Digital Weight-Loss: The Mechanisms of the Construction of Beauty in the Russian-Speaking Weight-Loss Online Communities

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:55
Location: Hörsaal I (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Aleksei BLOKHIN, Saint Petersburg State Univeristy, Russia
We look at the online communities dedicated to beauty-treatment and losing weight in the Russian-speaking part of the Internet in order to determine the ways beauty is constructed in Russia. Using the netnography method, we find that the weight-loss discourse is the focal point of the majority of discourses about beauty: women in Russia have to be thin in order to be considered beautiful. We analyze the way beauty is produced and constructed in these digital communities via the forms of sociality they produce and the structure they possess.

New forms of sociality exist in these communities (liking and reposting photos and diets, commenting, advising and criticizing other members’ bodies, posting photos online for others to admire and to criticize, and finding persons to lose weight together). This sociality produces its heroes (those who successfully lost weight), identities (beautiful, thin, ugly, fat), forms of moral courage and bravery (losing weight, engaging in fitness activities). This sociality is riddled with inequality and lookism, separating women with different types of bodies and labeling them as “good” or “bad”.

The reproduction of the aforementioned forms of sociality is controlled by the members of the group itself. The community does not have a high degree of hierarchy; the authority is dispersed among the community members. The difference between the private and the public is blended. Thus, these communities can be conceptualized as “bunds”, a term introduced by Herman Schmalenbach.

The bund structure allows the “beauty myth” to exist. Becoming a member of such community is an act of the free will, but it conceals the existence of the repressing beauty myth which is not a matter of choice; the myth forces women to be beautiful by losing weight. The popularity of the aforementioned online communities shows the proliferation of the beauty myth in Russia.