Why It’s So Important That Unilever Is Banning the Word ‘Normal’ from Its Products

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It might be so small a change you don’t immediately notice it when browsing the beauty aisle, but it has the potential to have a huge impact: brands like Dove, Simple, and St. Ives will no longer use the word ‘normal’ in advertising and packaging.

This comes as part of Unilever’s new push for inclusivity. “We are committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes and shaping a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty,” says Sunny Jain, president of Unilever Beauty & Personal Care.

‘Normal’ might seem like an innocuous word, but it can have a wider impact and may imply other products aren’t normal. So if you need something that caters to specific needs, like acne or eczema, the labeling may lead someone to believe there’s something wrong or abnormal about them to need such an item.

This kind of language has the potential to harm an individual’s body image and mental health. In Unilever’s survey of 10,000 people across nine countries, seven in 10 people said the word ‘normal’ on beauty products can have a ‘negative effect’. Millennials and Gen Z are even more affected by the word, with the number rising to eight in 10.

It begs the question: who gets to decide what is normal and what isn’t? Who’s to say acne, rosacea, dry hair, dandruff or any other conditions aren’t standard?

Beauty is intensely personal – everyone has different skin and hair types – so it’s almost impossible to quantify what ‘normal’ is anyway. Something as simple as removing a word on packaging helps refute the idea that there is an ‘ideal’ hair, skin, or body type.

There’s obviously an appetite for more inclusive beauty brands, with more than seven in 10 people surveyed by Unilever saying: “The beauty and personal care industry must broaden its definition of beauty.”

Just look at the success of Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin. Rihanna has brilliantly disrupted and opened up the industry by catering to a wide range of skin tones, as well as making her skincare line gender-neutral. Her products have been wildly successful, and the accompanying advertising campaigns can be seen as a triumph of inclusivity.

 

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Getting rid of ‘normal’ isn’t the only major change happening at Unilever. The conglomerate is 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”.

Digital alterations on social media and in advertising can warp our perceptions of what real people look like, which can have a knock-on effect on our mental health. In a study done by the Mental Health Foundation, just over a third of the adults surveyed reported feeling anxious or depressed because of their body image, and 22% of adults and 40% of teenagers said “images on social media caused them to worry about their body image”.

It’s clear the industry has a long way to go – representation and inclusivity in advertising might be improving, but it doesn’t yet reflect the world we live in – but these changes at Unilever are certainly a step in the right direction.

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