The Good, Bad and Ugly of “The Most X in the World ” Lists

Someone please explain how it is that Rhianna was recently named the ‘sexiest woman alive’ by Esquire magazine.  I mean, really?

Although the mens lifestyle magazine says that the winner is selected by readers through a “March Madness” style competition, with girls pre-selected, seeding and pitted against each other in a scheme devised by the Esquire editors to manipulate the results.  An example: the first round had Catherine Middleton competing against Brooklyn Decker. Obviously, Brooklyn took that one with over 70%. Not shocking when you consider Kate has to wear nylons and closed-toed shoes, so how much cleavage can she really show.  Not this much:

Brooklyn Decker, winner 2010

I digress. The point of this post isn’t to argue why the seeding is flawed and therefore unlikely to produce an objective result, but more to question what is going on with the definition of ‘sexy’ that Rhianna takes the trophy home.  She may be many things including a fashion plate (she killed in those orange pants and cropped top this summer), an entertainer, an intimate friend of power couple Jay & B, but ‘the sexiest woman alive’ is a hard, if not impossible title to hand her. Based solely on its own definition, a sexy woman is one who “arouses or tends to arouse sexual desire or interest”, and I would bet if there was a random pole* taken among men in any city of any state throughout the world between Rhianna and say, Sofia Vergara, the winner would look something like this:

Sofia Vergara in Vera Wang, 2011

Maybe its the accent, maybe its her unbelievable ability to flirt, maybe its her curvy body, but this woman is the only one who can get boys, men and Joan Rivers alike salivating.

Rhianna’s ill-gotten title isn’t the first misuse of the “most” adjective.  People magazine does it every single year with it “50 Most Beautiful People”.  With past winners like Tim Geithner and Miley Cyrus, the list should really be named “A-listers, politicians and rising starts whose publicists campaigned hard to get the extra publicity bump for their client’s upcoming projects”.  Supposedly, winners are chosen by the editors after many long, and sometimes tense, meetings during which pictures of famous people are thrown around and judged for their “exterior beauty, buzz factor (how relevant they are) and most importantly, inner beauty”.  It’s enough to make you want to skip the issue all together (I say almost because why would anyone ever want to miss an opportunity to stare at a pic of Ryan Gosling?).  Let’s study the last three winners to see what can be learned about the selection process:

2011:  Jennifer Lopez

2011 was a big year for Jennifer.  She started her career comeback with a judging post on ‘American Idol’, launched a new apparel program at affordable retailer Khols, and began filming her first movies in a long time that might actually make a dollar at the box office. Sounds like a lot of projects that require promotion and what works better than the cover of a well- selling issue of People?  Also, it is beyond ridiculous that the magazine continues to label anyone the best of anything “in the world”, because after all, did they actually go to every part of the world in search of a beauty better than Jennifer Lopez?   Shoot, they probably didn’t go out of Hollywood.

2010: Julia Roberts

A repeat title holder, Julia was named the Most Beautiful Woman just prior to the release of her big comeback movie, 2010’s Eat Pray Love.  The movie didn’t do so well, but shoot, there is always another chance to get that lovable smile on the cover, right?

2009: Christina Applegate

A somewhat unexpected choice seeing as Christina isn’t an A- list star in the same way J. Lo or Julia Roberts is, but her crowning did come after a very public decision she made to undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37.   This is one case where inner beauty shines through to heighten physical beauty to the upper echelon.

We can continue to analyze the choices made and how silly the whole thing is, but what shouldn’t be forgotten is that these magazines and lists actually influence the way as a society see and judge beauty primarily because the media is viewed as an insider, an authority if you will with power to make decisions that we mere mortals do not.  However, if you see the choices are part of a well oiled PR machine with ulterior motives, you may be less likely to agree with these lists, or even care.  And to that we say, Bravo.

On a side note, the only list that may have gotten it right this year was “Body of the Year”, a contest which resulted in prime posterior Pippa Middleton losing to fellow Brit Helen Mirren, who at 67, looks like this in a bikini:

Well done. At least someone gets it right.

*play on words intended

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