Julia Roberts Has Grown Since Her First 'PEOPLE's Most Beautiful Cover

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If you ever need reassurance that getting older is a good thing and not a bad thing, look no further than the difference between Julia Roberts' life in 2017 versus 1991, when she was first awarded the honor of PEOPLE's Most Beautiful. Twenty-six years later, she's set a record by racking up her fifth title in that category, and that isn't the only thing in Roberts' life that's vastly improved since the beginning of her career. Her confidence, her marriage, her friendships, and her career all seem to be blossoming more now at age 49 than they were at age 23, and that's an incredible thing.

In 1991, Roberts was the epitome of tabloid fodder; she was about to break off her volatile engagement to Keifer Sutherland just three days before their heavily-publicized Jun. 14 wedding. Days afterward, she was linked to Sutherland's friend, and her former lover, Jason Patric, which gave her exactly zero time off the radar to figure out where her life was going, mourn her relationship, or have some time to herself.

In contrast, Roberts has now firmly solidified the boundaries in her life, more so than most A-Listers. Although she still takes projects in Hollywood, and owns properties in Malibu, New York, and Hawaii, the actor spends a great deal of her time in Taos, New Mexico, on a ranch that she owns with her husband Danny Moder — out of the public eye.

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In 1991, Roberts still had over a decade of extremely public relationships ahead of her that would make tabloid after tabloid. But she settled down with cameraman Moder in 2002, and now, almost 15 years into their marriage, they're as in love as ever and have three children.

It's quite an improvement, and it's reflected in Roberts' mental health. In 1991, PEOPLE reported:

All the same, you could use Roberts and Sutherland to define compatible. [...] They camouflage their celebrity with ragged jeans and mussed hair and have been known to act impulsively. Julia bought her BMW convertible and million-dollar home in Benedict Canyon in the Hollywood Hills because Kiefer told her she “needed to own things.”

Compare the vibe of that revelation with Wednesday's "Most Beautiful" coverage, which has Roberts sharing, "I think I'm currently peaking," and gushing about Moder, "I mean every day my husband walks in the door it’s like a recurring dream. I’m like, ‘Ah, he’s back!’" She seems eminently more grounded, confident, mature, and just straight up happy.

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And why wouldn't she be? Her career was just starting to pick up in 1991, after she burst onto the scene with Pretty Woman and became the It Girl. Even though she's no longer the buzziest topic in town — and who would want to be, after all this time? — she can still carry a movie and has built a steady career, amassing dozens of critically-acclaimed films, a plethora of prestigious awards and nominations, and her place on the list of top-earning actresses.

In short, it's a better time to be Julia Roberts now than it's ever been, and there's potential that it could only go up from here. She truly is the most Beautiful Woman Alive.