What’s “normal”? Unilever decides to stop using the word.

Kimberly Adams Mar 9, 2021
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
Black and brown women have often been told that their hair and skin are not "normal." Will Unilever's eliminating the term make a difference? GlobalStock/Getty Images

What’s “normal”? Unilever decides to stop using the word.

Kimberly Adams Mar 9, 2021
Heard on:
Black and brown women have often been told that their hair and skin are not "normal." Will Unilever's eliminating the term make a difference? GlobalStock/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Unilever is one of those massive conglomerates that make a massive range of products, from tea and ice cream to laundry detergent, shampoo and toothpaste.

Tuesday the company said it’s making changes to some of its beauty and personal care brands, including Dove, Axe and Vaseline — eliminating the word “normal” from product descriptions.

When a shampoo or face wash is labeled as being for “normal” hair or skin, it’s sending a subtle message, according to Lisa Wade, who teaches sociology and gender studies at Tulane. “We need to kind of look a little bit at how much work words like ‘normal’ do in our society,” she said.

It implicitly sets the standard of what’s OK or acceptable or professional.

And, Wade said, “in a beauty industry, it’s quite often racialized. And we see it around both products for hair and products for skin. It’s been very typical to describe our bodies as normal or not.”

A company as big as Unilever, with its 400 brands, is powerful enough to shape how consumers see themselves, said marketer Steven Jumper at the Ghost Note creative agency.

“For decades, Black and brown consumers across the world, going into their local grocery store or convenience store and seeing products titled ‘normal,’ and don’t align with what they look like,” he said.

Jumper said Unilever and other big consumer brands that are making similar announcements are doing it because they have to. “I think quite honestly it’s because the consumer has changed, right? Particularly Black and brown consumers, not only in America but across the world, are now demanding more.”

Unilever also said it won’t digitally alter someone’s skin color or body shape in ads.

“Unilever’s action is going to pull in many of the other brands in the segments in which they compete, and actually, quite honestly, beyond just those segments,” said Greg Portell, lead partner in the global consumer practice at Kearney.

Because now everyone is talking about just who and what we mean when we say “normal.”

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.