Caitlyn Jenner was named Barbara Walters’ most fascinating person of 2015 in her annual special, “10 Most Fascinating People,” which aired on ABC Thursday. The tribute capped off a groundbreaking and often tumultuous year for the Olympic-champion-turned-transgender-celebrity.
Walters credited Jenner with creating a “seismic shift in the gender universe,” while simultaneously calling out elements of her very public transition that have attracted controversy.
“The transformation of Bruce Jenner, who performed heroic feats of endurance in winning the Olympic gold medal for the decathlon, into Caitlyn Jenner, who performed heroic feats involving hair extensions and eye makeup, was fascinating,” Walters said. It was an obvious nod to the criticism Jenner has frequently received for her Kardashian-esque focus on looks and for promoting an image of womanhood – complete with a glamorous, sexy wardrobe and expensive facial feminizing surgery – that most transgender people cannot afford, and most feminists cannot stomach.
Still, Walters acknowledged, “Caitlyn’s celebrity brought new attention to the grim reality of life for many transgendered people.”
“She became a champion for people who had long been pushed to the margins of society,” Walters said. “Famous and familiar, she raised awareness and acceptance of transgendered people. Through her own transformation, Caitlyn Jenner transformed society this year. And that, for us, makes her the most fascinating person of 2015.”
There’s a certain symmetry to Walters’ commendation. It aired on the same network where Jenner publicly announced she was transgender earlier this year. That interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer recently won the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia Award – considered the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for broadcast journalism.