The new issue of People magazine features Beyoncé on the cover as the World's Most Beautiful Woman. As People editor Janet Mock notes, it's the "first time in 9 years that a black woman lands this coveted cover." In 2003, Halle Berry was named World's Most Beautiful Woman; she and Beyoncé are the only two black women to hold the honor in 22 years. A look back at the celebrities People has called "most beautiful" reveals that past honorees are ladies like Meg Ryan, Nicole Kidman and Cindy Crawford. Michelle Pfeiffer has been called Most Beautiful twice; Julia Roberts has been the cover gal four times. Jennifer Lopez, the 2011 Most Beautiful, is the lone Latina on the list. And there have been zero Asian women. (Three of the covers in the last 22 years were graced by men, but this issue is not to be confused with the Sexiest Man Alive issue. That cover had a black man, Denzel Washington, in 1996 — the only black man in 26 years. The first Sexiest Man Alive, in 1985, was Mel Gibson. Gibson was also named Most Beautiful in 1996.)
Perhaps it seems inconsequential: Why should we care who some silly celebrity magazine considers "beautiful"? A magazine cover is just a marketing tool, an ad to get readers to buy. Who graces the cover depends on relationships between editors and publicists, projects being promoted, and broad appeal. In addition, since People is owned by Time Warner, often there's corporate synergy at work — consider Bradley Cooper being named 2011's Sexiest Man Alive. Do you think it's a coincidence that he starred in The Hangover Part II, a Warner Bros. picture? Still: Magazines and other printed matter serve as a record of our culture. This is what we leave to future generations. A window into our values, aesthetics, standards of beauty. In addition, all of the images we're inundated with have an effect on our psyche. It begins at a young age, and continues throughout our lives: What we're told is beautiful is what we believe is beautiful. And if, for decades, fair-skinned women with Anglo-Saxon features are deemed "Most Beautiful" by a national publication, don't we collectively, to some extent, absorb this information as truth? Even the black women on this list — Beyoncé and Halle Berry — have very light skin tones. Thick lips and wide noses — long considered "ugly" by the Western world — are excluded, thereby reinforcing the idea that they could never be "beautiful." (Not that long ago, IQ tests depended on our society agreeing that Anglo-Saxon features are attractive.)
None of this is meant to take away from Beyoncé, who is indeed beautiful. Gorgeous, even! Hopefully it won't be another nine years before another woman of color is considered worthy of People's love.
Motherhood Makes Beyoncé Feel 'More Beautiful Than Ever', People's Most Beautiful Cover Stars [People]
Beyoncé Named Most Beautiful [Insider]
Janet Mock [Twitter]