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Artykuły w Czytelni Medycznej o SARS-CoV-2/Covid-19
© Borgis - New Medicine 2/2010, s. 54-62
*Sándor Bollók1, Zsuzsa Menczel2, István Vingender2
Representations of the Social Body and Drug Use
1Semmelweis University, Faculty of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (TF), Budapest
Head of Faculty: Prof. Dr. József Tihanyi
2Semmelweis University, Faculty of Health Sciences, Budapest
Head of Faculty: Prof. Dr. Judit Mészáros
Aim. In our research we studied the connections between the body culture and drug using behaviour.
Material and Method. An empirical, survey-kind of analysis was carried out; the questionnaire contains a list of questions concerning the use of the body, the habits of body training, the sport career and drug use. A 600-person sample was surveyed. The ages of the students were 17-19 years.
Results. There is a relationship between the importance of appearance and substance use. Smoking and the appearance mean basically the same; it 'assists' the young in social-cultural integration and attachment. The regularity of alcohol consumption habits and the importance of appearance follow the same construction. The use of illegal drugs has an even stronger relation to them. Physical appearance is organized into sharply different models. Smoking is significantly linked to the external and the hygienic models, but negatively. Alcohol consumption is also related to the model of the external gathered factors and drug use does not significantly relate to any of the models, but the correlation with the two mentioned models is also stronger.
Conclusions. Nowadays the social representations of the physical body are strongly linked to drug use habits. Psychoactive drugs have already become part of young people's present general culture of body use and body image. These drugs become in themselves part of the models of the body and body use. Drug consumption is part of the representation of the body.
The structure of the body problems
While the body appears in questions related to the soul, the different forms of consciousness – such as thinking, faith, values, attitudes, etc. – also in the quality of interpersonal relationships and the different behavioural forms, in fact the body plays a main role in all that, the topic remains basically unknown for the social sciences. However, the human body, like all human manifestations and attributes, has not only natural/biological but also socio-cultural characteristics. The problem related to the body is strongly connected to other phenomena, first of all social gender, sexuality, sport, physical activity, aesthetic body reconstruction and also questions of health. The problem of the body is also related to basically all forms of human behaviour, so most probably also to drug use.
Based on the anthropological fundamentals of body problems the social culture plays a decisive role in the body use of people (1). The culture of society defines all forms of manifestation of the body. Social organization as the system of human relations defines the way the human body appears to society. This latter fact plays an important role in the construction of the ways of behaviour (2). Drug use is a fundamental cultural factor and organizing element of the way of life of numerous social groups, mainly that of youngsters. So, the obvious question is: Can any causal connection be found between the representations of the body and drug use?
Contemporary anthropology examines body problems in the context of modern social transformations. The role of the body and its social status is examined and analysed from the angle of the fight between the social genders, in social success and the processes of integration and also in the light of the development of multiculturalism. From this aspect the body is on one hand the symbolism of social phenomena and mechanisms, social and cultural representation, and on the other hand the body appears as symbolic capital and a tool in the processes connected with the former ones. Similar roles can also be found in the scenes of drug use. This parallelism suggests there could be similarities between the two phenomena and certain cross-influences also.
The turning point in scientific attention to the body was the 18th century. Firstly, at that time those social institutions were formed which "intruded on the human body” (3), opening up the isolated world closed down by the external borders of the body, making it public for common knowledge. These new institutions not only allow us a look into the inner world of the body but also fundamentally define its limits. They define the basic values of the body culture, form the most important ways of use of the body and frame the dominant directions of the body consciousness. From the end of the 18th century the way we deal with the body and how we think about it turned into the form of fulfilling the cultural norms.
Since that time bodily behaviour has had two, well-identified but still related dimensions: the visible and the invisible bodily functions (4). In the opinion of Elias this twofold approach has definitely changed the connection of people and their bodies, as the inner and outer bodily manifestations are considered on different levels of importance in different cultures. Certain cultures consider important only the inner world of the body. Others – the majority – put the emphasis on the importance of the outer characteristics of the body. The fundamental question is which traumas the change from the inner to the outer world of the body can cause to people and also which requirements are to be fulfilled by them in this new context. Surely, the inner and the outer world of the body are sharply segregated from each other. The inner dimensions of the body represent the individual, the individuality; the outer surface is rather trying to fulfil the cultural norms. This way the outer surface of the body turns into some kind of demarcation line, incarnating the duality of the individuality and the environment and moreover that of the cultural world. This duality results in colourful cultural models of bodily behaviours. The values of social integration, the references and the adequacy and autonomy, the freedom and the independence define the way how the representatives of certain cultures and subcultures dissolve the contradictions of this duality in their behaviour and bodily manifestations. In our opinion in this dissolution drug use, as a specific way of behaviour, has a decisive role.
The thinkers of social sciences in their empirical observations concerning body-related problems focus on the fact that human beings are strangers in nature due to the conflict between nature and culture, so humans seek asylum in culture (5, 6, 7). One of the contemporary forms of escape might be the culture of the use of the body. However, based on our previous research it was found that drug use might also play a similar role in certain subcultures (8).
The human body in itself does not possess any tendency to define or to transmit any meaning. The body, in its „pure” form, is a certain kind of biological manifestation; at the most it is the manifestation of the personality. Considering the body as represented above, it is the message of society to show which strategy is to be used to raise the social position, to improve the social chances (9). All this means the biological body and the social body are significantly independent from each other. The meaning and the condition of one cannot tell anything about the other. The two kinds of bodily dimensions can be in harmony but can also be in insoluble conflict with each other (10). As a result, the relationship between the bodily biological and social temperament is also a human-specific social, social-psychological characteristic. In the case of a harmonic relationship, when the individual lives a balanced, stable and coherent social life, his/ /her body image is in equilibrium. However, when the original and the recognized body image is significantly different, then this leads to embarrassment in body and soul. This latter can finally influence the social behaviour of the individual. Drug using behaviour can easily enter this field of conflict.
The connection between drug use and the body
The basic problem of our research is how to reconcile a material entity (the body) and a mainly spiritual but otherwise somatic-based behaviour. The logical discrepancy of these two factors leads to methodical problems also: How is it possible to find causal relationships and connections between these two phenomena so different in nature?
We may consider the following, not all but numerous, connections between the body culture (not in the meaning of sport, physical activity) and drug using behaviour:
1. The social representation of the body, and also its way of use, target and all experiences forming it and images, beliefs and symbols deriving from all this, and also the motivations of drug use, the ways of the use, the experience lived and the "joys” of the effects all allow solutions which are rooted in modern society and culture, to social integration and participation.
2. Both phenomena, at least in their relevant forms, are specific characteristics of the postmodern society. The emphasized manifestation and role of bodily representations are as much the products of our times as the scenario of mass young drug use.
3. Both phenomena are primarily related to adolescence. The socio-cultural role and relevance of bodily manifestations and also drug use (its illegal form) are also characteristic of the subculture of the young. Both phenomena can basically be derived from the social rank, status and roles of the young.
4. The contemporary views of bodily representations and drug use are specific tools of identity constructions of the young. They do not only take part in the latter but are also a generating factor and in some way the purpose and idol, too (11, 12, 13).
5. Both phenomena strongly participate in the construction of the social relationships of the young. In the world of the network communities bodily representations and drug use are important and constructive elements.
6. In a special way both elements are important status signs in the subculture of the young. They mark and define the occupied place in society and in the narrow environment. They are status symbols.
7. They not only mark the occupied positions/status but they also help to acquire them. The bodily markers allow the privileges in the above detailed way or deprive their owners of them. Drugs, due to their performance increasing, energizing and other effects, can assist one to acquire new social status (14).
8. Both factors are symbolic representations of the young generation. This way they have a (sub)cultural mission and interpersonal roles. These organize communities, reinforce their cohesion and at the same time they express the dimensions of connections, belonging, the "us” feeling.
9. Both factors include a significant opportunity of compensation so it can function as a technique like this. Deprivations occurring in other fields can be compensated or annulled by the overvaluation of the bodily representations and drug use in the (sub)culture.
10. Both factors have a performance improving effect. The above-mentioned social participation, its effectiveness and success can also be reinforced by physical capacities (inborn and acquired) and by drug use.
To sum up, the two phenomena, even being in two different socio-cultural fields, has several common characteristics. Therefore it is reasonable to suppose that there might be connections between them. Our research focused on this supposition.
The topic and the relevant questions of the research:
1. What kind of parallelisms and synergies can be shown between body representations and drug use?
2. Which bodily representations derive from the different ways of drug use?
3. What kinds of habits, attitudes and motivations are caused by drug use?
4. Are there any partial elements in the network system of the two phenomena and if there are, what are they?
5. Could the specific bodily representations be connected to scenarios of drug use?
6. Could physical education (not in the meaning of physical activity but socialization of the body culture) be an adequate tool or method of drug use prevention?
We are carrying out all parts of the research in the above-mentioned horizontal segments. The vertical dimensions would analyse the individual components, characteristics, attributes of bodily representations and drug use and analyse their "behaviour” in the context of the other part.
Methods and material
Our research was an empirical, survey-kind of analysis whose data were obtained from the answers to questionnaires filled in individually. The questionnaire contains a list of questions concerning the use of the body, the habits of body training, the sport career and drug use. There were altogether 63 questions. In this present analysis we obviously examine only a minor part of the data. The data were gained in 2008, by the help of interrogation agents. The data were analysed in 2009 in the final stage, using SPSS statistical program.
For our research we used a 600-person sample composed of 17 to 19-year-old secondary school students out of which 57.8% were males and 42.2% were females, so in the sample the males were overrepresented compared to the real proportions. But as far as the residence distribution is concerned our sample is closer to representing the real situation. 21.5% of the respondents were living in the capital, 38.8% in some other city, 39.5% in villages and 0.2% in farms. The secondary schools used in the sample to fill in the questionnaires were chosen randomly from the register of schools.
1. The social representations of the body are the main characters of the post-modern society, so these are essential questions for young people. This is considered in their minds as a significantly important method and tool in gaining social success and prosperity.
2. We suppose that society, culture and fashion set clear and very specific norms about the parameters of the ideal, "useful” body, able to reach success, and these prescriptions are followed by the young.
3. We suppose the contradictions among the above-mentioned social/cultural expectations, their fulfilment and acceptance, can cause social, cognitive and mental pressure that may often lead to drug use.
The interviewed group emphasizes the importance of the appearance. For 9 out of 10 young persons the appearance is significantly important, although hardly 10% approach this side of their personality neutrally. The proportion of those who do not even care about how they appear to the social world is basically insignificant. The preferences of external characteristics show a highly homogeneous image. It can be seen that the primacy of these external characteristics are not derived from the personality but norms and requirements regulated from outside worlds which the teenagers try to fulfil.
Table 1. How important is the appearance for you?
FrequencyPercentCumulative Percent
1 Very important22938.238.2
2 Important enough31552.590.7
3 Neutral54999.7
4 I do not care about my outlook at all20.3100
The general value of the appearance appears in its segmented judgment as definitely articulated. The two most important factors are related to personal hygiene (well-cared-for appearance, fresh breath). The average value of these two factors also approaches the highest value of the scale. The variety of the answers is even smaller. The judgment about other bodily values and about factors in the representation of the body are harder to place in any groups. Among those ranked important enough are some related to body structure and body use (proportionate body, movement), as well as some related to decoration or representation of the body (perfume, clothing). The same can be said about the group of least preferred characteristics, in which height or eye colour and even the use of jewellery and piercing can also be found. If we do not consider hygienic parameters to be priority ones (it is possible based on reasons explained below) it can be declared that the different dimensions of the bodily appearance have no organized, well-built system; the young do not take their bodily advantages or inconveniences in a structure, but only randomly. For us this means that even if towards the external characteristics of the body there is a kind of uniform attitude, the structure of the appearance shows definitely individual solutions. This is basically in harmony with the theory of the plural society, so with the fact that there are some entities playing a cardinal role, their structure, inner emphasis and the ways leading to them are differentiated. The question, to be analysed later but not examined in this sub-group, of which aims and idols are followed by the bodily manifestations also plays an important role. The bodily conditions, as tools in self-realization and in capital conversion, obviously gain their importance depending on who has and what kind of specific vision, plan, idol about this and what he/she wants/supposes to use this for: in increasing the probability of success in human relationships, in the potential of realizing his/her needs, in one's future position in the field of employment. The heterogeneity of the judgments about the bodily manifestations is also proved by the fact that the less important one or another factor is considered to be based on the replies of the respondents, the higher is the differentiation level of the judgments about them.
Table 2. How important do you consider the following things in the personal appearance?
NMin.Max.MeanStd. Deviation
Well-cared appearance600176.680.855
Fresh breath600176.570.968
Proportional body600175.651.416
Ideal female body600175.571.611
Perfumes 600175.351.343
Body moves600175.251.366
Weight of body600175.091.561
Ideal male body600175.051.750
Mimics of face600175.001.464
Built-up body600174.311.670
Height of body600174.241.545
Colour of the eyes600173.551.927
Jewellery, piercing600173.521.852
(1: not important at all, 7: very important)
The role of the external characteristics of the body is considered in a very different way, as was supposed before, in the meaning that they ascribe a different level of importance to "good appearance” in different fields of life. But from another point of view they share the same opinion about the fact that they accord very similar importance to the appearance in the different spheres of life. This all shows that the social-cultural environment "describes” in a very homogeneous way the conditions of appearance in the different spheres of life. The only difference the young show is in the ranking of these spheres based on preference level in their own lives.
Table 3. Do you think the better your appearance is, the more chances you have in the following fields? (1=always, 2=occasionally, 3=no).
NMin.Max.MeanStd. Deviation
At a party600131.330.553
Becoming famous600131.360.616
Success at others600131.430.568
Family relations600132.380.683
The respondents consider definitely very important the appearance, in building intimate relationships and in the employment/work-related field. However, in the field of friendly-family kind of relationships, or in study-sport dimensions they consider external factors less important. It must be added though that this "less important” ranking is closer to the "occasional” ranking, too. So, to summarize it can be said that the respondents consider the bodily appearance relevant in all walks of life. For instance: 98.7% of the young consider at least "occasionally” important the appearance in "dating”; 96.7% in love; 66.7% in sport and 72.3% in friendship. In the opinion of 50.3% even the quality of family relationships is influenced by appearance. So the significance of the appearance is not placed in the important–not important scale but in the definitely important–very important one.
Table 4. Standing in front of a mirror reflecting your entire body, are you content with the image you see?
FrequencyPercentValid PercentCumulative Percent
Yes, absolutely8313.813.813.8
More or less yes 45075.075.088.8
No, as I do not like some part of my body6711.211.2100.0
Apart from the general judgments on external characteristics and their importance for us, the young's self-image remained the most important question.
Table 5. What would you do to change your body? (%).
New haircut35.2
Dental cure32.5
Different style in clothing21.2
Hair colouring19.5
Nail colouring11.7
New types of cosmetics11.2
Plastic surgery11.0
Change from glasses to lenses9.8
Coloured lenses7.8
Not wearing glasses any longer5.5
Only slightly more than 1 out of 10 young are totally content with their appearance. However, 75% of them are more or less content with it, and also 10% of the young are definitely dissatisfied with their appearance. Those in the last two groups also reported which part of their body causes them problems in their appearance. It can generally be said that 3-20% of the respondents described a body part as the source of their dissatisfaction with their appearance. This shows, for us, again that the body itself has no significantly important part which could really influence the young's self-image and self-contentment related to factors of the external appearance. On the contrary, everybody perceives problems in different parts, in different "places”. To summarize, it can be said that the self-image related to the body varies considerably in the way that the self-judgment does not follow the pre-defined relevance of an idol, but a non-defined, uncertain system of norms. This basically means that not only a small group, but a great mass of teenagers "are able to” be dissatisfied with their appearance, even though in other contexts these same persons can find compensation.
Table 6. How important are the following characteristics in your partner for you?
NMin.Max.MeanStd. Deviation
Attitude towards you600176.650.745
Care of the body600176.490.942
Style in clothing600175.711.233
Being funny600175.671.412
How sporty he/she is?600174.831.554
Level of dancing abilities600173.791.899
Body jewels600173.661.861
(1=not important at all, 7=very important)
Following the general and specific body parts we can find a relatively homogeneous dissatisfaction, but also a more or less emphasized body part which takes part in the negative self-image, too. This is the abdomen (20.5%) and the thigh (15.2%). It can be seen that the uncovered-ness and representation of these body parts is particularly important among today's young people. The dissatisfaction with their own body, which as we could see above is not very strongly present in the self-image of the young, is still present and modifies the strategies of body changes in a significant manner.
Table 7. How important is the appearance – based on smoking habits?
 Importance of the appearanceTotal
Very importantImportant enoughNeutralI do not care about my
appearance at all
Do you smoke?Yes, regularly.49.1%43.9%5.8%1.2%100.0%
Yes, occasionally.53.3%42.2%4.4%0.0%100.0%
Yes, very rarely.43.2%40.5%16.2%0.0%100.0%
I used to smoke, but not any more.32.3%58.1%9.7%0.0%100.0%


The willingness to change the body shows large differences. The young consider as significantly the most appropriate way to change their appearance is to train their bodies. More than 2/3 of the respondents prefer this method to others in improving their appearance, almost twice as much as other health-focused techniques (diet, dental cure). One in four or 1/5 are attracted by fashion-directed techniques and interventions (tattoos, solarium, clothing style, hair colouring), while eye correctional external changes, plastic surgery and cosmetics show less attraction for them. It is worth mentioning that training, as a health-specific type of behaviour, can attract the young in other dimensions, too.
Table 8. Rotated Component Matrix.
Proportional shape0.7190.1360.2240.105
Well-built body0.6560.113-0.1260.206
Ideal female shape0.6220.1060.1810.057
Ideal male shape0.5920.1330.0860.099
Eye colour0.1490.580-0.1670.163
Jewellery, piercing0.0630.798-0.0620.114
Well-cared body0.0980.0220.8660.119
Fresh breath0.1130.0100.8460.171
Perfumes, cosmetics0.1490.5350.3840.234
Mimics of the face0.1700.1230.1230.817
Apart from the self-image, other body parts appear as representational factors in other people's reflections. In our research other character and behavioural factors were also mentioned apart from the external appearance's dimensions as factors to be examined, so that we could analyse the reflexive abilities in the dynamics of the inner and outer world.
Among the strongest relationship characteristics are good care and the characteristics deriving from and constituting the partner status. Both factors can be considered as the differentia specifica of the relationship. Among the second most important characteristics there are external (face, clothing, shape) and inner (self-confidence, being funny, intelligence) factors. The same can be said about the least preferred factors. Among the weakly preferred external factors are those which are inborn (height, eye colour), while among the more important factors there are almost only acquired factors. Finally, it can be seen that in relationships the importance of external factors takes part in the group of personal characteristics and character traits and compared to the latter they do not play any important role concerning the whole sample.
After examining the general external factors of the body and the forms how they are considered in the whole sample we are going to analyse how drug use enters the scene of body culture as a differentiating factor. Between the appearance and its importance and drug use there is a well-observed relationship with changing dynamics. First of all is the fact that drug use is in a significant relationship with the importance related to the appearance.
Those young who regularly smoke consider the appearance more important than those who occasionally or never smoke. This can only be interpreted that the smoking itself works as a kind of bodily representation for the individuals. So, the smoking itself coordinates, based on our experience, the aspirations in appearance. This finally shows that smoking and the appearance mean basically the same in the social-cultural participation and appearance field, having the same functions: they help the young in social-cultural integration and attachment. Almost the same can be said about alcohol consumption and drug use. The regularity of alcohol consumption habits and the importance of the appearance follow the same construction: Regular alcohol consumption correlates with the importance of external factors. (Pearson Chi-Square: 36.217, sig: .007, Pearson's R: .456, sig: .002) The use of illegal drugs has an even stronger relation with them. (Pearson Chi-Square: 30.666, sig: .002, Pearson's R: .114, sig: .005) Until this point we have only examined which general connection bodily representation has with drug use, but the real question is which qualities of the body image and use of the individual are related to drug consumption.
The bodily representation is organized into sharply different models. This means that the positive or desirable bodily manifestations orientate towards different segments and contain different meaning of the individuals. There are four models deriving from the ingredients of the preferred body image:
1. The external and global natural endowments of the body: Among the respondents we can examine a bodily representational model which, among the external factors, emphasizes the shape, the figure and how they follow the ideal types of gender identity.
2. Acquired external factors: The other model explains the essence of the bodily manifestations in ornamentation, emphasizing some of the bodily factors, or correcting the latter.
3. Hygienic model: The third kind of presumption model considers the hygienic habits and status as relevant factors of the bodily manifestations.
4. Movement and behavioural culture: Compared to the three others this fourth model supposes that among the external factors the most important one is the culture of movements.
The four models above all show that there is not at all any kind of homogeneous body culture, there is no one-dimensional body ideal and the generally preferred body ideal is composed of many different idols. The strong link of drug use raises the question of which out of these four models concerns drug consumption. The results of correlation analysis show that smoking is significantly linked to the external and the hygienic models, but negatively. This means that these models are the typical bodily representations of regularly smoking young people. Alcohol consumption is also related to the model of external acquired factors, like all the previous ones. So, the young consuming alcohol regularly are also interested in/concerned with the body design. Drug use does not significantly relate to any of the models, but the correlation with the two mentioned models is also stronger. Thus, we can say that the problem of the external appearance of the body, apart from being general and relevant, is an important indicator of drug use, too. Among the existing models the image of the "ornamented body” and the "hygienic body” are strongly linked to drug use, while the other two are not ("natural endowments” and "movement culture”).
In the present analysis we could not determine which is the cause-effect connection between the above-mentioned body models and drug use. Probably this cannot even be analysed by statistical means. One thing is obvious though: these phenomena are linked and converge so their complementary character can be used when handling drug problems.
The synthetic examination of the results leads to the conclusion that nowadays the social representations of the body are strongly linked to drug use habits. In reality this is not only a link, but rather a fact that the use of psychoactive drugs has already become part of young people's present general culture of body use and body image. This culture is fundamentally two-sided: on one hand from all viewpoints it gives preference to appearance in all walks of life, so it grants obvious privileges to those having the favourable appearance or appearance judged to be favourable, while at the same time it does not define the criteria of favourability. At once it floods the young with the possibilities and requirements of both conformity and pluralism, thus they have to fulfil the social requirements and in this double matrix to realize themselves with their natural endowments. Into this dynamic space enters the legal and illegal drugs and also their use as likewise postmodern (sub)cultural products. The results show that psychoactive drugs, on one hand through their consciousness modifying effects, and on the other hand by their potential to attach to the cultural norms, can integrate into the incongruent world of bodily representations. In this way, they become an important part of certain (not all) models of body use. Contrary to what we expected, drugs do not dissolve the social, cognitive and mental frustrations born in the field of body representations, so they are not tools for something, but they become in themselves part of the models of body and body use. Drug consumption is part of the representation of the body. To sum up, all this raises the question of the need to have synergy of physical education (literary, physical and also cultural) and drug use prevention.
1) The interviewed young persons emphasized the importance of the appearance. The two most important factors are a well-cared-for appearance and fresh breath.
2) The respondents consider the importance of the appearance in two fields of life: in building intimate relationships and in the work/career-related field.
3) A little more than one out of ten young people are totally comfortable with their appearance, 75% of them are more or less content with it, and one in ten of them are definitely dissatisfied with their appearance.
4) The willingness to change one's body shows high differences in their belief; the most appropriate way to change their appearance is training and exercise.
5) There is a significant relationship between the appearance and drug use. Those young people who regularly smoke consider the appearance important. Almost the same can be said about alcohol consumption and illegal drug use.
6) Representation of the body appears to be organized into different models. The results of correlation analysis show that smoking is significantly (negatively) linked to the external and hygienic models. Alcohol consumption is also related to the model of external acquired factors. Illegal drug use does not significantly relate to any of the models, but the correlation with the two mentioned models is stronger.
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otrzymano: 2010-03-30
zaakceptowano do druku: 2010-04-12

Adres do korespondencji:
*Sándor Bollók
Táborhegyi út 16 D-24, 1037 Budapest
phone: 00 36 30 9428 946
e-mail: bollok.sandor@gmail.com

New Medicine 2/2010
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