Being a gentlemen’s magazine in an age where it has been pointed out (rightly) that it’s a concept that peers ever so dangerously over the precipice of sexism means having to tread a very delicate balance, every day, on every story, on every page. Nowhere else is that balance more difficult to manage than in our annual Sexiest Woman Alive issue, as you might imagine. How does one look at a woman with frank sexual attraction, without overstepping boundaries? If the male gaze has become anathema to politically correct polite society, is it possible at all to maintain a gentleman’s gaze instead?
I’ll bet that every Esquire editor in the world, upon being given the top-secret driver’s manual to the brand, turned right to the page about Women. At the risk of spoiling the magic, here is what it says in its entirety: “An Esquire branded way to present women, this is a four- to eight- page feature on a gorgeous woman, usually an actress, model, or musician and is a ‘must-have’ to every edition. It can be a cover story or can be an annual reveal of the editor’s choice of Sexiest Woman Alive.”
In short: Figure it out, buddy, you’re on your own.
It should be easy, right? Sexual attraction should be the simplest thing: It exists partly subliminally, running below the surface of self-consciousness; but there is also no way we cannot be aware of its effects. Sexual attraction insists on being recognized, even when we don’t understand it.
But the politics of sex and sexual attraction are a little bit more tricky, and this is the context in which we name our choice for Sexiest Woman Alive. This is a public choice, and so it is also a somewhat political one.
Through the six-ish years of its existence in print, Esquire Philippines has named a wide range of women, sometimes controversially, to the title: Solenn Heussaff first, in 2013; Hollywood actress Shay Mitchell in 2014; TV newscaster Karen Davila in 2015; Miss Universe crown-holder Pia Wurtzbach in 2016. (Also of note: journalist Maria Ressa was named to the international list on Esquire.com in 2010. She again appears in this issue for our ESQ&A, on page 19. We kind of like that symmetry.) Some were more obvious choices than the others. Others worked precisely because they were unusual picks.
In the changing global media landscape, men’s magazines everywhere have pulled back from this mine-filled territory because it’s been so difficult to navigate. But at Esquire…we love women. And we love them well. So, if this is the last love letter we get to write to the women we love, we wanted to write it to all the women we ever loved, and whom we never got to tell. The Filipina—for all her grace and her beauty, for all her strength, and for all the crap she’s had to put up with— is the Sexiest Woman Alive.
Kristine FONACIER with gratitude and respect for Patricia, Audrey, Clifford, Kara, Miguel, Sarge, and Paul, who always asked for nothing less than excellence, always.