Lupita Nyong’o named People’s Most Beautiful Woman in the World. Here’s how stars typically land the honor.


(Courtesy People magazine)

And People magazine’s Most Beautiful Woman in the World is…Lupita Nyong’o.

“There was really no contest this year,” People’s editorial director Jess Cagle said on the “Today” show making the announcement. “She seemed like the only choice.”

(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

The stunning 31-year-old was a logical pick. Her career is on fire right now, thanks to breaking out as Hollywood’s new ingenue, nearly sweeping award season — including Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for her role in “12 Years a Slave” — and becoming a fashion favorite for her gorgeous looks on the red carpet.

Obviously, Nyong’o is beautiful and talented, Cagle said, “But the way she carries herself with such grace…put her over the top.” He said he saw her give a powerful speech at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, where she “spoke really frankly about having felt un-beautiful when she was a girl, and she would pray for lighter skin.”

The Kenyan-Mexican actress is the third woman of African descent to win the award in its 25-year history. Halle Berry (2003) and Beyonce (2012) are the only African-American winners. She told People that the cover was a “major, major compliment.” “I was happy for all the girls who would see me on [it] and feel a little more seen,” she said, noting that when she was younger, she assumed beauty was just what you saw on television: “Light skin and long, flowing, straight hair…Subconsciously you start to appreciate those things more than what you possess.”

(MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
(MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)

While Nyong’o as a cover choice makes sense given her obvious beauty and status as Hollywood’s new favorite, it’s also a bit surprising looking back over the years at who People has traditionally chosen. First, she’s on the bit of the younger side — recent winners have been in their late 30s and early 40s. Perhaps even more significantly — and cynically — she doesn’t have a big movie she’s trying to promote this summer, as winners often do. In fact, she hasn’t even announced her next film (though it was announced yesterday she just signed with top agency CAA).

You may ask: What’s the big deal about making the cover at all? Well, People’s Most Beautiful issue is a long-standing tradition in the magazine world, dating back to 1990 when Michelle Pfeiffer was the inaugural winner. Since then, the honor has become somewhat of a status symbol in the celebrity universe, similar to People’s Sexiest Man Alive tradition, which started in 1985.

However, seeing the winners of the past two decades, one thing is clear: While every celebrity who makes the cover is clearly stunning, the honor actually has little to do with beauty. A closer look at the Most Beautiful list over time reveals that there actually appears to be a formula of sorts that goes into choosing the cover star — it’s usually a carefully orchestrated equation that takes many factors into consideration.

After winning an Oscar for her role in "12 Years A Slave," actress Lupita Nyong'o has been named People magazine's most beautiful woman for 2014. (Reuters)

 

Several criteria are in play: First, it’s almost always a woman (even though there was a three-year run in which Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson took the honors, respectively). She’s usually in her 30s or 40s, where the word “beautiful” is suddenly deemed far more appropriate to describe a woman out of her 20s than many other adjectives.

Then there are logical reasons for the choice, such as if the star is on a hot streak, career-wise. Or maybe the celeb just so happens to have a big movie or TV show coming out soon, or has been out of the spotlight for a while, or needs some image rehab. New moms are often a favorite and another factor is if the star is outspoken about a social cause, whether it relates to her personally or not.

Looking back at the choices in this millennium, here’s a deeper look at other likely reasons celebrities were crowned Most Beautiful Woman, based on the aforementioned criteria.

Angelina Jolie (Jason Merritt/Getty)
Angelina Jolie (Jason Merritt/Getty)

Required some image PR.

The only way to explain Angelina Jolie’s (2006) lengthy cover story that spring about her humanitarian work (not even mentioning she was pregnant with Brad Pitt’s baby until the last paragraph) is that Jolie needed some serious image rehab after rampant rumors that she wrecked Pitt’s marriage with Jennifer Aniston. (Pitt and Aniston split about a year prior.) Jolie had just confirmed her pregnancy to People a few months earlier, so the whole thing reeked of a highly-choreographed PR move.

For others, it doesn’t have to be quite as heavy. After several years of being America’s rom-com sweetheart, Kate Hudson (2008) was starting to stumble as her “Fool’s Gold” reunion with Matthew McConaughey failed to gain much traction.

Nicole Kidman (2002) was a more triumphant story, as about a year post-Tom Cruise split she was riding high on an Oscar nomination and Golden Globe win for “Moulin Rouge.”

Gwyneth Paltrow (Axel Schmidt/AP)
Gwyneth Paltrow (Axel Schmidt/AP)

Had a big movie about to hit theaters.

For the polarizing Gwyneth Paltrow (2013), it was “Iron Man 3″ last May. As for Julia Roberts’s fourth cover (2010), “Eat, Pray, Love” was scheduled for that August and she needed to ramp up press. Drew Barrymore (2007) was in the news at the time for splitting up with longtime boyfriend, the Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti, but also had “Lucky You” coming out in several weeks. Though Halle Berry (2003) was on people’s minds after an Oscar win a year earlier, she had “X Men 2″ coming out soon. And while it’s not exactly a movie, it was as highly-hyped as one when Jennifer Aniston (2004) got the cover weeks before the “Friends” series finale.

Beyonce (AFP/Getty Images)
Beyonce (AFP/Getty Images)

Was a new mom.

Beyonce (2012) landed the cover a few months after Blue Ivy was born. Her story was mostly about being a mom, as was her main quote: “I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt because I’ve given birth,” she gushed. Similarly, Catherine Zeta-Jones (2001) was just starting to get some buzz for “Traffic,” but also had lots of headlines for marrying and having a baby with Michael Douglas a few months prior. Julia Roberts (2005) landed her third Most Beautiful cover the year after buzz for “Closer” and “Oceans 12″ had died down, though recently after giving birth to her twins, Hazel and Phinnaeus.

Julia Roberts (ROBYN BECK/AFP/GETTY)
Julia Roberts (ROBYN BECK/AFP/GETTY)

Was on a hot streak.

Why did Julia Roberts land her second cover in 2000? With a recent string of big hits (“Runaway Bride,” “Notting Hill,” her eventual Oscar movie “Erin Brockovich”) it only made sense. Same with someone like Jennifer Lopez (2011), who shot back into the spotlight and reignited her music career with a judging stint on that year’s “American Idol.”

Spoke out for a cause.

About a year before she won the honor, Christina Applegate (2009) went through a public battle with breast cancer

Christina Applegate (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Lutb)
Christina Applegate (Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for Lutb)

followed by a double mastectomy, and shared her journey with fans. The People editors called the inspirational cover story “Christina Applegate’s New Lease on Life.” Starring in ABC’s “Samantha Who?” at the time, the article was mainly about Applegate battling her illness, and the support from her boyfriend (now husband) musician Martyn Lenoble.

A list of the World’s Most Beautiful cover choices since the beginning:

2013: Gwyneth Paltrow
2012: Beyoncé
2011: Jennifer Lopez
2010: Julia Roberts
2009: Christina Applegate
2008: Kate Hudson
2007: Drew Barrymore
2006: Angelina Jolie
2005: Julia Roberts
2004: Jennifer Aniston
2003: Halle Berry
2002: Nicole Kidman
2001: Catherine Zeta-Jones
2000: Julia Roberts
1999: Michelle Pfeiffer
1998: Leonardo DiCaprio
1997: Tom Cruise
1996: Mel Gibson
1995: Courteney Cox
1994: Meg Ryan
1993: Cindy Crawford
1992: Jodie Foster
1991: Julia Roberts
1990: Michelle Pfeiffer

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Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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Emily Yahr · April 22