Encountering Beauty: Places of Beauty Consumption, Spaces of Urban Encounters

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

In this second part of our blog post series, we present several locations for beauty consumption which we visited as part of the seminar “Anthropology of Beauty: Global Norms, Local Bodies?” offered at the Freie Universität Berlin. These places presented themselves to us as spaces for social and cultural encounter and exchange, whose function goes far beyond the mere consumption of beauty products and bodily standardization.

Anne Jänichen’s curiosity leads her to a nearby tanning salon. She immediately noticed the relaxed attitude of the attending employee. Although the skin type questionnaire offered here does not endorse tanning, the employee shows no concerns about the treatment.

Irene’s hair and beauty salon: After decades of weekly visits to Irene’s salon, the regular customers and the workers know each other very well. This is reflected in the gifts of chocolates, coffee, decorative figures or flyers from a senior citizens’ event, as well as the joint ritual of drinking champagne during their visit. Jana Degebrodt notes that this hairdressing salon is a lively place for social gatherings.

Two types of stores for cosmetic products: a dm drugstore in Berlin-Mitte and a Douglas branch in Berlin-Charlottenburg are visited and compared by Valeria Spirande. The arrangement of the mirrors in the respective shops seems interesting, and with it is the consideration of how often you see your own reflection while shopping. Take a guess: are there more mirrors at Douglas or at the dm? In a salon in Schönhauser Allee, Ina Raterink realizes that a hairdressing salon can be considered amultifarious space for social encounters. Between beauty treatments, the smell of ammoniak and bodywork, the beauty salon therapists and their clients discuss intimate topics ranging from shopping lists to sexuality.

Jasmin Galczyk takes us to a beauty salon on Ku’damm, Berlin’s most famous shopping boulevard. While the shop appears rather inconspicuous from the outside, the interior reveals itself as stylish and graceful. Suddenly, she feels “underdressed”. In his neighborhood in Wedding, Paul Gredig occasionally meets Gan, the Vietnamese owner of a small nail salon. During his field research encounter and in addition to learning much about diligent nail practices, he gets to know more about Gan’s life. There are worthwhile stories lurking around every corner…

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!