At 30, PEOPLE’s 2012 World’s Most Beautiful Woman has many accomplishments on her résumé, including being a 16-time Grammy winner, an actress and a style and beauty icon. But none is more important than her newest role: playing mom to daughter Blue Ivy, whom she and husband of four years, Jay-Z, welcomed in January. “I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt because I’ve given birth,” she says. “I have never felt so connected, never felt like I had such a sense of purpose on this earth.”
Sofia Vergara is unapologetic on the subject of her appearance. “I’m not ashamed. It has opened doors,” the InStyle cover girl told the magazine in April. And now that she’s about to celebrate a milestone birthday – she turns 40 in July – the Modern Family actress is both flattered and amused she’s still considered a bombshell. “I am on these lists for ‘best ass’ or ‘most beautiful’ with women like Mila Kunis, who’s, like, 20 years old,” she says with a laugh. “I have a son that age!”
“For the first eight years of my life, I didn’t have front teeth,” the South African beauty, 36, told W magazine. “I was pretty sick as an infant, and antibiotics rotted them. But then I started to take dance classes, and I eventually got some teeth.” Fast forward through a successful modeling stint and an Oscar-winning acting career, and Theron is now tackling her most rewarding challenge – being mother to son Jackson, whom she adopted in 2012.
With her ethereal good looks, singer Phil Collins’s daughter was the obvious choice to play Snow White in Mirror Mirror, opposite Julia Roberts. But the budding actress, 23, didn’t always appreciate her unique features. “It used to bother me – having bigger, fuller brows,” she told Seventeen. “Now I embrace them. I’ve realized the quirky things that make you different are what make you beautiful.”
She left Hollywood over 12 years ago to raise a family but was lured back with a plum role on the ABC hit Revenge. “It’s fun being noticed on the streets,” says Stowe, whose combination of beauty and talent led to ’90s box-office success in The Last of the Mohicans and Unlawful Entry. As for aging in Hollywood, the 53-year-old actress takes a philosophical approach: “My forehead moves! Some things, you have to let go.”
By now, the Mad Men star is used to having people openly discuss everything from her curves to her cup size. But the intense focus on her looks no longer fazes her. “I guess my mom raised me right. She was very celebratory of her body. I never heard her once say, ‘I feel fat,'” she told Health in 2010. That body confidence helped Hendricks when she first started modeling in Italy and gained 15 pounds. Says the actress, “I felt beautiful, and I never tried to lose it, ’cause I loved it.”
Williams earned an Oscar nod for her performance in My Week with Marilyn, a role that required the biggest physical transformation of her career. “The expectation to be beautiful always makes me feel ugly because I feel like I can’t live up to it,” Williams told Vogue of playing the iconic film star. Already celebrated for her gamine good looks, Williams’s metamorphosis into a sex symbol awed her costars, among them Kenneth Branagh, who said, “I’d look over and there is Michelle. Half an hour later, Marilyn has arrived.”
Following the April 2010 birth of son Julian, Patton told PEOPLE, “I wear less makeup and am less fussy. I accept myself more because I have less time to be down about myself!” Along with her new streamlined regimen, Patton, who is married to singer Robin Thicke, has time to enjoy some of life’s simple pleasures. “I realized a long time ago I’m not going to be a size 0. For me, life is about drinking wine and having bread and cheese – just not every day!”
Miranda Lambert knows that being a country superstar comes with pressure to look a certain way. “All these stars are so tiny, and they spend their lives trying to be skinny,” she told Health in 2011. “I’m representing normal girls. It’s OK to have a little bit of curve. I’m happy with my body. So many girls come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for being normal,’ and I’m proud of that.”
Kate Middleton looked every bit the fairy-tale princess at her April 2011 royal wedding to Prince William. But the Duchess, 30, has continued to impress the public with her down-to-earth sensibilities (she does her own makeup and recycles clothes) and also dazzle celebrities (Reese Witherspoon is a fan) with her warmth. “She is genuine,” says a Buckingham Palace source, “both in private and in public.”
For more Beauties, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands.
WORLD'S MOST BEAUTIFUL ISSUE
For more of Beyoncé’s exclusive interview and our complete list of Beauties, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.