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Be Unhealthy: Where Does the “Fashion” for Disease Come from

WE LOVE OURSELF AND OUR HEALTH BECAUSE OUR BODY is the closest and most understandable thing that we have. But we love sickness no less. Try to complain that you have a toothache – hear a few stories and recipes in response. But some diseases are becoming more popular than others, sometimes it seems that everyone around suffers from one ailment – from the stars to the nearest neighbors. This is not like hypochondria , when a person is afraid and checks himself for everything, rather, for an epidemic, only many fashionable diseases do not spread like the flu. When and why do diseases become popular?  

A disease from which you cannot hide

It is not always possible to understand what people actually suffered from some hundred years ago. They had stomach aches, seizures, dying from strokes and black blood, because medicine was far from today’s achievements. It was impossible to protect against disease, even the concept of hygiene was very different from those to which we are accustomed. There was no protection from many diseases, and in such conditions the emergence of fashion can only be explained by a defense mechanism: in order not to be afraid of the disease, one had to be proud of it. In the 18th century, medicine began to develop in Europe – as much as possible. It was at this time that it became fashionable to get sick, and literature and art only fueled interest in ailments: many wanted to be like heroines fainting from an excess of feelings.  

Consumption came into vogue. Largely because until the end of the next century, people did not know how to treat tuberculosis, and they were sick a lot. And also because earlier many diseases, not only tuberculosis itself, fell under the concept of “consumption”. It was believed that consumption comes to scientists, to those suffering from unhappy love and to the mourners. It was possible to get romantically ill with tuberculosis in the 20th century, as happened with the heroines of E.M. Remarque, but after they learned to treat and prevent tuberculosis, it became associated with a low standard of living, and the romanticization ended. Now tuberculosis is still one of the leading causes of death in the world, but no one can call it fashionable and interesting anymore. There is nothing mysterious about it, and the problem of tuberculosis resistance to antibiotics is of interest to scientists, not public opinion.

It can be assumed
that “diseases of abundance” are becoming fashionable – those that appear in wealthy people  

It can be assumed that ” diseases of abundance ” are becoming fashionable – those that appear in wealthy people. If earlier the poor simply could not afford illness (due to the lack of medical care and banal hunger, people from the lower classes simply died from any more or less serious illness), then the rich could. Disease tendencies were generally a hallmark of high society. The peasants and workers were supposed to be invariably healthy and strong, because their “simple” nature allegedly was not subject to breakdowns, in contrast to the complex and fine-tuned nature of the aristocrats. “How could you think of suddenly appearing into society without ever being sick? Such good health is only fit for the peasant generation. If you really do not feel any ailments, then hide, please, such a terrible crime against fashion and customs. Please, be ashamed of such a strong build and do not shield yourself from among the gentle and ailing people of the big world “, – the satirical work of Nikolai Ivanovich Strakhov, published in 1791 and recently reprinted , just illustrates this.   

However, not all common diseases became fashionable . For example, only women were sick with hysteria – it was a mysterious disease with many symptoms, its cause was seen in the uterus, which wandered at will or sent in pairs to the brain. There was nothing attractive about hysteria, despite its prevalence, there was, on the contrary, it was considered a sign of weakness. But melancholy, in which you can see signs of depression or mood disorders, was much more popular. It is enough to remember the images of Byron or re-read “Eugene Onegin” to understand: in the 19th century, in order to be known as fashionable, you had to declare yourself a melancholic. 

A disease that has n’t been studied before

There is the so-called third-year syndrome: it is at this time that medical students move from the basics to the study of diseases, cram dangerous symptoms and immediately find them in themselves. A similar effect happens when a person feels unwell and opens a medical encyclopedia or types symptoms into the Google search bar: there are many diseases that even a healthy person can easily detect. There are enough nonspecific symptoms that appear with completely different diseases: weakness, dizziness, fever, drowsiness, and so on. Finding a couple of these signs is a simple task, especially if you don’t sleep well for a couple of nights or forget to have lunch for a week.

The same mechanism works when a disease becomes the subject of close attention of physicians and scientists: for example, a new method of treatment is discovered or a separate diagnosis is identified, a program of patient support is created. Information about the disease, its symptoms, risk factors appears in the information space, people learn about it and massively detect signs of the disease in themselves. This is also helped by opinion leaders, the same stars who talk about their illnesses or support charitable foundations: against the background of general interest, it is easier to collect donations. For example, autism spectrum disorders and the mysterious Asperger’s syndrome were very popular a few years ago. After the release of the series about Sherlock, “sociopaths” appeared en masse, along with guides on how to communicate with them.  

According to psychotherapist Dmitry Isaev, there was a period when every second patient, entering the office for an appointment, dramatically reported that he had depression, although there were no clinical manifestations of this disease in patients. Then depression was romanticized on stage, in literature and in cinema. The fashion for harsh female beauty standards quickly spawned anorexia and bulimia. The fashion for mysterious indigo children and the desire to rise at the expense of their own child has opened an unprecedented interest in autism, the symptoms of which have expanded beyond the boundaries of other well-known pediatric and psychiatric characteristics. Dmitry Isaev notes that anxiety disorders are at the height of fashion now .

According to the psychotherapist, this is due to how society is changing: our time is becoming denser and faster. As comfort increases, the conditions of survival paradoxically become much more severe. This inevitably affects relationships between people, especially close relationships. And when it is necessary to change something in oneself, in the way of life, in relations with loved ones, in order to keep up with the elusive time, fear comes. It is the fear of real changes in life that generates panic. She is masked by phobias about her own health or the health of loved ones. After all, only an acute fear of death can overcome the anxiety of the need for real changes, and now every second comes into the doctor’s office with panic attacks.

This does not mean that there is no need to talk about diseases – quite the opposite. In this case, fashion, no matter how ridiculous it may sometimes be, only helps. If out of hundreds of supposedly sick people, at least one seriously thinks about his condition and goes to the doctor in order to stop the disease in time, that’s great. Actually, that’s what stories are for. To some extent, such a fashion helps the sick themselves feel better, it removes the stigma “once sick, then bad”. People who learn to try on the condition of others can relate to them better.

But there is another side to the fashion for disease. First, popularization is the devaluation of the patient’s condition. “Oh, think, I also had depression, I went to the cinema and everything went away” – an example of just such a craze, when the word “depression” was called any decrease in mood (and is still called). Secondly, the more fashionable the diagnosis becomes, the easier and more unambiguous it is perceived, and this already forms a misconception about any diagnosis: if a hero gets cancer in a film, then most likely in order to die and show a tragedy. There are exceptions in which the patient manages to overcome everything, but there are much fewer of them.

A disease for which it is profitable to sell a medicine

Dysbacteriosis, vegetative-vascular dystonia – these are such diagnoses that can be made to anyone and at any time, too many nonspecific symptoms combine these conditions. But it is convenient to treat them with beautiful medicines. And it is profitable to sell, so we are constantly told in advertising how everyone without exception began to suffer because of poor digestion or modern ecology, so we urgently need to get rid of toxins and remove toxins. This is not a fashion for pure disease , but rather for methods of treatment and prevention. Sometimes they directly oppose any diagnoses, for example, “acidification of the body”, sometimes a specific disease is not named, and the whole process of treatment is called a beautiful word, for example, detox.  

Fortunately, we have the ability to be critical of intrusive popular advice. Isaev notes that following fashion is always imitation, an attempt to protect oneself through conformity to the strong and famous. And it’s the same with the fashion for disease, even though disease can pose a direct threat to life. Individuality is always a little away from the accepted in society, from conformity to the majority, including from mass fashion.

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