Unilever is removing the descriptor "normal" from its soaps, shampoos and other personal care brands, saying the word is not "inclusive" and has a "negative effect on people".
The word "normal" is often used to describe what type of skin or hair – such as normal, dry, fine or oily – is recommended for a particular beauty product.
The British-headquartered multinational, which owns brands including Dove, Sunsilk and TRESemmé and sells products in some 190 countries, made the announcement this week that it would be removing the word "normal" from all of its advertising and packaging "all over the world".
Unilever said the change was part of its "Positive Beauty" strategy, "championing a new era of beauty that's inclusive, equitable and sustainable".
Under the new policy, Unilever has also vowed to "end all digital alterations that change a person's body shape, size, proportions or skin colour, and to increase the number of ads portraying people from diverse, under-represented groups".
"We recognise that images portraying a certain kind of beauty affect all of us – men, women, children, and people of all ages and ethnicities," Markus Rehde, general manager of beauty, personal care and homecare at Unilever Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement.
Rehde said with "hundreds of thousands" of Australasians using Unilever's 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".
"As part of this, we are committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes and shaping a broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty," he said.
'On another planet'
Dr Bella d'Abrera from free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs told The Daily Telegraph the move was "ridiculous".
"Being 'normal' and 'ordinary' is not triggering for anyone except for the Unilever marketing department," she told the newspaper.
"By desperately trying to be 'inclusive' Unilever is alienating the majority of its customers who fall into the 'normal' hair category. The folk at Unilever are clearly on another planet and completely out of touch with mainstream Australians who consider themselves normal and ordinary."
The move comes after Unilever last year renamed its Fair & Lovely skin-lightening creams sold across Asia and removed references to "whitening" or "lightening" on the products, after "[recognising] that the use of the words 'fair', 'white' and 'light' suggest a singular ideal of beauty".
Unilever says the decision was based on a survey of 10,000 people across nine countries, which found seven in 10 said the word "normal" on beauty product packaging "has a negative effect on people".
"This figure rises to eight in 10 among 18- to 35-year-olds," Unilever said.
The survey also found 56 per cent of people said the beauty and personal care industry can make people feel excluded, more than 70 per cent said the industry must broaden its definition of beauty, while 60 per cent said the industry "creates a singular ideal of who or what is 'normal', and that made them feel they should look a certain way".
Meanwhile, 74 per cent said they want to see the industry "focusing more on making people feel better rather than just look better", and more than half said there was still work to be done "to better represent people of various body types, people from different age groups, people from different ethnicities and people from the LGBTQIA+ community".
'Important step forward'
"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, global president of beauty and personal care at Unilever, said in a statement.
"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. With more consumers than ever rewarding brands which take action on the social and environmental issues they care about, we believe that Positive Beauty will make us a stronger, and more successful business."
The "Positive Beauty" strategy also includes commitments to gender equity, public health, environmental and animal protection.
Unilever's survey of 10,000 people was conducted in the US, Brazil, UK, Nigeria, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia and China.
Asked whether the company had conducted any similar research in Australia, a spokeswoman said, "Not at this stage."