Encountering Beauty: Beauty and the Norm in Berlin’s Everyday Life

By Amelie Bauer, Paul Gredig, Maysun Hijazi, Kesho-Tabitha Imadonmwinyi, Marie-Helen Jakob, Izabela Matulewicz, Jennifer Rosenberg, Arowotosuna Olaitan Smith, Elisabeth Winterer and Jodi Cheuk Tung Wong

Norms of physical appearance are connected to processes of exclusion and recognition, especially within a city shaped as strongly by migration as Berlin. In this third part of our blog post series, based on research conducted during the seminar “Beauty and the Norm: Appearance and Exclusion in Berlin’s Everyday Life” at Freie Universität Berlin, we wondered about the importance of these processes in the context of a global “beauty boom” and the contemporary “body craze”: to what extent are ideas of physical beauty related to normative ideas of cultural affiliation, femininity and masculinity, being white or aging, and what effects does this have for different people and social groups in Berlin’s everyday life? To what extent can beauty practices also form the basis of empowerment strategies?

In the Subway Project by Alba Trabandt and Marie-Helen Jakob, a total of six FLINT* persons (German acronym for Women, Lesbian, Inter, Non-Binary, Trans*) reflected on their experiences while taking the subway in Berlin. Experiences of lookism – discrimination based on physical appearance – but also of homophobia, sexism and racism were part of the stories that surfaced. The conversations with four of them, Mika, Noah, Toni and Luca were recorded with an audio recorder and compiled in narrative fragments (click here).

Clothing is our second skin, an expression of our individual preferences. But what role do social, local and global influences play in the way we dress? For Nina Baum, Jodi Cheuk-Tung Wong, Claudia Sáez Fernández and Amelie Bauer’s Wardrobe Study: Clothing and Beauty Practices in Transnational Spaces M., N. and V., each living in different transnational contexts, gave us insights into their wardrobes and showed us that clothing can function as a tool beyond aesthetic and practical purposes. You can find some of the outcomes here.

What do we associate with different descriptions of body shape and body weight? What kind of beliefs are linked with our associations? And how do these shape our relationship with our own body? In the project Bodies that Weigh: on Attributions and Self-Awareness, Solveig, Sandra, Lynn and Anastasia gave Lilith Z. and Jennifer Rosenberg an insight into their experiences and described the profound impact of body norms and ideals on their everyday lives. Please find the outcomes here.

To what extent is it a privilege to be able to consciously confront oneself with the appearance of one‘s own body? In the project On the Street: (Self-)Perception of Beauty by Homeless People in Berlin, Hannah Stietenroth, Johanna Taxacher, Johanna Gabert, Kim Gillert and Elisabeth Winterer interviewed two homeless persons, Giovanni and Sonia, and a formerly homeless colleague of Johanna Taxacher, Lena (for the outcomes, click here).

What significance or meeting do tattoos hold today, and what do the chosen motifs symbolize? What motivates people to get tattooed? What kind of stigmatization do tattooed people face within wider society? What do we, as researchers, associate with tattoos? In the project Berlin Tattoo Stories: Between Societal Stigmatization and Individual Empowerment Idil Deniz, Mandana Bach and Franziska Knierim explored these questions at the tattoo studio “Tattoo Hafen Berlin”. Please find some of our results here.

And finally, what meaning or significance does hair have for Persons of Colour (POCs)? How do Black persons deal with racism, colourism, experiences of discrimination and othering in terms of hair? In a group interview titled Don’t Touch My Hair, six Afro-diasporic Berliners, Christele, Zara, Norcie, Sebastian, Muna and Jonathan spoke to Olaitan Smith and Kesho-Tabitha Imadonmwinyi about their experiences at school, at work or in public places. Interview segments and short infos about our participants can be found here.

In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, on 22 March the German Federal Chancellor and the Prime Ministers closed all service providers in the field of personal care, such as hairdressers, beauty salons, tattoo studios, etc. by official decree. Many of the people we interviewed for our research are directly affected by these measures in their everyday life and their very economic existence. We very much hope that such go-to points for cosmetic services and body care will soon be re-established as spaces for social encounters, physical intimacy and overall well-being!