Hulisani Ravele wants to banish the word 'normal' from the beauty dictionary

'The word seems like such a little thing, but it's not,' says the media personality, who believes brands need to do more to support the positive beauty movement

25 April 2021 - 00:01 By Sbu Mkwanazi
Hulisani Ravele is a woman on a mission.
Hulisani Ravele is a woman on a mission.
Image: Supplied

What is normal? Who determines what that term represents? The word has been part of the fashion, beauty and skin-care industry for decades, but the industry is finally starting to realise that the "normal" is alienating for people who don't conform to its "one size fits all" precepts.

Think of your shampoo, makeup, body lotion and other beauty products — the word "normal" is used to describe the person using those products. What if you don't fall into that category of "normal"?

The positive beauty movement is trying to do away with the narrow characteristics "normal" usually describes.

Various global research initiatives, like Unilever's 10,000-person study of people's experiences of the beauty industry, reveals what most of us already suspected: many groups feel inadequate or marginalised by the impossible standards of beauty endorsed by the cosmetics industry. Only a specific kind of person is chosen as a model to sell products.

Media personality Hulisani Ravele is not usually described as normal. She's a black woman with conspicuous freckles on her face. Her looks are nothing like the traditional take on people with freckles, like the Swedish fictional character Pippi Longstocking, or Annie, the famed orphan. Ravele is in the same company as fellow fabulously freckled South Africans, model Noni Gasa and fashion stylist Felipe Mazibuko.

"As young, black South African women, we navigate so many different spaces, going through a time of learning and unlearning. This includes finding our places in corporates, business and in our families. Being a woman also means that it matters how we perceive ourselves," she says.

"For many years, as black women, we've been excluded from being represented on products and in adverts. If we want to change societal norms, we need to promote positive beauty by broadening the spectrum of what the definition of beauty is," adds the 33-year-old AFDA Media School graduate.


The positive beauty movement is about accepting that people are beautiful in their own way, whether they're dark or light in complexion, skinny or big-boned or differently-abled. Everyone has something to offer. The acceptance of lots of different-looking people has been missing in the beauty industry for a long time, emphasised by the use in the industry of the word "normal".

The word seems like such a little thing, but it's not. It's what 'normal' represents and doesn't represent
Hulisani Ravele

"This word immediately instils in my mind the opposite — abnormal. It means everyone else looks wrong, is looked down on and considered strange. The word seems like such a little thing, but it's not. It's what 'normal' represents and doesn't represent. I don't look like the person that most products were made for," says Ravele.

It's 2021 and we're not as progressive as we'd like to think we are. Men still make most of the decisions in the beauty and personal care industry. According to the 2020 Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index Report, 41% of the 3,000 largest companies in the UShave only one woman on their boards, and most have none at all.

"The beauty industry is at a tipping point. I don't dismiss the positive strides that have been made, but more can be done by beauty brands. Campaigns shouldn't be limited to Women's Month. These efforts should be ongoing, intentional and conscientious conversations. Changes implemented must ensure that the industry is inclusive of everyone from all walks of life," she asserts.

The survey also highlighted that the beauty and personal care industry has a way to go. Approximately 77% of the respondents want more representation of various body types, 75% demand more people from varying ethnicities and 61% demand that people from the LGBTQIA+ community need to form part of the industry.


Unfortunately, there are still beauty brands that digitally alter a person's body shape, size and skin tone in advertisements — an industry practice that is harmful to millions of people.

"One of my dreams is to be on a magazine cover that isn't touched up, breaking the stereotypes of what beauty looks like. Beauty is not perfection! It's self-appreciation and self-validation. It is being able to accept the features that you don't like about yourself," she says.


Unilever is adopting a clearer mission surrounding inclusive beauty standards across all its beauty and personal care brands’ packaging and advertising globally. As part of its positive beauty strategy, the manufacturer is eliminating the word “normal” from its beauty and personal care brands’ packaging and advertising.

"In primary school, one of the kids said that the reason I have freckles is because God took a sieve and dusted bird poo on my face. And then there was the hair issue. If my hair wasn't relaxed and in a ponytail, I was seen as scruffy and not beautiful. I used chemicals to relax my hair. There were times when the treatment would burn my scalp, but I wanted my hair to be straight! Even at home they'd insist I couldn't go to school if my hair wasn't relaxed," she says.

The beauty industry should embrace positive beauty for future generations - not yet affected by being told that they're either too dark or too light, too fat or too skinny - and not beautiful enough to love themselves, leading to self-loathing and in some cases even suicide.

"I want to live in a world in which my future kids feel secure about who they are. I already see, with one of my teenage nieces, that she takes so many photos of herself, then filters them intensely to portray a certain image of herself. I want all kids to know … that they are not meant to look like anyone else - they are worthy of self-love," says Ravele.

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