What is “normal”?

Classic Hits (97.4FM in Auckland, New Zealand) has been playing an ad proudly announcing their demographic lately. Apparently they have been voted number 1 amongst women aged 25 to 45 (or something quite similar, I’m really quite bad with numbers). Which is not really a surprise when you consider the type of music and commentary that happens on that station. Don’t get me wrong, as a 31 year old woman, I do listen to Classic Hits, even if I cringe that our “high school hits” are now “classic”! And yes, there are those amongst my friends who still deride me for this choice, stubbornly hanging onto their youth and listening to ZM or such like.

However, what I wanted to comment on was a recent post of theirs on Facebook (which I can’t find now, don’t know if it’s been removed or just that I have bad searching skills… oh well) about “normal” sized mannequins. It came about because one of the presenters (or producers or social media people) posted about the Swedish mannequins that are apparently “normal” or “real” sized. (The Daily Mail article is one that comes up quite quickly on a Google search)

Most of the internet commentary seems to use “real” sized, whereas the radio presenters were using “normal” and then asking “what is the average size” amongst their listeners. As a budding sociology student, I understand about the human need for in-groups and out-groups and how we want to group ourselves regardless of whether the criteria for grouping is real or just perceived, but this is obviously something that gets people quite riled up.

The “average” size could be considered a fair assumption of “normal” in this case. After all, if it is the average, surely that means that the majority of the population are of that size. Then the maths wizzes amongst us will inevitably bring up a list of numbers, find their average and of course none of the figures we just “averaged” is actually that figure (no i’m not going to get an example, I’m sure you can work it out ;-)) but the point is, that with something like dress sizes, this does still work, even if you have a group of size 14s and another group of size 10s the “average” is somewhere in the middle, a size 12 for example, even if no one in your group is a size 12. So I guess the idea is that making the mannequin that size in the middle is the “closest” to your population, whereas the original method of making every mannequin a size 6 or less is just insulting to the majority of your population.

Of course it goes further than that, when considering the human population. We’re now encouraged not to use the word “normal” when it comes to mentally based disorders, (or rather, lack thereof) the preferred term is neurotypical. I can see why this is preferred, it’s not presuming that those that aren’t neurotypical aren’t “normal” – but really, what have we done, we’ve merely substituted another word, now we’re saying they aren’t “typical” which to me is just as bad.

The obvious solution here is to remove that need to label. Why must we group people into artificial groupings based on perceived differences. All that does is cause conflict between those that are perceived to be different to others… when in actual fact we are all human, just a collection of DNA in a certain combination.