It is delightful to see Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for her performance in “12 Years A Slave,” and has generally been making the rest of the red carpet look shabby ever since, land the cover of People magazine’s “Most Beautiful” issue, which will hit newsstands on Friday. But what is perhaps even more gratifying than seeing the glossy make a great, thoughtful cover choice, is that People may have put out an edition of this particular gimmick that does not make me feel horrendously guilty for wanting to read it.
I know, I know, I ought to take my ducats and buy copies of “The Feminine Mystique” and “This Bridge Called My Back” for a feminist newbie rather than spending my hard-earned money on gossip rags. But since I can do both — if you want to be the first to claim the books, just holler, and I will make good on the promise — I am going to be honest.
I like People magazine, and I would love to reach a detente with it such that reading the occasional issue did not make me feel horrible about myself (I have few such hopes for other publications in the Kardashian-industrial complex). Looking at gorgeous people — and hearing about the work it takes to look that way — is consistently amusing. The range of amusements is just broader, and the chances for grossness smaller, when the magazine manages to recognize that there are a lot of ways to be incredibly stunning — and many of routes to beauty.
As Nyong’o’s risen as a fashion icon, she has consistently resisted what fellow Most Beautiful honoree Beyoncé Knowles-Carter might call “I woke up like this” syndrome. At the very moment that audiences have come to appreciate her beauty, Nyong’o has spoken frankly about the years in which she did not find her own looks valuable, and the cultural forces that contributed to that assessment. In Nyong’o’s case, the disconnect between what now seems obvious and what eluded her for so long is something more than simple self-deprecation.
Nyong’o’s selection might have felt nice enough and interesting enough on its own (my colleague Emily Yahr breaks down how the process works). But if the teasers for the issue are any indication, People may have pulled off a cover package that holds up beyond its opening pages.
Of the 10 women in a slideshow introducing the package, four, including Nyong’o, are women of color. The others are “Scandal” star Kerry Washington, “The Mindy Project” star and showrunner Mindy Kaling (who brings much-welcome curves with her), and “Being Mary Jane” lead Gabrielle Union. (As a side note, this list is a nice nod to the great crop of female characters of color on television. Movies should take note.) Among the six others is singer Pink, who shows off short hair, tattoos and a gorgeous, giant smile, and Kerri Russell, currently playing one of the most difficult women on television, KGB spy Elizabeth Jennings of “The Americans.”
Their portraits are varied and vivid: Kaling is surrounded by flowers while Russell’s almost-smile is shot through with steel. Union does her makeup in the mirror, making the work of beauty visible, while Washington glows through mussed hair. And while they are all gorgeous, many of the women in this initial lineup would make for a terrific dinner party, too. The Most Beautiful are different from the rest of us, but this year that feels less like a bludgeon and more like a celebration.