IF WE ALL AGREED ON WHO WAS beautiful, the world would be easily divisible into perfect roses and pleasing wallflowers. But beauty’s lushest blossoms are as infinite in variety as the responding eyes of their beholders. So when you put a bunch of passionate, opinionated pop-culture mavens—i.e., PEOPLE people—in a room and ask them to select the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World, you won’t necessarily need a striped shirt and a whistle, but you won’t fall asleep. During eight weeks of meetings, our core staff of 14 passed pictures around, lobbied zealously, sighed with desire, stamped feet, gazed in awe, paced and pouted. Out of this mad methodology came a few irresistible repeats from last year’s issue—beauties who transcend the moment—and a roster of fresh faces who express the moment. We sought a balance of genders, colors and ages, plus a plethora of professions: among the inevitable actors, actresses and a sprinking of models, a mayor, a man who flies on ropes, a baritone, a rodeo rider, a surfer who loves math. We learned from our fabulous 50 that most felt more like weeds, growing up. And all concur that beauty unfolds like a seed—sprouting unseen, drawing sustenance from its environment and its own resources, the flower finally reflecting the character within.