Why magazines should drop the whole ‘sexiest person alive’ thing

So Penelope Cruz just won Esquire’s “Sexiest Woman Alive” honor, the female counterpart award to People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.” And congratulations are in order to Cruz, and to anyone who’s ever been told in a major publication that they are the sexiest person of their gender who is also alive. That said, this whole “Pick a celebrity, stick a ‘sexiest’ in front of their chosen gender, and slap them on a magazine cover” thing feels a little played out. I don’t want to sound like the Grinch Who Stole Celebrities’ Right To Be Crowned The Most Attractive People Alive. I just think it’s worth taking a good hard look at what exactly we’re celebrating when we celebrate the “Sexiest Fill-In-The-Blank Awards.”

It’s just such a narrow-minded recognition. By continually reinforcing that ONLY THESE VERY SPECIFIC ATTRIBUTES IN THIS VERY SPECIFIC COMBINATION can result in someone being a contender for “Sexiest Person Alive” it makes your average person think that every box we DON’T check off on that list is a demerit, that everything we don’t share in common with these sexiest people alive makes us less sexy. And we are all sexy. We are united in our sexiness. A lot of us just don’t know it entirely (or at all) because we’re too focused on this laundry list of supposed sexy attributes we don’t check off. Any award designed to make basically the world minus the winner feel badly about themselves doesn’t seem like an award worth giving.

And the lack of diversity in these “Sexiest” awards can not be ignored. In People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” awards, only ONE person of color has been awarded in the almost thirty year history of the award (Denzel Washington all the way back in 1996). Esquire, I guess is doing a little better, in its ten year history it has awarded the title to three women with diverse ethnic backgrounds: Halle Berry, Rihanna, and now Cruz. Which is better, but it certainly isn’t good enough, when we’re talking about announcing to the world what sexy is.

Shouldn’t sexy be something we’re not instructed to believe, but rather something we conceive of on our own? Sexuality is personal and fluid. At a time when definitions of sexual and gender orientation should be broadening, defining the parameters of sexiness feels limited, exclusionary and not exactly sexy. Sure, Penelope Cruz is gorgeous and attractive to so many people. But should we really be crowning one person, beauty pageant-style, as the definition of sexy?

Lastly, “The Sexiest Whatever” is sexist like whoa. I get that it’s equal opportunity sexism because of the whole People mag “Sexiest Man” award, but this kind of award hurts women more than it hurts men because men don’t have a history of having their sexual attractiveness conflated with their value as human beings and woman, you know, do. I just can’t really get behind the idea of an award that supports the status quo.

I would be SUPER into an award that actively strived to expand our cultural definition of physical beauty. Or an award that actively strived to recognize women and men for their significant contributions to the world. But an award that puts so much value on a narrow definition of “sexy” just seems like something we’ve seen before and need to put behind us.

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