Caitlyn Jenner was named the most fascinating person of the year—according to Barbara Walter’s annual “10 Most Fascinating People of 2015,” special, which aired last week.
According to the octogenarian news anchor, Jenner caused a “seismic shift in the gender universe” this year when she transitioned from a man named Bruce to a woman named Caitlyn.
“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,” said Walters.
She added: “Caitlyn’s celebrity brought new attention to the grim reality of life for many transgendered people.”
Despite Jenner quickly becoming—by far—the most famous transgender person on the planet and giving new visibility to the nascent transgender-rights movement, she’s faced a backlash of criticism from a number of other, less famous transgender women.
Their biggest complaint is that, while many of them have been thrown out of their homes and face poverty and employment discrimination, Jenner is wealthy—and is, thus, free to get plastic surgery to make herself look more feminine and buy designer clothes, all while documenting her experiences on a reality show.
Jenner’s also faced criticism from old-school feminists, who are angered at the idea that a “privileged man” could decide to become a woman—as is becoming a woman is just a matter of getting some hair extensions and pretty dresses.
And, of course, Jenner’s also faced a backlash from many on the right—who don’t believe it’s possible for Jenner (or anyone) to change her biological makeup to become anything but a man in a dress.
But, whether loved or hated, it’s clear that Jenner has been a major point of discussion in 2015—and Walters is sticking by her decision to honor the transgender sports hero.
“She became a champion for people who had long been pushed to the margins of society,” Walters explained. “Famous and familiar, she raised awareness and acceptance of transgendered people. Through her own transformation, Caitlyn Jenner transformed society this year.”
She added: “And that, for us, makes her the most fascinating person of 2015.”