If you woke up this morning feeling a little bit different, like perhaps something in the air had changed or that the sun was shining a little brighter, it may be because People magazine has named its “World’s Most Beautiful Woman,” something that is very important and should definitely affect your personal and public life.
But if, one second later, you realized that literally nothing had changed in the world, it might be because People chose Julia Roberts. For the fifth time.
Yes, Julia Roberts is a fantastic actress and an admittedly beautiful person, and is even—gasp!—a whole 49 years old, making her practically dust by Hollywood standards, but this is possibly the most mundane and redundant choice for People to have made. We know that this beautiful woman who starred in a movie called Pretty Woman is beautiful—partly because she’s already won the award four previous times!
Meanwhile, only four women of color have been awarded this honor since People started doling it out in 1991: Halle Berry (2003), Jennifer Lopez (2011), Beyoncé (2012), and Lupita Nyong’o (2014). (Shockingly, this is still a better record than People has for its “Sexiest Man Alive” award, which has only gone to men of color twice in 32 years.)
The persistent notion that “conventional” beauty is rooted in whiteness is not the newest revelation, but it’s still frustrating and harmful. An Asian, South Asian, or indigenous actress has yet to gain the title.
It’s particularly strange in light of the fact that this past year was huge for black film. The opportunity to at least pretend to be relevant was RIGHT THERE. Why not give it to the galaxy’s most beautiful woman/android, Janelle Monae, who appeared in multiple Oscar-nominated films? To compare, in 2016, Julia Roberts’ big roles were in Money Monster and her dubiously bewigged turn in Mother’s Day. Her big gig for 2017 is the new Smurfs movie.
And it’s not even that progressive for a middle-aged actress to be given the People title. Last year they gave it to Jennifer Aniston, who was 47, and in 2015, Sandra Bullock became the oldest woman to receive the honor at age 50.
What did we really expect, though? This all certainly fits the profile of People magazine, America’s bastion of mediocrity. Julia Roberts is probably the safest bet, someone to appease the magazine’s audience of, I don’t know, people waiting to get their teeth cleaned.