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‘Sexiest man alive’ is a tired phrase we need to leave in 2019

TextDominic Cadogan

People magazine just announced its latest line-up for the annual accolade, but, more importantly, why are we still judging people solely based on looks?

As the end of the year, and decade, approaches, scientists are working out a way for us to change babies’ skin tones, height, and intelligence. While us regular human beings scratch around in the dirt trying to make sense of the world. 

For People magazine, this comes in the form of its annual Sexiest Man Alive award. Launching all the way back in 1985, every year – with the exception of 1994, when it seems like there was a sexy man drought, although Keanu Reeves was retroactively awarded the title in 2015 – the title declares one lucky man (usually cis, white, and straight) the “sexiest man alive”. What that actually means is unclear – this year’s winner John Legend’s natural beauty must not be sufficient, with the two overly Photoshopped covers he appears on doing an injustice to his actual face. 

The hall of fame is overwhelmingly white – with the exception of Idris Elba, The Rock, Denzel Washington, and newly crowned Legend – and the publication has unsurprisingly never crowned anyone of Asian heritage or from the LGBTQ+ community. While this year’s winner is a person of colour, across 19 categories the list only features a handful of men of colour (again, no Asian men) and two openly queer men in the form of Queer Eye’s Antoni Porowski and Lil Nas X. The men of Bake Off are mentioned, including gay winner David Atherton, who is pictured but not mentioned by name. Despite celebrating Pride, and often featuring news on trans and non-binary people, not a single non-cis person is featured. There’s even a baby this year – not just any baby, but People’s Cutest Baby – in the form of TV presenter Andy Cohen’s son Benjamin Allen. Though interestingly, his gay father seems to have been missed off the ‘Sexiest Dad’ category.  

The publication isn’t alone when it comes to celebrating people just because of the way they look – though cynically, popularity and timing obviously play a big role in the ultimate decision too. Glamour and Us Weekly have similar lists (though the latter was just served a lawsuit for copying People’s format) while Miss Vogue annually votes for ‘Hottest Boy’. For women, FHM, Esquire, Complex, Maxim, GQ, and even IMDb decide how people who haven’t done anything to achieve an award deserve one. John Legend is one of 15 people to reach EGOT status (he’s won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) but, sure, let’s just talk about his sparkling eyes 

The result of any of these lists is almost always the same, with the winners (usually) sheepishly accepting the title. For men, other conventionally attractive celebrities – usually former winners – congratulate them for the ‘hard work’ they’ve put into winning such an accolade. “It’s the best moment of my career. I would obviously like to thank my parents for bringing me into this world. And I’d like to thank my hairdresser, my stylist, and Photoshop,” joked 2015 winner David Beckham, while 2014’s title-holder Chris Hemsworth just said it was “pretty funny.” After winning in 2013 Adam Levine mused: “You feel like you owe it to be kind of self-deprecating about it because it is an iconic thing, but also silly.” Women, unsurprisingly, are pitted against each other, with other publications often running stories in horror at how one places higher than another. 

“We have countless conversations in the worlds of fashion and beauty about diversity but somehow neglect to remember that when crowning sexy men and women. The questions shouldn’t even need to be asked, but, where are the Asian men? Or non-cis? Differently-abled? Plus-size?” 

There are two ways to resolve this problem as we move forward into a new decade. The lazy method – should we deem such lists an important part of culture that we can’t bear to lose them – is to make them more diverse. Seriously, we have countless conversations in the worlds of fashion and beauty about diversity but somehow neglect to remember that when crowning sexy men and women. The questions shouldn’t even need to be asked, but, where are the Asian men? Or non-cis? Differently-abled? Plus-size? 

While that would certainly be more reflective of real life, what would actually make things better is to eradicate lists like this completely. It’s no coincidence that people are admitting they’ll never be happy with the way they look, when what we deem ‘sexy’ year after year is the same unattainable standards. If we’re going to set those, at least make them unattainable but weird. Like Jacob Pina and his five-inch thumb, or Mikayla Saravia and her £80k-making long tongue

So, let’s make a pact for 2020 to stop heralding men and women as the “sexiest alive” and celebrate accolades worth celebrating. 

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