Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

My Body, My Stigma: Body Interpretations in a Sample of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Puerto Rico

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

My Body, My Stigma: Body Interpretations in a Sample of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

AIDS related stigma continues to impact the lives of "People Living With HIV/AIDS" (PLWHA) negatively. Although the consequences of stigmatization have been widely documented, certain areas of study need to be further addressed in order to better understand their implications for PLWHA; such is the case of the perceptions of the body's role in AIDS stigma. A qualitative study was implemented including 30 in-depth interviews of PLWHA in Puerto Rico in order to explore their perceptions of the body's role in the process of stigmatization. Results include: participants' perceptions on how their bodies evidence their serostatus, description of past body marks, personal experiences with body marks, meanings attributed to their bodies with HIV/AIDS, and personal criteria used to describe the perfect body. These issues are described in the context of the social stigma faced by PLWHA in Puerto Rico and individual perceptions of body's role in the process of self-stigmatization. Recommendations for intervention and research are described. Key Words: HIV/AIDS, Stigma, Body, and Puerto Ricans

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The HIV/AIDS pandemic can be described as one plagued by social meaning. More than twenty years into the epidemic it is evident that we are not only dealing with the biological effects of a virus; we are also facing the negative social meanings attributed to HIV/AIDS and the people who live with it. These negative socially shared meanings ascribed to the epidemic have been described as AIDS stigma and its consequences are disastrous for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) as they entail depression, denial of health services, and ostracism, among others (Herek & Glunt, 1988). Further research needs to be carried out in areas that are of significance for PLWHA and that have been neglected by AIDS stigma researchers. Such is the case of the body's role in AIDS stigma (Chapman, 1998). Due to the evident biological dimensions of HIV for the body, the latter is seldom addressed when elaborating on the social dimensions of the epidemic; even when the body is also a social phenomenon.

What is Stigma?

The concept of stigma dates to ancient Greece and was used to describe people with bodily marks or tattoos which evidenced their involvement in a bad deed and were therefore to be avoided (Crawford, 1996). The concept has also been defined as an unnatural mark on the bodies of saints, a mark made with a hot iron on the flesh of slaves, a bad reputation, and even a physical dysfunction (Real Academia Espanola, 1984). Other authors have described stigma as a social construction associated with the recognition of a difference, based on a specific characteristic, which is used to devalue the person who possesses it (Dovido, Major, & Crocker, 2000). All of these definitions share the idea that a stigma is the negative evaluation of a particular difference that may be associated with a person.

One of the most widely recognized conceptual frameworks on the subject was developed by sociologist Erving Goffman (1963). He defined stigma as a profoundly discreditable attribute, which could lead a person to be deemed almost inhuman. He identified three types of stigma: abominations of the body, blemishes of individual character, and tribal stigmas. Abominations of the body were described as stigmas associated with physical deformations or deviations from a social norm, such as people with physical challenges, missing limbs, or physical deformities, among others. Blemishes of individual character were stigmas associated with a person's character, identity, or simply their particular way of being. Some of these blemishes can be attributed to people in jail, drug users, alcoholics, and people with poor mental health, among others. Finally, tribal stigmas referred to the negative evaluation of particular persons due to their association with a group. Some of these stigmas are related to race, ethnicity, and sexual preference. …

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