• Julia Roberts and Lupita Nyong'o have both made the number one spot on the People's 'World's Most Beautiful' list. (Getty Images)
Our concept of beauty is becoming more diverse, according to a new study, with researchers finding that we now consider more famous older and 'non-white' women to be beautiful.
By
Michaela Morgan

12 Oct 2017 - 1:07 PM  UPDATED 12 Oct 2017 - 1:16 PM

People magazine's annual 'World's Most Beautiful' list can tell us about how our perception of beauty has changed in the last 27 years. 

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine compared the first list in 1990 to this year's list, noting differences in 'beautiful' features like age, sex, race, skin type, hair and eye colour to see if the world's standards have changed over time.

The study's results show that society has shifted its opinion on who is beautiful, as annual lists have progressively included more people with darker skin, as well as older people.

“The mass media platform has for years introduced certain criteria for what constitutes beauty," the study says. 

The average age of celebrities who made the cut jumped more than five years from 33.2 in 1990 to 38.9 in 2017. This year, 49-year old Julia Roberts claimed the number one spot, the fifth time she’s topped the list. 

Women have increasingly dominated the list—accounting for 88 per cent in 2017, up from 52 percent in 1990. 

The study also found that the proportion of celebrities of 'non-white races' increased from 24 per cent to 40 per cent this year. 

And while in 1990, lighter skin types accounted for 88 per cent of the list and darker skin tones represented just 12 per cent, in 2017 lighter skin types dropped to 70.4 per cent and darker skin tones increased to represent nearly 30 per cent of the list. 

Although only four women of colour—Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry and Beyonce—have made the number one spot in the nearly thirty-year history of the beauty ranking list. 

“The mass media platform has for years introduced certain criteria for what constitutes beauty," the study says. 

“Through an examination of the WMB [World’s Most Beautiful] issue of People, we found that these beauty standards are evolving as people learn how to integrate the effects of media with exposure to new cultures and different norms."

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Liz Conor—an ARC Future Fellow at LaTrobe University—has cautiously welcomed the results of the study. 

"On the one hand these findings about People magazine are welcome and encouraging that there's a lot more race and age diversity around notions of beauty," she tells SBS. "And beauty has a massive amount of cultural capital."

"But on the other hand, we’ve got to ask what the category of beauty is now doing in terms of crediting people with certain status in our society," she adds. 

Conor—who recently wrote about Dove's controversial 'Real Beauty' advertisement—says the inclusion of more diverse groups in the media must be meaningful. 

"I think the media has an enormous responsibility to be inclusive but if it really wants to be inclusive, it has to reach beyond the category of beauty and credit those people as having value," Conor says. 

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