Why Are We Still Calling Jennifer Aniston The Most Beautiful Woman In the World?

Jennifer Aniston, a woman as innocuous as vanilla pudding, was appointed World’s Most Beautiful woman by People for the second time in her storied career. This designation means very little on the surface. People’s Most Beautiful “award” has been around since 1990 and exists as a tentpole issue for the magazine: a guaranteed way to sell print issues of a magazine slowly slinking into obsolescence, its power usurped by the spewing firehose of the internet and its legion of gossipmongers. For these reasons alone, we shouldn’t care. As you’ll learn from watching Jennifer Aniston discuss her second “win”  in this completely unnecessary category, it seems like she doesn’t really care that much either.

For those savvy enough to pay attention, it feels like Aniston’s win is less an actual assessment of her beauty and more of a clever marketing move, pegged to the release of Gary Marshall’s Mother’s Day which looks appallingly bad and comes out April 29th. This is how the machine works; accepting that and moving on with your life will make everything exponentially better. And there’s no denying that Aniston is a (conventionally) attractive (white) woman. Her beauty is not contested — but the import placed upon the kind of beauty she represents is.

It would be easy enough to sigh at the news, roll your eyes and move on to the next quick hit of outrage. But, in an era when the call for representation grows louder and louder with each passing day, the fact that People — the arbiter of middle-brow taste and culture — has chosen to anoint yet another white woman as the most beautiful person in the world is a frustrating example of just how far we have to go. To imply that there is a woman that is the “most” beautiful automatically implies that there are scores of other women who are less than. By placing Aniston and her perfectly acceptable, perfectly bland beauty at the most desirable end of this spectrum, it sets an unrealistic and damaging precedent for everyone else in the world who doesn’t look like her. The competition is rigged against those who exist outside the thin, white, anodyne space.

Nothing about People’s annual fluff-fest leads me to believe that they’re looking at beauty through a global lens. For their purposes, that’s fine. But, to ignore the fact that their publication is in every grocery-store aisle and nail place and hair salon, easily accessible to children and teens and women and whoever else happens to glance upon it is a grievous underestimation of their own influence. Appealing to your readership by preaching to the choir is one way to do things. Aniston’s balyage-and-bronzer-and-blue-eyes beauty is safe. It’s beauty by the standards set by advertisers and conglomerations who understand “diversity” as nothing more than a bullet point on a marketing presentation that goes largely ignored. Aniston’s beauty is approachable and inoffensive and it’s palatable. It’s the safe choice. Pushing the idea that Gina Rodriguez or Viola Davis or Constance Wu or Priyanka Chopra could be the most beautiful woman in the world shakes the status quo so much that I wouldn’t even expect a magazine of People’s ilk to make that statement.

It would be wonderful to see the mainstream definition of beauty bend a little to more accurately reflect the various shades, sizes and types of beauty that are present in the world. For a publication like People to do so of their own volition and not as a direct result of a behind the scenes diversity initiative would be unprecedented. Of course this is bad, but assuming that People would do anything other than put Jennifer Aniston on the cover of their Most Beautiful People issue is foolish. Demanding that kind of representation from a publication who has never purported to cover celebrity and human interest from an inclusive, global scale is a hill that no one should really die on.

My intention is not to defend the choice they made; it’s bothersome and annoying, but it’s completely expected. If you want to see beauty in its various hues, shapes and sizes, People is not where you should be looking. Representation matters, of course, but consider the source. Remember that this designation is little more than a marketing ploy, dressed up to look like actual editorial content, and you will sleep better at night. Expecting better from a society that continues to do the very least is a futile effort. You’ll die trying.