From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Our native fascination with beauty embarrasses our better natures, since we are all taught to look beyond a lucky collision of genes for the spirit glowing within. After the innocent perfection of childhood, a good-looking face needs to reflect a certain flair, serenity, wit, spunk or kindness—in short, character—to attain true beauty. But even as we think these high-minded thoughts, a ravishing specimen can pass by and distract us in an instant. Hello there! How to explain our humbling hypocrisy? Perhaps human nature always yearns for perfection, and outer beauty is its most obvious and arresting manifestation. Anything beautiful, from sunsets to paintings to our fellow beings, suffuses us with simple delight; joy leaps directly from eye to heart. And so, in this issue, PEOPLE celebrates human beauty for its magical capacity to raise our spirits and relieve our rational minds.

The happy chore of choosing the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World turned out to be like working an intriguing puzzle with no single right solution. The opinions of our staff, the nominations of you readers (solicited in a February issue) and our preliminary calls to leading modeling agents, casting directors and photographers yielded a long list of contenders, which soon gave way to multiple stacks of slides and glossies, which were mulled by an in-house committee of 11 over a month of impassioned and vociferous daily meetings. Our early instinct was to lean toward noble visages (Nelson Mandela or Eudora Welty, for example) over conventional beauties, and proven favorites over fresher faces. But would a bouquet of Liz Taylors and Robert Redfords leave room for more surprising sprigs like, say, the Khrystyne Hajes and Denzel Washingtons? We eventually sought an ethnic mosaic of classics and comers, blonds and brunets, men and women, ballerinas and bruisers. But, you may ask, what about so-called ordinary folks—our beautiful X-ray technicians, firemen and artists? We set aside a special section for them, beginning on page 118. The final 50 would be celebrities of various magnitude who—no small thing—photographed well and possessed some mystical power to thrill or move us. Admittedly, the professional beauties honored here are usually embellished with professional hairstyling, makeup and sometimes plastic surgery. Nonetheless, what makes a great portrait is its ability to penetrate those very layers and suggest what lies beneath.

In the end, we learned three things: That there is no such thing as perfect beauty. That people have blessedly different ideas about what's beautiful. And that most people are beautiful in some way, and that's about as beautiful as anybody really needs to be. Turn the page. The winners await you.