The beauty and personal-care company Unilever said on Tuesday that it would no longer use the word “normal” on its products and in its advertising, following a study that revealed it makes most people feel excluded.
Unilever, a London-based company that owns Dove, Axe, Sunsilk and Vaseline, among other personal-care brands, also said it would not digitally alter the body shape, size and skin color of models in its advertising as part of its Positive Beauty initiative, according to a news release. And the company promised to increase the number of ads featuring underrepresented people, without specifying which groups.
An aim of these steps and others, Unilever said, was to better “challenge narrow beauty ideals.”
The advertising changes came after the company commissioned a 10,000-person study across nine countries, including Brazil, China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The study found that 56 percent of participants thought that the beauty industry could make people feel excluded, and that as many as seven in 10 people agreed that the word “normal” on products and in advertising had negative effects. That figure rose to eight in 10 for people between the ages of 18 and 35.
Seventy-four percent of participants said they wanted the beauty industry to make them feel better, not just look better.
“We know that removing ‘normal’ from our products and packaging will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward,” Sunny Jain, Unilever’s president of beauty and personal care, said in the statement. Mr. Jain added that the company was committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes.
A spokeswoman for Unilever said on Tuesday that the company had over 200 products that included the word “normal” on the label. She said the company had already started the removal process, with aims to have it fully completed by March 2022.
The changes were long overdue and “completely necessary” after last year’s worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations, said Ateh Jewel, a beauty journalist and an advisory board member of the British Beauty Council, an organization that represents the British beauty industry.
“Saying the word ‘normal’ has been used to set you apart,” Ms. Jewel said. “I am normal. My dark skin is normal. My juicy West African curvy body is normal. Everything about me is normal.”
Products using the term “normal” could make a person feel anything but, she said, adding that its use could be dangerous for a person’s self-esteem and mental health.
Unilever’s decision just “scratches the surface” on what needs to be done more broadly, Ms. Jewel said. She suggested that beauty companies should also focus their attention on recruiting more diverse candidates for seats in the boardroom and for positions in cosmetic labs.
Last summer, in response to the international outrage over the killing of George Floyd, institutional racism and police violence, Unilever was one of several household beauty companies that rushed to declare its opposition to racism. In June, Johnson & Johnson said it would stop selling skin-whitening lotions, including Neutrogena Fine Fairness and Clear Fairness by Clean & Clear. That same month, L’Oreal also said it would stop using words like “whitening” on its products.
At the time, the company, formed in 1930 by the merger of Unie, a Dutch margarine maker, and Lever Brothers, a British soap company, said it would remove the words “fair/fairness, white/whitening, and light/lightening” from product packaging and communications. The company also committed to changing the name of its Fair & Lovely brand, a juggernaut in India that for decades marketed lighter skin as a path to happiness.
“Words are powerful and we’re so used to having this unconscious bias,” Ms. Jewel said. “It just washes over us. We don’t even realize what we’re saying because we’ve been spoon-fed racism.”
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