3.2 Health and the middle class
In contrast, a study which focused on white, middle-class men and women between the ages of 35 and 55 (Saltonstall, 1993) found that respondents' views of health were closely connected to wellbeing, and this condition of being was related to ‘capacity, performance and function’ (p. 8). Saltonstall reports that the respondents, both male and female, catalogued what he called a ‘health inventory’ which included things they felt they had and things they thought they were expected to do to be healthy. This having and doing was intertwined, as these two responses show:
Health to me is the food you eat, how you carry yourself, from the clothes you wear, to the size you are, body fat, skin tone, and whether you are sick. I feel if you take care of yourself by working out and eating right ... you will be stronger and healthier. (Male.)
I know I'm healthy. I'm in good shape. I exercise regularly, I eat a very good diet. I know how to avoid getting colds and flus. I get enough sleep. I don't party and abuse my body. I guess in a nutshell, I take care of myself. (Female.)
(Quoted in Saltonstall 1993, p. 8)
There were some differences in the responses of the men and women, although in general they were remarkably similar. The women frequently referred to friends or family in their accounts of health, whereas the men rarely did so. Men were more likely to refer to health as being in control and having power over their bodies. They had a sense of ownership of their bodies, whereas women were more likely to see their bodies as being in control and having a momentum of their own. As one woman put it:
A lot of times I keep on eating even though I know its not good for me ... It's like my body just wants those things right then ...
(Quoted in Saltonstall, 1993, p. 9)
We can only speculate on the reasons why this should be so, but it is possible that women's explicit experience of hormonal cycles, when their bodies change in ways that seem out of their control, could go some way to explaining this. But the ways in which women's bodies are socially defined would also seem to be a factor.
All the respondents in Saltonstall's study were white, and although some of the mothers in Bostock's study were Asian or Black-African or African-Caribbean, she did not focus on cultural differences. In fact, although there is a good deal of evidence about inequalities in health status and access to healthcare, there is not a lot of evidence specifically about health accounts of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.