For decades, the beauty industry has helped shape the narrative around femininity and played a major role in the evolution of consumerism and gender norms as they exist today—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
But, one mom is painting a new narrative around beauty, and the beholder, using the brushstrokes of self-love, radical inclusivity, mindfulness and interdependent wellness to pave the way for kindness-driven capitalism in the beauty industry. And while Jennifer Norman has faced much adversity as a single working mother raising a mixed-raced and severely disabled son, she has also seen time and time again the transformative power of love and compassion. This ‘heart’ is the cornerstone of The Human Beauty Movement, PBC, a company Jennifer founded to create and support initiatives that foster radical inclusivity and wellness in the beauty industry.
I sat down with Jennifer to learn more about the story behind The Human Beauty Movement and to talk professional triumphs, personal challenges and lessons learned from navigating life as a ‘Modern Mom.’
It seems like many beauty brands have shifted their overall messaging and marketing campaigns in the past couple of years. As an industry veteran, what have you noticed?
I spent over 20 years as a career executive with some of the most well-known brands in the beauty industry. I know all the tricks, and I’ve played a part in its evolution. The industry has come a long way in terms of waking up to positive social change. Real beauty, body positivity, gender fluidity and functional aspects like clean ingredients, sourcing transparency and waste reduction are great steps forward. But there is still so much work that is needed to clean up that damage that’s been done.
What is some of that ‘damage’ you mentioned?
Racial intolerance and classism are big issues today that the beauty industry needs to help eradicate. Too many people still feel marginalized, underrepresented, prejudiced and discriminated against. Also, too many products still contain harmful ingredients, and too many natural resources are still wasted in production. I believe we can, and must, do better.
It sounds like your company is helping to do ‘better.’ What was the main inspiration for it?
I was inspired to start a company that did things differently. Rather than ‘growth at any cost’ or feeding into the product-centric madness of ‘new-hot-now’, I wanted to do my part to enhance social and environmental sustainability and ultimately make the world a better place. That’s why I incorporated my company as a PBC (a public benefit company) and it recently became B Corporation Certified. I want to hold myself and my business accountable to serving the greater good, not short-term gains. I want the Humanist Beauty brand to represent how a beauty brand can be a real force for good. My goal is to turn the face of beauty inside-out so it truly serves all people and our planet. I want to put an end to the marketing manipulation that erodes people’s self-esteem, triggers obsessive purchasing behavior and results in so much wastefulness—and focus instead on being the voice of kindness, compassion, self-love and inclusivity in the beauty industry. For example, our first initiative is an amazing ‘all skins welcome’ holistic skincare brand called Humanist Beauty.
I know your multi-cultural upbringing and challenges with your son have both been a big part of ‘your why’ for what you do today. What has been a big challenge for you, and how did you overcome it?
I was adopted from South Korea as a child and was raised by a white family in the white suburbs of Long Island, NY. Because of that experience, I always felt strangely out of place, searching for identity in magazines and on TV but never quite finding it. Fast forward many years, I gave birth to a beautiful mixed-race son who brought meaning and purpose to my life. He is ½ Asian, ¼ Black and ¼ Puerto Rican. On top of that, he was stricken with chronic illness, is severely disabled and lives on life support. Balancing work with my son’s critical care needs as a single mom has led to borderline exhaustion and at times feelings of complete hopelessness. I learned that I can’t do it alone, and I didn’t have to do it alone if I had the courage and humility to seek and ask for help when I needed it. Being on the receiving end of so much love and compassion in the midst of really hard times was the internal ember I needed to warm up, carry on, and ignite my life’s mission to foster radical inclusion and wellness in everything I do.
Why would you consider yourself a ‘Modern Mom’?
I’m a single working mom that’s just launched a brand-new beauty business at the age of 50. Modern moms have the weight of the world and their kids and their careers and their homes and their extended families on their shoulders, and they are somehow expected to stay sane, sexy, sweet and stylish while juggling it all. And now with COVID, many of us have become homeschool teachers, too. Thank goodness there is wine.
If your son could remember only one thing about you being a mom with a thriving career, what would you want him to know?
I would want him to know that he is and always will be the most important person in my life and my life is dedicated to him. Nothing else holds a candle.
What is your biggest piece of advice to other moms who want to shift from corporate to entrepreneurship and pursue their dreams?
If you want to do it, just do it. Do not doubt yourself for a moment. You are capable, you are powerful, you are the master of your life – no one else is. And always look for ways to contribute to others or to the planet. My favorite quote is from Pablo Picasso: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
Learn more about Jennifer and the beauty movement she started at humanistbeauty.com.