“Remember, sexy isn’t something you ‘try and be.’ Sexy happens naturally when you’re comfortable just being yourself.”
Write that down. That’s some pretty good, damn sexy advice written by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who should know, because he’s our newly anointed People’s Sexiest Man Alive. Congratulations, the Rock! But more importantly, congratulations, us.
The Rock rules. There are so many reasons why he’s earned the privilege of posing on a beach, gently tugging at his white T-shirt, looking into the eyes of The American Woman, silently mouthing “I’m sexiest,” from the cover of a magazine. To recap: He’s got huge muscles. He looks really good in white jeans. (Dat ass.) (Dose thighs.) He’s smart. He’s sweet — he once jumped into a pool to save puppies from drowning. He has on-set swole contests with his li’l Baywatch buddy Zac Efron, and sometimes he even lets Zac win. He has a charming and warm Instagram presence. (See: his Star Wars socks and puppies!) He dresses up as Pikachu to teach his baby daughter what the Juju is (and then he posts it on Instagram so America can learn what the Juju is, too). He’ll no doubt instill in that daughter an enormous amount of self-worth and feminist ideals, because the Rock reads semi-woke, if not fully woke. And frankly, he’s incredibly marketable right now. Ballers doesn’t suck all the time. His next four projects — Moana, Baywatch, Fast 8, and Jumanji — should cement his status as basically the only real Movie Star left. He’s really everything a People hunk should be about, you know?
But even given the many, many reasons the Rock is sexy as hell, his designation as the pinnacle of 2016 hunkiness is a surprising choice for People’s annual, coveted (?) title. Because when you think of People’s Sexiest Man Alive, you think of … boring white guy. (Jezebel recently did the photo research on 31 years of covers and more precisely identified this individual as, basically, blurry Bradley Cooper.) Writing about People’s Sexiest Man Alive cover — featuring Chris Hemsworth — Amanda Hess described the typical winner as “reliably white, straight, mid-30s, handsome to women, relatable to men, ideally suitable for both your grandmother’s coffee table and your niece’s Tumblr, mired in no known scandals, famous enough to have starred in a blockbuster film or high-rated television show in the past year, but desperate enough to agree to subject himself to a revealing shirtless pictorial and embarrassing psycho-sexual interview in People’s pages.” The past 19 winners in a row — Clooney, Ford, Gere, Pitt, Brosnan, Affleck, Depp, Law, McConaughey, Clooney, Damon, Jackman, Depp, Reynolds, Cooper, Tatum, Levine, Hemsworth, Beckham — were a beige rainbow. They represent the color variation between tapioca pudding and vanilla pudding, between Hellmann’s mayo and Miracle Whip.
Yes, there have been outliers in the history of the Sexiest Man Alive: Mark Harmon (1986) had super thick eyebrows. JFK Jr. (1988) confused people because he wasn’t a movie star. Denzel Washington (1996) was black, an uncommon choice for the cover of People. There have been older men (Sean Connery, 1989) and douchier men (Adam Levine, 2013); once there was a Sexiest Couple (Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford, 1993), which was truly upsetting for your grandma. But for the most part, People, much like Hollywood, the fashion industry, and Taylor Swift’s Squad, has rigidly stuck with slight variations on the mind-numbingly traditional choice.
I don’t want to take anything away from a Hemsworth except a shirt, but we are living in a time when there are so many different ways to be a hunk. Picking the Rock — mid-40s, black and Samoan, a former professional wrestler — feels like a first step in acknowledging all the potential hunkiness around us. If the Rock can be Sexiest Man Alive, then maybe one day Bruno Mars or Jidenna can. Or maybe John Cho, or Idris Elba, or Oscar Isaac, or Benedict Cumberbatch, or Barack Obama, or Drake, or Jack White, or Mahershala Ali, or Peter Dinklage, or Deadpool (not Ryan Reynolds, actual Deadpool), or Kumail Nanjiani, or Gael García Bernal, or Frank Ocean, or Colin Kaepernick, or Shia LaBeouf and his rat tail, or Justin Trudeau, or Dev Patel, or Andre Braugher can. Or someone who doesn’t even have muscles at all and asks to be photographed in a shawl-collar cardigan. Or someone who wears glasses because they have an actual astigmatism. Or someone who also booked the cover for AARP the Magazine. Or someone who has not played a superhero in a movie and is not booked to play a superhero in a movie in the next decade. Or someone who has read Thomas Pynchon on purpose — or hell, why not Thomas Pynchon, I’m sure that’s someone’s hunk flavor. It’ll be OK, because they’ll reflect what is popular among living, breathing, horny women! They will have reclaimed sexy, and they will have made it true again. This is our future!