Normal Litter

Normal Is Doomed and This Might Be Good

Normal is not what it once was. Oxford defines normal as something conforming to a standard – usual, typical, or expected. But this year has upset our collective concept of normalcy. Could it be that normal is doomed? Could that be a good thing?

Of course, the answers to these questions will depend upon context. But marketers are seeing that it might be good to do away with normal in their lexicon. Unilever announced recently that it has a new “positive beauty concept” that will eliminate the word normal for all of its beauty and personal care products. Yes, in packaging and advertising, normal is doomed at Unilever.

Diversity in Beauty and Social Norms

The push for diversity in beauty and social norms is hardly new. In the last decade, the fashion industry discovered diversity – of size, color, gender, and age. It has been very slow to take hold, but the momentum is building. Unilever is not new to this idea. It started in 2004 with the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty.”

This is about more than soap, though. Normal is a cue for describing who is OK and who is marginal. Sociology professor Lisa Wade explains:

“We need to kind of look a little bit at how much work words like ‘normal’ do in our society. 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.”

Google Trends for the Word NormalReorienting Normality

People do seek what is normal – especially this year, when the pandemic has scrambled our thoughts about what is normal and what is not. People are searching the internet for information about what is normal now more than ever.

Certainly we want to regain many things that were normal before this year. People are sorely missing social contact and many related experiences. But we are also ready to leave other definitions of normal behind.

The very essence of systemic racism is that it has long been usual, typical, or expected. In other words, it was embedded in the normal order of things. Now it seems now that we are less tolerant of such normalcy. Everyday sexual harassment and misogyny don’t get a pass anymore either. Just ask the Baptist preacher who told his congregation that women should be some sort of “trophy” for their husbands. He’s now on a leave of absence.

Normal BMI

At one time, a healthy range for BMI (18.5 to 25) was described as normal. Now that 70 percent of women and 75 percent of men in the U.S. have a BMI above 25, this is simply false. Though this fact is not positive for our metabolic health, it’s not a matter of choice. It is the product of dysfunctional food systems, as well as physical and social environments that trigger obesity in more and more susceptible individuals.

Given that most of the population is susceptible to these systems promoting obesity, it is both untrue and unhelpful to label the susceptible individuals as not normal. It only promotes stigma. What should be abnormal are those systems that are systematically undermining our health.

Click here, here, and here to learn more about why normal is likely doomed in beauty and personal care marketing. For perspective on applying social marketing to obesity, click here.

Normal Litter, photograph © Ted Kyle / flickr

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March 11, 2021