Although the word “normal” is fairly banal in and of itself, in the context of beauty it’s loaded. When certain products are labeled for “normal” skin or hair, that implies that any other type of skin or hair—oily, acne-prone, mature, curly, kinky—are “abnormal” and in need of correction. That’s why beauty giant Unilever, parent company to brands like Dove, Suave, and Vaseline, is removing the word “normal” from all of its advertising and packaging.
The action is part of the company’s new Positive Beauty Vision and Strategy, which hopes to “champion a new era of beauty that’s inclusive, equitable, and sustainable.”
“With one billion people using our beauty and personal care products every day, and even more seeing our advertising, our brands have the power to make a real difference to people’s lives,” said Sunny Jain, president of Unilever Beauty & Personal Care in a statement. “As part of this, we are committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes and shaping a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty.”
“We know that removing ‘normal’ from our products and packaging will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward,” Jain continued. “It’s just one of a number of actions we are taking as part of our Positive Beauty vision, which aims not only to do less harm, but more good for both people and the planet.”
According to the brand, this decision was supported by a global study of 10,000 people, where over half revealed they think the beauty and personal care industries can make people feel excluded. For example, 70% of participants agreed that using the word “normal” on product packaging and advertising has a negative impact. For those aged 18 to 35, this increases to 80%, while 63% of people surveyed agreed that removing the word “normal” would inspire them to feel more positive about the way they look.
In addition to removing the word “normal,” from the brands’ vocabulary, Unilever’s personal care brands will no longer use digital alterations like Photoshop to change models’ body shapes, sizes, proportions, or skin color. The company is also committing to increasing the amount of ads “portraying people from diverse, under-represented groups.”
This comes off the tail of the company removing the words fair, fairness, white, whitening, light, and lightening last year. Language can have just as much of an impact on beauty ideals as extended shade ranges and visual marketing. It’ll be interesting to see if other brands follow suit.
Bella Cacciatore is the beauty associate at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @bellacacciatore_.