Cosmo Tries to Have it All

Cosmopolitan Magazine, Cosmo to you an me, has been around since 1886. They were not publishing articles on mind-blowing orgasms back then, in part because women weren’t allowed to have orgasms until the 1960’s. Also, the magazine started out as a family magazine and it was 1886 for heaven’s sake. In the 1960’s Cosmo became a the type of women’s magazine we are familiar with today, although a bit heavier on sex talk than say Ladies Home Journal. Editor Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl and women’s advocate, presented a format geared toward modern woman that discussed sex frankly and “gave permission” for women to enjoy it. It was pretty radical.

On the table at the library today, someone had left this month’s Cosmopolitan magazine. Ariana Grande was the sweet young thing on the cover alongside headlines promising better sex. Prurient to a point, but no longer radical. Still, for the first time since I was a teenager shyly opening a copy to see exactly what was this blowjob thing the kids were talking about at school, I leafed through an issue.

Cosmo’s current mission (per their website) is “to empower young women to know who they are and be who they want to be, [Cosmo is]focused on propelling her into her fun, fearless future. No excuses, no bull@%, no regrets.” What this statement says to me is how hard it is to write a mission statement.

The tone of the mission statement seems a bit in-your-face, but the actual magazine just wants to be your all-knowing friend. Written like scholarly text message (meaning full, but very short sentences each loaded with cool slang and so much hipness) there is something to do, learn, or wear on every page. It’s about action. Buy this. Wear this. Say this. Etc.

Cosmo is the young woman’s how-to guide to being empowered, and the path Cosmo recommends is very consumer-oriented. The very few articles and features that aren’t about buying things aren’t very deep. A single page with 4 (really not great) tips on how to get the job you want competes with a multipage spread on wearing denim. A single page of books to read (all seemingly picked because their covers were colorful) competes with a multi-page spread on have a Rad Hair Day! Fun and Fearless for sure. Empowering?

There’s still plenty of sex talk. The article “101 Hot Sex Moves” featured in bold letters on the cover still has that titillating pull for young women, and their boyfriends…and girlfriends. In keeping with their progressive nature, Cosmo doesn’t shy away from lesbian relationships. Actually, the sex stuff is still the most interesting part of the magazine and it’s not even in the mission statement.

I enjoyed the brief, low energy article telling women that even if they aren’t in a relationship, they should be working on the skills to maintain their next one. The article gives four tips: 1) Say what you think, 2) Recall the little things (like someone’s favorite pizza topping!), 3) Stick it out through tough times, and 4) Dare to be vulnerable (Aw!).

Funny to me that the magazine calling for women’s empowerment still makes time to tell her to act vulnerable. Helen Gurley Brown’s work is not finished.

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