How do media influence social norms?

UHH newsletter

More than 70 speakers and participants from five European countries were guests at the University of Hamburg from September 28th to 30th. At the “Body Images - Body Practices” conference they discussed visual and media representations of the body.

Digital media shape body norms

The focus of the conference was on the digital media that promote the representation of bodies and physicality in our society: body images are visually represented, (re) produced, distributed, modified and on platforms such as Instagram, beauty blogs or YouTube channels appropriated. As a result, digital media shape the social and political negotiation of physicality - that is, they create body norms, for example.

Trend: optimizing your own body

At the conference, professor Gerit Götzenbrucker and doctoral student Maria Schreiber from the University of Vienna explained that digital media already set standards on a technical level, because the user interface of software like Instagram determines how images are processed. In this way, “aesthetic knowledge” is created for each medium. This can be seen, for example, in social standards for format, filters or poses.

The scientific staff Dr. Christian Schwarzenegger, Jakob Hörtnagl and Lena Erber from the University of Augsburg showed how Instagram serves as a platform for optimizing and disciplining one's own body. But instead of the promised self-determination, young women would enter new, self-chosen dependencies - namely the pursuit of a given ideal body.

This pursuit of an exemplary, healthy body is largely shaped by beauty apps, says Professor Rosalind Gill from City University in London. It showed the contradictions of current body discourses: body optimization apps are in contrast to "love-your-body" messages from the fashion industry.

Political Dimension of Body Images: Age and Refugees

Body images also influence political discourses. For example, aging bodies are often visualized in journalism and advertising using the “young old” type, explained Professor Martina Thiele and PhD student Helena Attender from the University of Salzburg. This type is used in advertising for sustained youthfulness - in journalism, however, it is often used as a political argument for raising the retirement age.

Images of the body of refugees also have political implications, as Professor Ricarda Drücke from the University of Salzburg demonstrated using photos from the press. A common motif is, for example, a group of men who convey the metaphors of "flood" and "flood". Motives of refugees, whose bodies are only allowed to move within a defined border when the police are guarded, locate the refugees outside rather than within an imagined community of Europe.

The meeting

The joint annual meeting of two specialist groups of the German Society for Media and Communication Studies (DGPuK) was organized by the Institute for Journalism and Communication Studies and supported by the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Hamburg.