It's an honor and designation Courtney McCarthy describes as surreal.
It's been a whirlwind ride for McCarthy, including a toast and impromptu party this week with friends as they celebrate her debute in People magazine.
"I just think beauty is about being happy and being who you are," McCarthy said.
How this former marketing executive ended up in the magazine, decked out in white, started with an online submission that she did with her sister.
"They had said 15,000 people had applied, so I certainly never in a million years expected to win," she said.
In addition to the stars featured each year, the magazine was looking for submissions for its third annual "Real Beauty at Any Age" contest.
"Beauty is as beauty does really," McCarthy said. "I think laughing with my friends, being with family - my kids, my husband, all of that, to me is when I feel the most beautiful."
"I just was myself, I gave very real honest answers about myself," she said. "I didn't try to be anyone else."
McCarthy's friends consider her sassy and wickedly funny.
"Of course, I'm so not surprised, so thrilled for her," said Jennifer Tallard, a friend of McCarthy's. "She's a beautiful person inside and out."
And like any mother, there are hiccups along the way. Just a day before this photo shoot, there was a trip to the Emergency Room when her daughter broke her arm.
"Certainly our community has been so supportive, all of Chicago has been great, so it's exciting," McCarthy said.