The Evolution of the ‘Most Beautiful Woman’ — from Julia Roberts to Jennifer Aniston

Since 1993, People has searched far and wide for the “Most Beautiful Woman” in the world (in reality, the magazine doesn’t venture outside of Hollywood). The title, although arbitrary and subjective, holds weight in certain circles — and, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to grace the cover of a magazine with such a flattering and transcendent tagline. 

This year, Jennifer Aniston received the honor and defines beauty as “inner confidence. Peace. Kindness. Honesty. A life well-lived. … Taking on challenges and not feeling shame for things that haven’t gone the way you felt they should have. And not feeling like a failure or allowing people to critique your life and make you feel like you’ve failed at something. That’s just toxic noise.” The 47-year-old was actually first named “Most Beautiful” — once beautiful, always beautiful — in 2004, just weeks ahead of announcing her divorce from Brad Pitt. Yet Aniston, who gushes about Justin Theroux in the May 2016 issue, isn’t the only one to win twice. 

In fact, Julia Roberts was People’s “Most Beautiful Person” (men and women weren’t segregated into two separate issues until 2013) in 1993, 2000, and 2005. Not much has changed throughout the contest’s history, considering that the same women are continuously being selected, but one thing to note is the evolution of retouching. If Catherine Zeta-Jones’s cover hit the Internet today, social media would erupt in outrage. 

It’s also interesting to note that the feature stories have gotten fluffier and more diplomatic, with less hard-hitting questions. At the time of Aniston’s first interview, she opened up about taking folic acids to prepare for a family with Pitt. Kate Hudson pondered plastic surgery, and Drew Barrymore talked about zits. 

Looking through the archive, it’s evident that there are a few shared characteristics among the winners — the most obvious being that they’re mostly white. Halle Berry was the first black individual selected, in 2003; Beyoncé followed in 2012; and Lupita Nyong’o, the 2014 selection, was the only one to flaunt distinctive African features, including her natural hair. 

Yet being selected as “Most Beautiful” doesn’t necessarily make a woman that — it could just indicate that the actress is, at press time, trendy or promoting a film. Aniston is pushing Mother’s Day, Paltrow was promoting Iron Man 3, and Kate Hudson was plugging WildAid, an eco-friendly hair-care line. Angelina Jolie was so buzzy in 2006 that the magazine ran a stock image with a story in which “Saint Angelina,” as she was called in the piece, wasn’t even quoted. Some appearances coincided with momentous life events. When Christina Applegate was honored as “Most Beautiful,” she gave the tabloid her first interview after battling breast cancer. Queen Bey also opened up publicly to People after giving birth to her daughter, Blue Ivy, and Nicole Kidman did so when she was fresh off breaking free from Tom Cruise and Scientology’s shadow. 

The list of actresses who have been passed over, not because of their looks but politics, is striking: Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Viola Davis, Jennifer Lawrence, Blake Lively, Rachel McAdams, Meryl Streep, Charlize Theron, Gabrielle Union, Kerry Washington, and Olivia Wilde, to name a few. And this is only actresses! Include musicians, influencers, models, and regular people, and the list of overlooked women gets longer and longer. Until next year …

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