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Crowning Julia Roberts again not a good look for People: Menon

Julia Roberts is The World’s Most Beautiful Woman.

This is a repeat from 1991, 2000, 2005 and 2010, the years People magazine also crowned her The World’s Most Beautiful Woman. Given the global population, this is quite a statistical feat: for about 20 per cent of the last quarter-century, every woman on Earth was deemed less attractive than Roberts.

How is this possible? It’s not possible, which is why People should euthanize this annual charade that now only serves to reinforce the impression that People’s idea of beauty is not calibrated with reality. Deeming any one person The Most Beautiful is like calling a random chair The Most Comfortable. And you know what? If that same chair were to win five times in 26 years, you might reasonably conclude the selection process was rigged or the whole thing was a farce.

So on Wednesday, when the magazine announced Roberts had won the title for a record fifth time, the real message was: “Yeah, we’re in a rut.”

Read more:People magazine dubs Julia Roberts most beautiful again, again, again and again

Now, look. I try not to comment on physical appearances for two reasons: 1. It’s wrong. 2. If People ever released a database titled The Seven Billion Most Beautiful People In The World, I would not be included.

I’m fine with this. I’ve made my peace with my hideous face. But even if we accept that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the question becomes: How can Julia Roberts make the Top 100 in 2017? And at a time when it’s never been more important to nudge the world away from superficial judgment, isn’t it unfair of People to thrust her into a situation that will involve so much toxic scrutiny of her looks?

Watch the short video People posted on Wednesday, in which Jess Cagle, the magazine’s editorial director, interviews Roberts about the honour.

“You excited?” asks Cagle, cackling like an evil witch.

“I am,” replies Roberts, showcasing her acting chops. “I’m very flattered.”

If you pause the video at that precise moment, the camera is fixed on her. She is either not wearing any makeup — which is totally cool — or a fire hose was unleashed on her face just before the interview. Her mouth is about three sizes too big for her head. Her right nostril looks like it could uptake enough oxygen to fill the lungs of a blue whale. And from the part of her mousy hair to the top of her left brow runs a vein that bulges to life when she talks, like it’s translating her words into sign language. At certain angles, the Clydesdale resemblance is unsettling.

You see? Toxic scrutiny! Those nasty thoughts were my observations while watching in the context of The World’s Most Beautiful Woman. Without that context, all I would’ve seen and heard is an attractive and charming woman who loves her family and feels blessed and looks forward to aging “gracefully-ish.”

So by wrongly suggesting Roberts is The World’s Most Beautiful Woman, People has actually managed to make her much uglier than she is. They’ve created a false expectation that invites unwanted comparisons and, ironically, nasty thoughts.

In recent years, it has been clear People is trying to add an invisible layer of social engineering to this annual edition, which hits newsstands on Friday.

In 2014, with the issue of diversity dominating conversations, Lupita Nyong’o was named The World’s Most Beautiful Woman. Over the next three years, as Hollywood engaged in a sustained debate about how the industry mistreats women who are older than 40, People’s honour has gone to Sandra Bullock (who was 50 in 2015); Jennifer Aniston (who was 47 last year); and now Julia Roberts, who is 49.

But instead of creating a spirit of noble celebration, the anachronistic and ridiculously extreme nature of this title — World’s Most Beautiful Woman — only serves to ghettoize any good intentions.

It’s patronizing. And on a deep level, this is an insult to Roberts.

If she were really The World’s Most Beautiful Woman five times in the last 26 years, shouldn’t she be locked up in a research facility? Shouldn’t a team of scientists be studying her bone structure, her facial symmetry, the interplay of grin intensity and retinal sparkle? Shouldn’t her head be fitted with a plastic box to protect her record-breaking features from possible injury?

But she’s not The World’s Most Beautiful Woman. She’s just marketing fodder and a cynical choice for a pop-cultural media tradition that started with superficial intent but is now aiming to make grander statements, all without letting go of the superficial intent. This makes about as much sense as trying to promote good nutrition via a hotdog-eating contest.

It’s as if senior execs at People held a secret meeting before deciding on Roberts: “Of course she’s not! But this will make us look good!”

No. I’m afraid this makes everyone look bad.