“I thought it would be static — that diversity and aging would not be embraced much more now than then,” says Vashi. “Perhaps because I run a cosmetic center, I just thought that things would have been relatively the same.”
Vashi added that her team elected People magazine to run their hypothesis because of its mass appeal.
“Reportedly People has the largest audience of any American magazine and its annual ‘Most Beautiful’ spread has been published for almost three decades,” says Vashi.” People did not return our request for comment.
The ‘Exposure Effect’ and Why Diversity in Beauty Matters
One major reason we may be seeing more nonwhite or “other” races (the study’s word, not ours) on People’s lists is because of the “exposure effect,” Dr. Frank Niles, a social scientist, explains.
“The exposure effect is a basic psychological idea: The more we are exposed to something, the more attracted to it we may become,” says Dr. Niles. “As a society, we have become more aware of the need and the value of diversity, and I think it is safe to say there are more people of color in positions of cultural visibility across a wider range of platforms.”
To be clear, it’s not like people of color (POC) haven’t been here and beautiful for the past bajillion years; it’s that only recently is Hollywood recognizing POC in a significant way, and transmitting that recognition to the public. In 1990, American women with brown skin such as my mother (still a loyal People subscriber!) had very little representation. And I can see now how that must not have been easy for her. I remember when I was a teenager, she’d study my hands, marvel at my fair skin and tell me I looked like Winona Ryder.
Gabriela Garcia, an editor with ModernBrownGirl.com, poignantly recalls the feeling of looking nothing like the celebrities she grew up idolizing in the ‘90s.
“When I was a teenager, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy were the women I emulated,” said Garcia, now 39-years-old. “They were tall, lithe and had long flowing hair. I looked nothing like them. I was short, brown and hairy, with an overabundance of curves.”
Garcia points to Jennifer Lopez as a notable catalyst (Lopez, by the way, was named People Magazine’s ‘most beautiful woman’ in 2011).