Unilever is forcibly changing the definition of beauty
For countless generations we have suffered, but now the day of liberation is at hand!
The master of all our fates — Unilever plc — has announced that it will be removing the word ‘normal’ from its beauty products.
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Apparently it makes people feel excluded. However, a change of labels won’t change the fact that the beauty industry is all about norms and ideals.
The company talks about reflecting a “broader definition of beauty”, but what does this actually mean? Here’s the marketing material:
Not discriminating against models because they’re not white is obviously a good thing. But this doesn’t broaden the definition of beauty anymore than not discriminating against non-white accountants broadens the definition of accountancy. All it means is that the industries involved aren’t as racist as they used to be.
Beauty — in the skin-deep sense — will remain inextricably linked to pre-existing signifiers of reproductive fitness. As such it is inherently exclusive, because most of us are rather less than perfect.
The beauty and fashion industries may make a performance of using non-stereotypical models, but we know full well that most models will continue to be young, slender, tall and able-bodied. Furthermore, just about all of them will be identifiably male or female — indeed ideally masculine or feminine.
The promise to minimise the use of digital alteration might seem to be a good thing. After all what could be more exclusive than a standard of beauty that isn’t physically achievable? Except that if Photoshop isn’t doing the heavy lifting then the burden shifts back to the model, the make-up artist, the hair dresser, the tanning salon, the fitness instructor and the dietician. What models go through to make the most of their looks is actually less realistic for most of us than editing an image on a mobile phone.
Even if broadening the definition of beauty were possible, would it make it any less exclusive? If anything it would mean that those left on the outside feel even worse about themselves. It’s one thing not to attain a fantastical ideal, but another to see beauty all around you and still not make the grade.
But then it’s in the interests of the beauty industry to make us feel that way. If the images they promote seem to be within reach, then everyone comes under greater pressure to make the effort and buy the product.
Unless, that is, the backlash against unrealistic beauty standards snowballs into a taboo against all beauty standards. Wokeness doesn’t stay still, it is constantly pushing forward the frontiers of victimhood. How long before tolerance runs out for any business that seeks to change the way that people look?