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On Dove and “Normal” Skin Colour: A Quick Follow-Up

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s (still, to me, scarily) personal view I posted on here, regarding how Dove’s use of the word ‘normal’ to denote a particular skin tone, made me feel, as a non-white woman: On Why Dove’s Moisturiser for Normal to Dark Skin is Harmful to Self-Esteem.

It’s been a deeply bizarre 48 hours for me, but, after the awesome support on Twitter yesterday from many of you, it looks like Dove have investigated, and released a full statement on the issue, left both in the comments of my post, and in a post on Facebook. It reads:

Dove is committed to representing beauty of all ages, ethnicities, shapes and sizes. We believe in celebrating real beauty and in raising the self-esteem of women and young girls globally.

We found out that our European team was already aware of the mistake regarding labelling on Dove Summer Glow Body Lotion bottles. Many of our lotions focus on moisturization as the key benefit and in some cases we label them “normal to dry skin.” The Dove Summer Glow Body Lotion is a gradual self tanner that also moisturizes. It should have been marked as “fair to medium skin” or “medium to dark skin” depending on the skin type it focuses on. In this case, there was an oversight from our team and we accidently combined the phrases. As soon as our teams in Europe discovered this error, they began the process of relabeling the bottles. These will start appearing on shelf this summer. We are also in the process of correcting the language in our other communication vehicles where possible. As always, we appreciate the feedback and support from our community.

I will not, at this point, make assumptions about the nature of the error – though, as CBC’s Storify report on this issue notes, the UK Website for the product still lists it as ‘Normal to Dark Skin’, as of time of writing. I hope the change to the print is made soon, and the reprinted bottles hit stores sooner rather than later.

I am, however, very appreciative that Dove responded in the way that they did, and with such relative timeliness.

I’ve also been blown away by the messages of support to my last post. I hope I can respond to each one of you soon, because you made an uncomfortable experience far easier than it could have been. Until then, to all of you, thank you. Also, thank you once again to Laura for kicking this off, and campaigning tirelessly to bring this to attention.

While I do feel reassured that Dove has admitted guilt and wrongness by acknowledging that the labelling was a “mistake”and an “oversight”, this still brings the wider issue to the fore: why were there so many who chose to jump to trying to rationalise the use of “normal”? It’s this awful, galling feeling that I am finding difficult to reconcile. It feels, sadly, in many ways, like an empty success. After all, what does it all say about how quick we are to accept such things, even when they are later shown to be wrong?

9 responses to “On Dove and “Normal” Skin Colour: A Quick Follow-Up”

  1. Luke Dicken says:

    I was, for quite a while, one of these rationalising people – particularly when it came to casual/systemic sexism, and especially in games. Without getting too meta in rationalising the rationalisation what I’d like to say is that it’s really easy to ignore and dismiss aspects of an argument because you can’t personally relate on any level. It seems a bit trite to boil it down to a South Park punchline but one of their episode I really think hit the nail on the head – I don’t recall all the ins and outs of it but it wrapped up with Stan realising that he “didn’t get” the impact of racism which was the warm-fuzzy for the episode.

    As white people, or as men (and exponentially more so as a white man) it’s easy to brush stuff aside because we “don’t get it”: “Why are you getting so worked up? They’re not saying that /you/ aren’t normal ffs”. The thing is though that as much as we don’t get it, we also /can’t/ get it. When we try to look at the other side of it we can’t understand why a moisturiser could cause anyone such  trouble. Because to us it would be one isolated thing saying we were different and we’d be more than capable of ignoring one thing. But it’s not one thing, to you it’s yet another thing which I think is the big distinction that gets lost by people who end up rationalising.

    I’m not wanting to make excuses for these people, and this is just my observations and theory but it seems to me that this is effectively the flip side of what you described as being “othered” – our group are “samed” by society and that makes it really difficult to comprehend what being othered feels like, and without that ability to empathise with the experience, there’s this lurch towards rationalisation and dismissal of anything outside our experience.

    Being able to speak openly about this the way you did is the only way we can break down these barriers and understand what is happening and what the roles we’re forced into and the way we’re treated is doing to us as people. It’s the only way we can say “ok, just because it’s not a problem for /you/ doesn’t mean it’s not a problem” and if we can understand that, maybe we can get past rationalising stuff that shouldn’t be let slide.

    Sooo yeah. Rich young white guy sermon on racist attitudes. Gotta love it :P 

    • Mitu says:

      Thanks for posting this, Luke. Yeah, regarding the feeling ‘samed’ by society, and that making it hard to see things from any other perspective, I think it is super important that you speak out, too. This is a good, succinct description of privilege, and what it does to one’s perspective. Obviously, I’ve described how I have felt ‘othered’ in terms of race, and elsewhere I have spoken about gender, too. But there are certain aspects in which I have enormous amounts of privilege – e.g. being straight, cisgendered, privately-educated, and so on. So, I can extend my thinking to try to apply the same to race privilege, and, I can empathise with why it must be difficult for people to stretch their thinking outside their experience. People are prone to being averse to changing their patterns of thinking, their biases. It’s simply easier not to, which is really sad. (And unacceptable, really.)

      Thank you, for your words of encouragement. Like I said, it is so important to speak about one’s process of realisation, going from being blinded by privilege to suddenly ‘getting it’, so that those who are not yet there can see and learn from it. <3

      • FrankleFaike says:

        You were privately educated – that’s about the one bit of privilege I don’t have! Another white, straight, cisgendered, western man here and I want to thank you for speaking out; it’s always scary on the internet to put your name to something relating to race or gender. I grew up in a  town in Scotland where there were no non-white people, I’ve got so much privilege I don’t know where to keep it all – if I can ‘get it’, anyone can.

  2. Lydia Jones says:

    First off, thanks for writing these brilliantly considered, restrained yet incredibly moving piece(s) Mitu. I just wanted to give a little bit of insight into company working practices that struck me as I read both your initial piece and their response. 
    I’ve worked in advertising the best part of a decade so am quite familiar with the process involved in getting packaging or any communication produced and ready for all to see (and buy). The process is pretty much the same in all companies that I’ve experienced, of which I’m sure Unilever doesn’t deviate too far from, which I’ll recount here.

    A piece of advertising (or packaging) takes several months to produce, going from initial concepting stages through rounds and rounds of tweeks, changes, amends, and (more often that not now-a-days) consumer research, and finally sign off from the client. In the journey from idea to TV ad (or poster, or packaging, or whatever) many, many, many people will have seen it and either changed it or approved it. From junior brand managers, to often the CEO. 

    My point is, it’s incredibly telling that at no point during Dove’s Summer Glow production did anyone spot and question putting ‘normal to dark skin’ on their bottle. The very bottle that’s meant to stand for self esteem.  An oversight? Not of one person or a small team, or a job hastily rushed through the system, but of an entire production line. 

    I admit, it took me a second look to realise the ramifications of the labelling and only after Mitu had pointed it out. Would I have got there on my own? I’d like to think that I would have. I hope I would have. But I can’t be sure. And that’s what so troubling.

    • Jem says:

      Echoing this. We do small scale packaging design for clients at work and although none of our clients are as big as Unilever the process is the same. It’s ridiculous that this has slipped through the cracks.

      Kudos to Dove for making amends though.

  3. Dove says:

    Thank you for flagging this. We are in the process of amending the website and other places where the labelling is incorrect. We hope to have this complete in the next few days. 

  4. Claire Bedford says:

    They also have a product for “Normal to fair skin” in the same range. This hasn’t received  so much coverage.

  5. Laura Järvenpää says:

    These two posts were quite interesting but I want to point out something: it’s not only part of western culture to define some skin color as normal. E.g. I has hobby of collecting BJD dolls which are mainly made at Korea, China and Japan and you can select skin color for them for many Korean companies normal skin is kind of pinkish ’cause most of the Koreans (unlike in stereotypes) have pinkish skin but among the Chinise companies normal skin means a bit yelowish skin in japan it’s something in between. Of course some companies are also using words like pink, yellow, tan, white etc. and don’t use the word normal with them. Then there is some companies that use terms “normal pink” and “normal yellow”  (especially at China where common skin color varies from pinkish to yellowish).

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