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‘People’ Choosing Julia Roberts as ‘Most Beautiful’ is Less Interesting Than the Response

I mean, the gifs are really good

04.19.17
(by LOIC VENANCE/AFP via Getty Images)

This morning, People announced that the 2017 winner of their long-standing “The World’s Most Beautiful Woman” title would be Pretty Woman’s Julia Roberts. That was the peg: Pretty Woman. As in, the film that came out 27 years ago, whose first-time theater viewers are now 40+. Two true things: Roberts is gorgeous (a dream, really) and this choice feels like a #tbt in cover form, and not just because she’s been around for a while.

“The stunning star is, for a record fifth time, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World – though she can hardly believe it,” reports People. “‘I am very flattered,’ she tells People’s editor-in-chief Jess Cagle in this week’s cover story.”

Roberts is 49. That’s cool — it’s nice to see what many women consider “the invisible decade” highlighted. And this cover will probably sell a lot of magazines. I mean, that smile. That glow! Less cool — and so obvious — is its blatant enforcement of and praise for a particular, narrow beauty standard. I guess it goes without saying that a “most beautiful” contest feels almost comically presumptuous and out of place in today’s conversations around beauty. To argue that it should have been someone else would probably just be missing the point. More interesting than trying to ascertain the motive behind People’s choice is the internet’s reaction it. Gone are the days of these decisions ending in a mailed subscriber/magazine stand vacuum. Today, they echo immediately, and in this case, the resulting back-and-forth delivered.

Here are some of the first reactions to People’s tweet, expressed via gif:

The choice’s déjà vu nature doesn’t seem to be lost on anyone:

And my personal favorite:

It’s not that images or designations like this have no power — they do, representation matters — it’s that, this time, the conversation is pivoting more around head-shaking and eye-rolling than anything else. The internet’s seeming desire to laugh this the fuck off says something about the relevance of this weird little beauty pageant. And, perhaps more importantly, my spending more time looking at gifs on Twitter about it than reading the article itself hints that across the board, these conversations are more in the hands of consumers than they’ve ever been. A story doesn’t just end at the final sentence on a page anymore. The reactions are becoming an equal playing part within the larger narrative. So we’ll watch as more reactions come in today, but something tells me this won’t stay top-of-mind for long. And in the context of this outdated competition, I’m not complaining.

How do you feel about it?

Photo by LOIC VENANCE/AFP/ via Getty Images.

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  • PCE

    I have a hard time reconciling a person’s reaction of disbelief and dismay at the choice with not putting Julia Roberts down for the way she looks. I see the point that she’s a tall, thin white woman with sparkly teeth and a megawatt smile, and she fits that “narrow idea” of what beautiful is and hey shouldn’t we be showcasing more diverse women who are just as beautiful? Sure. But this is what she looks like, and I feel like a lot of the memes are kind of knocking her for it. Plus, it’s like they’re putting women against each other – like, “Janelle Monae is 10x more beautiful than her!” Janelle Monae is stunning, beautiful, a sight to behold really… but does it do ANY of us good to go around measuring out who is more beautiful than the other? Frankly, I think the solution is to cut the “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” award out entirely! Have a Beautiful People issue if you want, and showcase ALL kinds of beauty! Lupita! Julia! Christina Hendrickson! All colors, shapes and sizes. THATS what 2017 should be.

    • Haley Nahman

      Totally agree! Or what if they redefined beauty to highlight people who make the world a better place?! It’s crazy they haven’t rethought this whole award, it’s sooooooo outdated.

      • Nicole

        “redefined beauty to highlight people who make the world a better place” yes! yes! yes!

      • BarbieBush

        Who is buying people though? like actually having a subscription that comes in paper! to the house! They are selling this to people who want to see julia roberts on the cover.

    • Holly_Wight

      I think it’s more like: There are billions of people on Earth, and the likelihood that Julia Roberts would be “the most beautiful” out of every beautiful celebrity (let alone non-celebrities) FIVE TIMES is ridiculous. It doesn’t take any effort to look around and find a dozen people who are more spectacular-looking than Julia Roberts. Cripes, it’s Hollywood. Close your eyes and throw a dart.

  • Christina

    I think this is a reflection of the fact that their readership is also aging (and… is white).

  • This is pretty off-point but I find it interesting that they’re including stars without make-up in their “52 pages of beauties” (compared to a typical collection of awful paparazzi shots of celebs without makeup labeled, like, “gross”.) Score for feminism, you think? Or just being trendy?

    • Amy Brumbpo Tungus

      Just trying to water down the fact they’re still out there judging people on their looks, I think… “less superficial” lmao

      • Bo

        Yep I feel it

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    I literally rolled my eyes when I read that she was the choice. It’s like People Magazine is stuck in some kind of time warp. And not only that but it shows how closely aligned with Hollywood it is. Actors’ publicists leak them stores and give them free press. They have no credibility and now are proving that they are utterly irrelevant as well. There are a MILLION more interesting picks that could have been made. Not to mention that it’s just soooo WHITE. Seriously. Their demographic are suburban middle aged white people and this choice reflects that. There have only been TWO black women picked for this issue and ONE Latina. That speaks volumes. There is simply no diversity in their choices. And let’s not even talk about the fact that most of these women are THIN and TALL.

    • ESW

      I think it is all about who their readership is? Middle aged white women, or older? I am not completely convinced, which is why I am using a bunch of question marks, but that is my thought.

      • Tonja

        I agree with your thought ESW, they (PEOPLE) are not targeting a diversity of audiences. Poll 100 white women; 100 white men; 100 black women; 100 black men; 100 latino men/women, etc….. that’s running a fair “poll”.

    • Halle Berry, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Lupita Nyong’O. And none have repeat covers compared to Julia’s FIVE. FIVE!!

      • ValiantlyVarnished

        That’s more than I remembered lol. But the fact that they can even be counted on one hand after over 20 years is appalling.

        • Yeah, add it to the pile of Pepsi-United-Nivea snafu’s. I just don’t understand how things like this make it around the table these days. When Julia has already had *four* covers, don’t you think you could maybe just give Beyonce a *second* one if you really can’t think of anyone else??! And apparently Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson don’t exist?!

      • Tonja

        And clearly, thebrightblush.com, all of the names above are far more attractive than Julia Roberts.

  • Snare Drumm

    How about ending this ridiculous charade in this day and age – MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN in a world of 10 billion women is like determining what the most comfortable chair is in a sea of chairs. This b.s. should be shunned – and stop shoving your STANDARDS of beauty down people’s throats with a big glossy photoshopped cover of a washed up celebrity. All women are beautiful. Now shove it up yo ass

    • Bo

      Great point, (Would legit love a most comfortable chair competition though)

      • jdhammer

        except would you have to keep getting up over and over again? Drag.

        • Bo

          What if it was like a 10-year long project where a group of individuals lived their daily lives and at the end of each day had a different chair to flop into after getting home from work. Mind you, it would need to be a controlled environment so the test subjects wouldn’t let outside impacts of their lives warp their perception of comfort and thus negatively impact their reviews of each chair…what if you took a bunch of babies and raised them all in a closed society for years so they all had the same lived experience by the time testing rolls around?

          • jdhammer

            Why not! No shortage of babies! Would have to control for individual preferences and anatomies. We could do a bracket approach to the testing to eliminate the NOT comfortable, moving our subjects through smaller and smaller pools of chairs.
            I bet that’s what people did.

          • Bo

            Definitely DEFINITELY

            (we aren’t crazy)

    • lateshift

      sure – and I’d go one step further: no, not all women are “beautiful” – just like not all singers are good, not all runners are fast, etc – but IT. DOESN’T. MATTER. If I’ve got hairy moles over my entire body and a giant horn growing out of my forehead, I honestly don’t need someone to tell me they think I’m attractive, which would probably be a lie anyway…. I need them to give me and my opinions the same level of respect they would offer to someone they actually did find attractive.

      The monkey brain crutch is used way too often as a convenient excuse to explain cultural phenomena (ahem, male infidelity, ahem) – but the fact is, as mammals, there are certain things most of us WON’T subconsciously find “beautiful,” no matter how much we try to reprogram our brains…say, acne outbreaks or eczema or whatever. But for the love of mike, why do we care?? To say all women are beautiful implies that beauty is a thing all women SHOULD possess, and saying that a woman isn’t beautiful is an insult. Hell to the no, it isn’t – I’m not “beautiful”…but in terms of life goals, forcing other people to tell me I am is way, waaaaay down the priority list.

      (I feel like someone else here recently wrote a great post that made a similar point, but I can’t seem to find it)

  • Teresa

    But on that same thread, it’s pretty unique that People picked a 49 year old woman as the Most Beautiful Woman. Beauty isn’t only restricted to the young!

    • Holly_Wight

      If they wanted to pick someone older, there are probably about 100 more attractive women over 50 in Hollywood, starting with Angela Bassett and Salma Hayek.

      • Bo

        WAIT Salma Hayek is over 50?!!

        • Tonja

          She’s still beautiful. Julia Roberts is 49…..uhm difference between 49 & 50? Halle Berry is 50 or 51 and she is far prettier than Julia Roberts

          • Bo

            I never said she wasn’t beautiful, I just had no idea she’d reached the half-century already and was surprised

      • Tonja

        Absolutely!

    • JudeLawGuardian

      Thank you–my point exactly!

  • Does anyone know off the top of their head how many WOC have been chosen? Just curious.

    • Jennifer Lopez, Lupita Nyong’O, Beyonce, Halle Berry ……. I honestly think that’s it. And I don’t think any of them have repeated.

  • These covers are always so frustrating because they feel like such setbacks. Lupita Nyong’O took the cover in 2014, but then Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston, and now Julia have taken it since. I get that they’re going for someone iconic and not in the Millennial category (not People’s readership), but a repeat of Beyonce would’ve been so much better. SO much better. My first thoughts went to Taraji P. Henson. She’s in People’s age category, she’s a megawatt star, and she’s got Oscar movie cred. She would’ve ticked all the boxes AND she’s a WOC. But nope.

  • Holly_Wight

    She shouldn’t have gotten it the other 4 times.

  • Ashley Steenson

    Expecting depth from People is like going to McDonald’s for health food.

  • Áine Hegarty

    Declaring someone the world’s most beautiful person actually makes me laugh, especially when People magazine is the authority on the choice. What does “world’s most beautiful person” even mean? It’s just a title that couldn’t hold any less weight because it has no real meaning. But for the implications it does have, it can’t do much besides make literally everyone else feel bad. This is such a superlative society! Why best, most, greatest, etc, etc?

  • Ava Margaret

    Is anyone else troubled that People’s major rational for choosing Roberts is the way in which she has miraculously stayed “young?” While its great that People has chosen a 49 year old woman to be their “most beautiful woman,” its reason of doing so is trite- as if only those who look “young” are considered beautiful. I think this begs a bigger question… why is beauty still an ageist construct in our modern society?

  • alansa

    But we all think People is irrelevant anyways, right? Ignoring for a moment the absurdity of the title in the first place, what’s the harm in the company pandering to their own readers assumed aesthetics? Just as much as People’s primary readers and leadership are white and aging, myself and my fellow PoC friends have our own choice media whose opinion is much more relevant and meaningful to us. On one hand we brand the magazine as outdated, and on the other we feel it is our right to control and criticize it?

  • snakehissken

    For many, many years, I have completely rejected the notion of anyone as “Most Beautiful” and also that it’s definitely a celebrity with no chance that it’s like… a particularly lovely fruit seller at a village market no one in Hollywood has ever thought to visit. It’s just asinine.

    And repeated covers? Let’s say someone wins in 2021 and then 2024. What’s the implication, that they had bad hair in the intervening years and couldn’t cut the mustard anymore?

    • Bo

      Lol that’s probably literally the defining factor in their decision though. “Ugh no her hair has been so lame, she doesn’t deserve it this year. Make her work for it.” That’s how legitimately arbitrary their process is, I’m willing to bet the entirety of my precious precious house deposit on it.

  • jdhammer

    Should been Chrissy Tiegen. She gives me hope that there’s a divine creator

    • Tonja

      If they give Chrissy Tiegen that title, I would never ever touch another People magazine. Only my opinion but I don’t think she’s attractive at all. I don’t even think she has a body to be a “model”…..still trying to figure out how she got a modeling opportunity

  • Lyric

    They might as well call it “People’s Most Thirsty Publicist”

  • jess

    The memes are just as bad as what they’re criticising People for. I’m sure, like all of us, Julia has her own insecurities. She may not believe she’s beautiful all the time. These responses come off as childish and petty. Diversity is incredibly important and it’s most definitely a valid criticism of People’s choice. The entire idea that her outward beauty is what they’re questioning misses the point of beauty itself. But the memes and gifs are not helpful or inspiring any sort of reasonable discourse. They’re just bitchy.

    • JudeLawGuardian

      THANK YOU. 🙏🏼

  • pamb

    What is the average age of the People reader? What is the ethnicity of the average People reader? As a middle aged White woman, I feel confident in saying the answers are: middle aged White woman. They know their base, and they play to it.

    Are the millennial buying People magazine? No. Are the millennials going on People.com? no. So why would People cater to them?

    Yes, they should be more open, and I’ll bet inside the magazine (emphasis on ‘inside’) there are more contemporary choices. But why are you wasting your time arguing with middle aged White women?

    And I say this as someone who rolled their eyes at their predictable choice. People’s Most Beautiful is no higher than a People’s Choice Award, and everyone knows it.

    • A Local Honey

      You’re right, Panm. That was my initial reaction to it, as well. “White women for white women.”
      I did chuckle when I visited the People website this afternoon and they had a “People’s Most Influential” list that they teed up with two names: John Legend and Viola Davis. Sorry People…you’re flailing.

  • Jeanie

    I think they should just retire the whole “most beautiful” bullshit. Who made Times the voice of beauty? It’s absolutely meaningless and has no place in the world of embracing body positivity.

  • JudeLawGuardian

    Love it–love her. One of my all-time favorites forever. Good for her–you go girl! Nice to see a woman almost 50 as Most Beautiful!!!

  • Tonja

    Not to say that Julia Roberts isn’t ok; however, it’s just my opinion, Julia Roberts is not attractive to me. My opinion (ONLY), I think Halle Berry is beautiful, Lupita Nyung’o, Kim Kardashian (no matter what people think of her, she’s very attractive), Jennifer Lopez, Nia Long, Eva Longoria, Penelope Cruz, and others. Certainly, Julia Roberts is not beautiful…..People Magazine is not polling the right audiences.

  • Kirk Hall

    She is not beautiful,stunning,gorgeous. She is pretty. Hollywood/tabloids gave her the title for promotion of their industries and the almighty dollar. Nuff said.