture. Influenced by views of race, gender, and cultural values, various cultures interpret the same biological phenomenon differently. For example, researchers Estroff and Henderson describe that Japanese women and American women perceive menopause differently: Japanese women do not describe experiencing hot flashes and emotional liability, as American women do. Such difference in experiencing the same process exemplifies how people’s beliefs on gender and in general culture shape our definition of health.
With culture playing a big role on our perception of health, social diagnosis has emerged with increasing rapidly in our society. As a more notable example, people commonly seek Viagra in order to “treat” their erectile dysfunction. However, who can distinguish the healthy from the unhealthy in these instances? In another case, people label common feelings, such as feeling blue or shy, as diseases. Then, they attempt to label these “defected” feelings as depression and treat them with medicine. These attempts demonstrate people’s obsessive nature to optimize themselves, an emerging process called medicalization.
The desire to eliminate natural imperfections in the human body fuels medicalization in our lives; medicalization is not so much driven by an actual illness, however. Researcher Conrad observes that medicalization is “driven more by commercial and market interests than by professional claims-makers.” Indeed, medicalization has been driven by consumers, biotechnological companies, the media, and our own perception of health. His observation demonstrates just how deeply social factors have been integrated in the process of determining health. Since health is influenced by factors other than biology, sociologists have some responsibility in analyzing the various impacts of medicalization. Their findings will allow entire communities, not only individuals, to be studied in terms of definitions of health. Estroff and Henderson value the “ability to view medicine in society, and society in medicine” because improving our quality of health is impossible without having a concrete social perspective on medicine.