People Magazine's 'Most Beautiful' issue has a men of color problem

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This week, People revealed that Sandra Bullock is their World's Most Beautiful Woman of 2015. The 50-year-old actress is the oldest celebrity ever to cover the Most Beautiful issue, which hits newsstands today.

The Most Beautiful issue has showcased 26 cover stars since 1990. After 13 straight years of exclusively selecting white celebrities as Most Beautiful Person, People finally featured Halle Berry on its Most Beautiful cover in 2003, and has honored three more women of color (Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé Knowles, and Lupita Nyong'o) since 2011.

But where are all the men of color?

As a general rule, the Most Beautiful cover star is a woman, but three male stars — in three consecutive years, from 1996 to 1998 — have had the honor. Unsurprisingly, they were all white: Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, and Leonardo DiCaprio. No men of color have ever starred as the cover's Most Beautiful Person.

Clockwise from left, all the white men who have starred on the Most Beautiful issue cover: Leonardo DiCaprio (1998), Mel Gibson (1996), and Tom Cruise (1997).
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That's a disheartening fact in and of itself, but the reality is even more insidious.

You might argue that, while women have apparently conquered the cover of the Most Beautiful issue, the men of Hollywood get their fair share of attention from the magazine's Sexiest Man Alive edition (more on that shortly). But the cover star — that superlative Most Beautiful Person, singular — isn't the only celebrity pictured on the front of this issue. The majority of Most Beautiful covers feature several small inset photos of other celebrities from the annual list (for example, scroll back up to Mel Gibson and you'll see he's sharing the cover with Brandy and Brad Pitt). There, men remain a common sight.

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White men, that is.

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In the 25-year history of the Most Beautiful issue, 53 inset celebrity portraits (not including images that tease unrelated stories within the magazine) have appeared on the cover: 22 white women, 17 white men, 10 women of color, and four (that's f-o-u-r, four) men of color.

Clockwise from top left, the four men of color who have appeared on the cover of People's annual Most Beautiful issue: Benicio del Toro (2001), Roland Gift (1990), Michael Jordan (1991), and Denzel Washington (1992).
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The collage above represents the complete history of men of color on the Most Beautiful issue, in just four tiny photos: three of which (those of Roland Gift, Michael Jordan, and Denzel Washington) were seen in the first three Most Beautiful issues ever, and the most recent of which (Benicio Del Toro) went to print more than a decade ago.

Counting the inset photos, there have been 2.9 white women for every woman of color on the Most Beautiful covers, and an even higher 5 white men for every man of color.

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Clockwise from top left, all the women of color who have been chosen as People's Most Beautiful Woman: Halle Berry (2003), Jennifer Lopez (2011), Beyoncé Knowles (2012), and Lupita Nyong'o (2014).

In fairness, both men and women of color have consistently numbered among the full lists of Most Beautiful People inside the issues since the beginning. But frankly, that doesn't really matter: the cover is what sells magazines, as well as what makes headlines in other publications. By persistently sidelining men who aren't white, People is (even if unintentionally) sending a clear, less-than-beautiful message about their perceived attractiveness.

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Of course, the Most Beautiful issue isn't the magazine's only tentpole. Since 1985, People has chosen exactly one man of color (a baby-faced Denzel in ’96) as its Sexiest Man Alive. Meanwhile, they've apparently run through the world's entire supply of white dudes for the cover, having repeated four.

Actually, we should probably point out that one “man” — well, male baby — of color has technically  appeared in a full-sized photo on the Most Beautiful cover: Sandra Bullock’s infant son, Louis, in 2010 (this issue profiled Bullock separately from the Most Beautiful list).

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Sandra Bullock's son Louis is technically the only man of color to have appeared in a full-sized photo on a Most Beautiful issue cover.

That baby may be beautiful, but we're afraid this doesn't count.

Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.

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