Photo: REX USA/Nicolas Khayat/Rex.
Whenever Simon Doonan gets his hands on a "publish" button, you can expect good things. Great things. Side-splittingly funny things. And his latest essay on Slate, "Who Is The Most Beautiful Woman In The World? Not Gwyneth Paltrow" is no exception. A bold statement and one guaranteed, dare we say designed, to invite controversy. As much as we love Gwynnie, he does have a point that "her strenuous efforts to achieve perfection — thrashing around a gym morning noon and night with Tracy Anderson and eating nothing but plankton and kale juice — leave us all shrieking, 'What would she look like if you took away her battery of Pilates gurus and aura cleansers?'"
From Helen of Troy and Pauline Bonaparte to Elizabeth Taylor and Catherine Deneuve (all subjects lauded in his piece), Doonan is looking to celebrate a new kind of most beautiful woman, or MBWITW. It's not a runway model, he's convinced, because those ladies lack what he considers essential: "the most beautiful woman in the world should also have a cheeky demeanor and a decent rack." He definitely seems to have a penchant for over-the-top babes who make "Kim Kardashian look like Anne of Green Gables." Worth a read, but be warned, it may induce rage and delirious laughter in equal parts.
And honestly, the "rage" reaction might be the stronger one here. The article is tongue-in-cheek in a lot of ways, but at the end of the day, we think the real problem lies in the idea that we should be searching for a "most beautiful" woman at all. The fallacy here is that there is one representation of beautiful. Gwyneth deserved to be praised for her beauty, and for the work she puts into it looking and feeling good, as well as for her achievements in life. But, in selecting a "most" anything, we're bound to alienate people who don't fit her mold. The beauty of beauty (forgive us) is that it's so subjective, and personal, and even when it is universally agreed upon, it comes in many forms.
Yes, alienation is unavoidable to some extent, as cynical as that might sound. And we're not suggesting that we should do away with the Nobel Prize lest we hurt some lesser intellect's feelings. But, when it comes to physical appearance, women have such weighty insecurity hoisted onto their shoulders by society today, it seems like we could all do away with a pointless search for a "most beautiful" in the interest of the greater good. Though we might get flack for exaggerating, we're proud to say that we will call pretty much anyone the most beautiful, heavenly angel creature. So, maybe it's time to replace the word "most," in favor of something a little more democratic? Beauty isn't necessarily a common quality, but it's not an easily defined one, either.
Simon Doonan is one of fashion's more self-aware people, and he's been known to tout his over-the-top personality at any costs. This is a hilarious read, undoubtedly, but it's also deeply flawed. Let's just all agree not to take any of this too seriously, and hope that Doonan is doing the same — because crazy is one thing, but seriously developing a qualifying system of women based on breast size is just insane.