I’ve had plenty of conversations with other beauty industry professionals about this topic before: What does “normal” mean as it refers to skin type? What does “normal” mean as it refers to body type? No one has the right answer because there isn’t one. And Unilever is putting its collective foot down on the matter, making a big and important statement today that it will eliminate the word “normal” from all of its beauty and personal-care brands’ packaging and advertising, globally. Some of those you may know well are Dove, Simple, Love Beauty and Planet, and Pond’s, though there are many others.
Born out of the results of a global study conducted by Unilever (more on that below), the decision to remove the word from brand lingo is part of the company’s new Positive Vision and strategy, which champions equality and inclusivity, as well as sustainability. According to Unilever, the 10,000-participant study revealed that more than half of people think the beauty and personal-care industries can make people feel excluded. Seven in 10 people agreed that using the word “normal” on product packaging and advertising has a negative impact, especially for people ages 18 to 35.
A whopping 74 percent of people surveyed stated that the industry must advocate for “a broader definition of beauty,” and six in 10 people agreed that “the beauty industry creates a singular notion of who or what is ‘normal.'” The majority said they would feel more positive and inspired about their looks if the word was removed from messaging, and that the industry still has a lot of work to do “to better represent people of various body types, people from different age groups, people from different ethnicities and people from the LGBTQIA+ community.”
“Unfortunately, ‘normal’ has been used for a long time in the beauty industry to create a standard that only applies to a narrow group and describes products that don’t address specific needs,” says Esi Eggleston Bracey, EVP & COO, North America, Beauty and Personal Care at Unilever. “This is problematic because anyone outside this range of needs then becomes ‘abnormal.’ And that shouldn’t be the case. We reviewed and counted over 200 products that include it on the product label, saying ‘for normal skin’ or ‘for normal hair,’ for instance. We have also identified several hundred items of brand communications which feature the word ‘normal,’ which we will not be using going forward. So far, we have made the most progress with our hair products where we have either removed ‘normal’ or repositioned and replaced it with descriptions that highlight the benefit of the product. We want to communicate what a product does—not who it is for—without the manufactured description of ‘normal.’ For example, we’ll explain that a product will replenish moisture or help to meet specific needs.”
In addition to reshaping the language, Unilever beauty and personal-care brands are also “committing to end all digital alterations that change a person’s body shape, size, proportions or skin color, and to increase the number of ads portraying people from diverse, under-represented groups.” These are lots of important steps in the right direction, and we’re all for it.
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