Ignore for a second the fact that beauty can't really be quantified into a definitive list. Ignore for a fact that if everyone who reads People made their own list, it would probably be radically different than the canonical yearly list. Ignore the fact that when People's online poll for the same list was dominated by someone known as Hank, The Angry, Drunken Dwarf.

Simple logic destroys this list. Ali Landry was on the list in 1998. Since that time, she hasn't changed much in any way, shape or form. Yet she wasn't on the list in 1999 and 2000. I wonder why? Logically, there's only one reason why - there's now someone more beautiful. But who? Well, there's a fifty-something year old woman on the list for the first time this year. So maybe it's her. But, unless she's undergone some massive changes herself, she hasn't changed much in the same span of time. Wouldn't it stand to reason that either (a) Ali Landry is still better looking, or (b) Ali Landry was never better looking. Either way, the list is wrong. And that's just one instance. There are at least 25 each year. Because People chooses whoever the hell they want. Got a hot movie coming out? You're in. Cause any controversy lately? You're in. Seen cavorting with Leonardo DiCaprio on the beaches in France? You're in.

In reality, the list should be titled: "People's 50 Most Beautiful People Who Are Currently Trendy To Talk About And Have Done Something Recently Which We Can Write A Few Paragraphs About". But somehow that's just not as catchy.

As a late addendum... I agree with theonomist on the theoretical aspects of beauty. But let's not kid ourselves... this is People Magazine.

It seems to me that Mr. Julius is relying on a very narrow and frankly insupportable definition of "beauty".

My senior wife seems to me to be the most beautiful of women, yet she's almost fifty years old and she takes liberties with me which my lesser wives would tremble to contemplate. My youngest junior wife is, by most ordinary standards -- including my own, all other things being equal (though the point of this piece is that they rarely are) -- more beautiful: She is young, unworn by care and hard labor, commendably demure and submissive, and so on. On paper, she's a paragon of young womanhood, but my senior wife delights me more.

How can this be so?

It's quite simple: I am neither a camera nor a robot. I am not a neural net: I am an immortal soul in a human body. My perceptions are not, and cannot be, purely visual. When we look on stranger, all we see is the surface; when I look on my beloved senior wife, I see the woman who has been my devoted helpmeet for thirty years, through hardship and combat.

Thus our perceptions of those who cavort with Leo, and of those who do not: Were I to so cavort, those who drool over such nonsense would come to recognize my face. They'd read about me in the pages of People, and I would in a sense (a sense meaningful to them) become a part of their bleak, desperate little lives. Two starlets with equal visual appeal are not equal in perceived beauty (the only kind) if one of them is well publicized and the other is not. I would guess that last year, your 50-year-old woman was a stranger to People's readers, and that now, in a crude and limited way, she is not.

There are other factors as well:

Familiarity breeds contempt in many cases. Maybe people are tired of Ali Landry, whoever the hell she is. Or maybe she's just been out of the news lately. Are "beautiful" and "interesting" so different? No, they're intertwined. Both exist in that musty little crawlspace between our ears. Maybe if she had changed (even physical beauty has more than one axis; she could be not more nor less, but differently beautiful), she'd have held everyone's attention a little longer.

Or, uhh, you know, whatever. Physical beauty is only one element of that complex of phenomena called "beauty" both in the pages of People magazine and in the wide world outside. The details aren't important.

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