As anyone who has spent much time at all on the internet in the past few years knows, one of the easiest ways to incite public outrage on that forum is to be a conventionally attractive woman who has been recognized for being beautiful, particularly if that recognition comes in the form of a title or ranking handed down by a well-known media brand. Another way is by being a young woman who is romantically linked to a significantly older man. Yael Shelbia, the 19-year-old just crowned the 2020 winner of TC Candler’s annual “100 Most Beautiful Faces of the Year” list, is both.
The Israeli model and up-and-coming actress nailed the top spot on the annual list this year, which has apparently been ranking faces for the last thirty years. In addition to being the most beautiful woman in the world, Shelbia and her award-winning face are also reportedly dating 35-year-old Brandon Korff, grandson of the late CBS and Viacom billionaire Sumner Redstone, according to the New York Post.
Now, there’s a lot of material for performative internet outrage here. For one, we might question why these seemingly arbitrary, tone-deaf beauty rankings still exist in mainstream media in this, the year 2021. Don’t they just objectify women and reinforce western, cishet beauty standards that tend to disproportionately privilege thin, white women?
Speaking of thin, white women, we could also be angry about the fact that Shelbia appears to be both of those things. Naming a thin, white women the “most beautiful” in the world seems like a tone-deaf move amid society’s push for more diverse size and racial representation.
Most beautiful woman in the “white world” not the whole world.
— Vanessa Thompson (@thompsonmz) January 3, 2021
If we get bored of that, we could also suggest that this adult woman is too young to be publicly praised for her beauty — that doing so inappropriately sexualizes a young woman and also reinforces ageist beauty standards.
Seriously? Please don’t objectify this young woman as the “most beautiful” in the world. 😖😡
— lbklover2020 (@kywoman40299) January 3, 2021
She might be a most beautiful GIRL. But certainly not a WOMAN.
— Awaka Warriors (@lindstedt_sandy) January 3, 2021
Lest we wear ourselves out too early, don’t forget this is also a young woman rumored to be dating a substantially older man. Is dating a man 16 years her senior really a decision an adult woman is equipped to make? Wouldn’t that be a better decision for us, the general public, to make on her behalf?
And if we run out of politicized reasons to criticize this attractive woman for being an attractive woman, we could always just default to arguing she’s not really very attractive after all.
Are there valid criticisms to be made regarding society’s relentless privileging of physical beauty, particularly a very narrow definition of physical beauty that tends to uphold dated, exclusive beauty standards? Yes, absolutely. Unfortunately, the increasingly politicized nature of these necessary conversations about beauty, diversity and identity has also provided useful rhetoric that doubles as a convenient veil for often misogynistic attacks against women, particularly young ones, who are praised for their physical attractiveness.
We can interrogate society’s beauty standards, yes, but we can do it without attacking women.
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