News & Politics

Farewell to The Hill’s Gloriously Ridiculous “50 Most Beautiful” List

It was frothy, fun, and wildly out of step with the current political moment.

If you weren’t in it before, you will never make The Hill’s “50 Most Beautiful” list. The publication announced Wednesday it would discontinue the annual frothy roundup of aesthetically pleasing DC residents after a 14-year run. The post did not waste much time elaborating on the reasons why.

The “50 Most Beautiful” list was the brainchild of former Hill reporter Betsy Rothstein (now at the Daily Caller) and was Washington’s equivalent of People’s “Most Beautiful” issue: gossipy, calorie-free profiles of Washingtonians with jobs in politics. It gained enough traction to set up a joke on the HBO comedy Veep; recently Washington City Paper called it DC’s “Best Hate Read.” While widely recognizable names claimed some spots (President Obama appeared in 2005 as a senator and later as president; last year’s list featured Melania and Ivanka Trump), others went to people few would recognize at the Capitol South Metro: lobbyists, consultants, Capitol police officers, journalists, assistants, and aides.

But the list’s style remained consistent, cataloging age, political affiliation, and relationship status and asking about fitness habits, dietary choices, and personal style, all delivered with a gushing tone and an often-libertarian approach to copyediting. “She’s striking – and accident-prone,” is how the the list kicked off in 2008. Other entries mention a winner’s “radiant smile,” “lilting” voice, homemade avocado hair rub, or desired qualities in a romantic partner (“valor is a must”). Even direct quotes from the selected Washingtonians come off sounding like excerpts from generic Tinder bios.

In the most flattering light, “50 Most Beautiful” was a lighthearted glimpse at the individual people behind the policy bustle of Capitol Hill that looked beyond party lines. Considered more skeptically, it was self-important, vapid, and hopelessly vain. Either way, it was at least a little ridiculous.

Behind the pageantry was months of hard work of employees at The Hill, according to list co-editor Judy Kurtz, who’d open nominations each spring and over the next months reduce the hundreds of submissions (many of them self-nominations) to a smaller pool. Then came photo shoots, interviews, and an office voting day where the publication’s staffers would choose favorites among photos with no names attached.

Kurtz, who had helped oversee the list since 2014, says the number of submissions had consistently swelled during her tenure, but that The Hill had considered ending the list for a while “and just made the decision that it was time.”

The current political moment can’t have helped. After a barrage of sexual harassment scandals on Capitol Hill, it’s hard to see a list that invites comment on Washingtonians’ looks and relationship statuses as exactly in step with the #MeToo movement. And in the midst of an unpopular presidency often likened to a reality TV show, maybe tittering profiles of policymakers would have struck readers as an overload of frivolity. But when asked whether the climate around sexual harassment had influenced the decision to ax “50 Most Beautiful,” Kurtz reiterates that “we felt the list had run its course.”

Whether you laughed at it or with it, Kurtz confirms that it’s genuinely the end of the line for the list, not just a temporary pause in publication. “50 Most Beautiful,” rest in peace.

Editorial Fellow