The Sexiest Man Alive By People Magazine and the Glaring Diversity Issue
Although I do love Paul Rudd
I like women. I always have… I married a pretty fine one. That doesn't mean that I don't appreciate male beauty. May that be a handsome actor on the big screen, or a man on the streets outside.
A while ago, I stumbled upon an article about the Sexiest Man Alive 2021. And I read it with a surprising amount of interest. So I thought this might be worth sharing.
Sexiest Man Alive is an award, or let's call it a recognition, by People Magazine. People is an American magazine about celebrities, gossip, Hollywood, all that good stuff. I had never read any weekly issue, I am pretty sure. What I have seen though, is their annual recognition of the Sexiest Man Alive. It's an honor that has been given out since 1985. A long-lasting tradition, you could say. People also tried the business of Sexiest Woman Alive but considering they only did it one time in 2014, it didn't go as well as they hoped, I would guess. They succeeded with another format, however: 100 Most Beautiful People. That's been going strong since 1990.
Back to the men. The Sexiest Man Alive award is usually given out to prominent men in the movie, music, and entertainment business. With the occasional athlete or even lawyer jumping in. It's billed as the benchmark of male attractiveness as Wikipedia describes it. And funnily enough, the winner in 1994 was selected 21 years later. Just wait for it!
So, what's sexy
you might ask? Great question. I did wonder, too. So I took a deep dive into the winners of the last 35 years. It's a great ride through generational beauty standards (male that is), thoughts about power and misuse of it, racial equality, and much more. Granted, that makes it sound like an epic novel… It's just a ranking by a gossip magazine, nevertheless it has some prestige. I bet, everybody has heard the term Sexiest Man Alive at least once.
Who was the first Sexiest Man Alive
Who was the winner of the first Sexiest Man Alive in 1985? As the story goes, this man was not only the first to ever win this then-new title, he was also credited as the origin of the idea that led to the creation of the Sexiest Man Alive award. Can you guess who it was?
It was a 29-year-old American actor by the name of Mel Gibson. That's right. People were in the process of planning a major story on Mel when someone (in the room, I guess) excitingly exclaimed
"Oh my God, he is the sexiest man alive!"
Another one answered with
"You should use that as a cover line."
1985 was a different time. I can see how Mel Gibson won that year. He had been in many movie productions by then, started to get big-time famous in Hollywood, with movies like Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2 (1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). On the other hand, he wasn't too big of a star yet. A perfect fit for People. Would they choose him now? I doubt it.
It gets weird
Year 2 took a different turn. One that, I have to confess, I don't quite understand. This is the generational thing I mentioned earlier. The winner in 1986 was a young Mark Harmon.
While I certainly see an attractive man here, especially in the 80s, I can't get into the mindset of calling him Sexiest Man Alive '86. Maybe that's just me. Then came Harry Hamlin '87. A better choice in my opinion. But a pattern was already emerging, one that is frustratingly familiar today.
Through the years and 1996
I don't want to walk through every year in this story.
1988, however, was an interesting year in my opinion. Winner 88 was John F. Kennedy Jr., not an actor, no singer, or musician. A lawyer, journalist, and publisher. Of course, a very famous one.
In 1994 People Magazine did not select their Sexiest Man Alive. I don't exactly know why. 21 years later, in 2015 at the 30th anniversary of the award, Editorial Director Jess Cagle finally presented the selection for 1994 which included front-runners like Hugh Grant and Jim Carey. The chosen winner however was Keanu Reeves who captivated audiences in the movie Speed that year.
1996 was an outstanding year. One that could have changed the trajectory of this title. For the first time in over 10 years, a black man received the Sexiest Man Alive award: Denzel Washington. One of the all-time great actors in Hollywood, and a gorgeous man.
The late 90s and early 2000s were the glory times of the Sexiest Man Alive. Many high-profile names won the title and accepted graciously: Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Richard Gere, Johnny Depp, just to name a few.
In the 2010s the award became less and less prestigious. That might be because magazines had a hard time keeping up with the online revolution in general. I still remember hearing about the picks back then.
People's Sexiest Man Alive is still going. The most recent winners were Michael B. Jordan 2020 and Paul Rudd 2021. 5 of the 6 last winners were over 40 when they won. Just like the readers of magazines, the people that were there in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Sexiest Men Alive get older. Not that this is a problem in any shape or form. Hollywood is full of insanely attractive men in their 40s, 50s, or 60s. The oldest winner was the late Sean Connery at 59 years of age in 1989. Three others received the award in their 50s.
Perception and pattern
The problem lies in the perception of an award like this. And the fact that there was hardly an African-American winner or an Asian, (or in other words, not a white one) up until just recently… a pattern that we're all way too familiar with nowadays.
People could have selected many great men: Denzel Washington should have won it multiple times, not just 1996. Will Smith would have been a great selection. Maybe until his infamous slap.
The sad truth is: In 35 years only 5 black men have won the title, 4 of them in the last 5 years: Dwayne Johnson 2016, Idris Elba 2018, John Legend 2019, and Michael B. Jordan 2020.
As mentioned, last year, Paul Rudd received the honor. He isn't exactly a poster child for diversity, but I love Paul Rudd and his seemingly never-aging looks were due for some official recognition.
What about 2022
As for 2022, I suspect most men wouldn't see People's Sexiest Man Alive recognition as a high honor. I can't blame them. There are more important things to think about.
The selection of Michael B. Jordan 2020 and his admirable acceptance, as well as the winners over the last 6 years (except for Blake Shelton 2017 and Paul Rudd 2021), might change things for People though. Maybe we'll see more diversity and different kinds of male beauty. I'd like to witness that, wouldn't you?
What is your take on People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive? Is it still a thing in 2022?