Five Reasons I Love Cosmo

1. It is like The Onion, for feminists. Through some strange machination of the Hearst Publishing company, as of last year, I have started getting Cosmo delivered straight to my mail box. Each month I gain at least an hour of entertainment from the articles and sex tips. It’s kind of like a sexually charged Where’s Waldo, where I find myself hunting for ever more ridiculous “knowledge” about the male mind.

Like when to give your boyfriend an ultimatum. (According to the September issue of Cosmo, it’s when you’ve been in a serious, monogamous relationship for a year. Four or five moths is too soon.)

Or the health articles – I recently spotted an article titled “When Your Nipples Act Weird.”

2. It reminds me of Clueless. I fucking adore that movie, and when I read Cosmo, I totally feel like I’m talking to Cher Horowitz.

3. The Sex Tips. Just when I think they can’t get any crazier, they do. I wonder if the people who think these up are sadists. Check out these gems (handily complied by Cosmo EIC Kate White in her book You On Top: Smart, Sexy Skills Every Woman Needs to Set the World on Fire):

* When fondling your man’s penis, slip a hair scrunchy around the base of it. The tight scrunchy combined with your touch creates an amazing sensation.

*Using a bit of lube, make two fists around the shaft of his penis and twist in opposite directions.

*Mak[e] a tight ring with your thumb and forefinger around the base of his penis, for[m] a second ring around the head, and then g[o] up with one hand and down with the other.

*Tak[e] him in your mouth and then swir[l] your tongue around like a pencil sharpener.

*Take a strand of fake pearls or other beads and, holding each end, pull it back and forth around the shaft of his penis.

*Take a sip of hot water – as hot as you can stand – before going down on him, and then, keeping your mouth closed, swish it all around his penis.

*Chill a bunch of marbles in the fridge. Toss them on the bed and make him lie on them while you straddle him.

*Slip a glazed doughnut around his penis and nibble it off.

4. The indignation when people insinuate Cosmo is ridiculous. After that last sex tip, Kate White notes:

In his book I Am Charlotte Simmons, novelist Tom Wolfe mocked our write up of this move. But perhaps he was just jealous no one had ever tried it on him.

Ooooh! In your face, Tom Wolfe! Now you have to write another novel with a fresh comeback.

5. They put the word “Va-jay-jay” on the cover of a national magazine.

Okay, okay – that’s not fully fair to Cosmo. The truth is Cosmopolitan is an easy target for feminist ire. It seems to represent the worst parts of women’s magazines, with their obsession with a tight ass, perfect hair, catching a man, and then fucking him senseless until he submits and gives you a rock. (That should be the Cosmo tagline – Do it for the ring!) The articles are shallow, the subjects tepid, the covers airbrushed to within an inch of their life.

Even the search bar on the Cosmo site reminds us of the main interests of the Cosmo demographic:

Try: bikinis | boyfriends | cocktails | shoes | relationships

And yet…

For some reason, Cosmo continues to pique my interest. When I was younger, Cosmo was the forbidden magazine. It was about sex. And when I say sex, I mean S-E-X, giant letters, often obscured by those little supermarket modesty placards. After I lost my virginity, I remember proudly rolling into the drugstore, and plunking down the three dollars for a copy of Cosmo. I was in. All the secrets of sex would be at my fingertips.

A year later, I realized Cosmo was repeating articles and stopped reading it. After all, how many different ways can you make a guy pop? Month after month, I found myself paging through articles with titles like “7 Kinds of Sex All Couples Need,” “7 Sex Secrets Every Cosmo Girl Must Know,” and “14 Sex Moves You’ve Never Heard Of” – on and on and on. So, I stopped reading. For a while.

Then, a few years back, I decided to really try to get myself published. So I started investigating markets for publication. While I didn’t read much of Cosmo, I learned that it is the top selling women’s interest Magazine in the US, and in many parts of the world – it has 58 international editions, and is published in 34 languages.

And, more importantly, it pays two dollars a word.

For two dollars a word, I would happily pen “Sixteen Sexy Secrets for Sexier Sex in Your Va-jay-jay” – an 800 word front of the book piece would easily cover a month’s rent.

So, I started researching Cosmo, and much to my surprise, I actually found myself finding things to love about the much maligned mag. So while all the stuff I wrote at the beginning of the post still stands, here are five reasons I really love Cosmo:

1. It recognizes women have a sex drive and can be visually stimulated.

Cosmo is the only women’s magazine that routinely features half-nekkid men for our viewing pleasure. This seems like a small thing, but really, it’s kind of a revolutionary idea. Standard knowledge would dictate that only men are stimulated visually, and that women put more focus on the emotional side of a relationship. Not so, finds Cosmo, who responded to reader emails and feedback on articles and introduced features like “Guy Without His Shirt,” started using attractive male models in their feature articles, and upped the number of men per issue.

After all, what other mag would publish this?

2. Cosmo actually listens to reader feedback.

In general, when Cosmo readers ask for something, they get it. Shorter articles? Done. (Most of Cosmo’s articles only span a page or two.) More editorial? Done. More sex, fashion, and beauty coverage? Done, done, and done. The only place Cosmo stumbles is in their financial coverage – while many of their readers are young professionals, their financial and career coverage is woefully lacking. (I already discussed this in an article for Bitch Magazine, called “Dollars, But No Sense.”) But for the most part, the magazine is driven directly by reader feedback.

Which, depending on how you look at it, is both a good thing and a bad thing. (Are we really this shallow? All signs point to yes.)

3. Kate White doesn’t talk down to her readers.

The Cosmo girl has become an archetype of sorts in this society – the epitome of the bubble headed sorority pledge who later becomes a ditzy assistant type before marrying well. After all, didn’t Cosmo stand in for “The Bible” in Legally Blonde?

And yet, Cosmo realizes that young women are at different points in their development. So, one of things Cosmo does is speak to the women who aren’t necessarily known for being intelligent or business savvy, and breaks down large concepts into a way that will resonate with her audience. Kate White’s book, which I quoted earlier, seems like a ridiculously simple way to discuss things like relationships, or getting ahead at work. But by using concepts and ideas that resonate with Cosmo girls (like the idea of sexy”), Kate is able to parlay those ideas into messages of business empowerment. For example, a chapter titled “The One Sure Way to Be Famous” really says:

A few months ago, I was making a television appearance, and while leaving the studio greenroom, I bumped into a well-known model I’d met on several occasions. She was there to promote a big project and after she described it to me, I asked if she was managing to squeeze in any modeling.

“Not these days,” she said. “I’m really a brand now.”

I almost burst out laughing, but then I couldn’t really blame her for speaking in those terms because career experts and magazines like Fast Company tell us we need to brand ourselves today. It seems a little silly to go through life viewing yourself as comparable to Tropicana orange juice or Bounty paper towels, but it does pay to develop a great reputation. When there’s buzz about you, people start coming to you.

It can take years to develop a great reputation, but there is a way to jump-start the process. The strategy is summed up beautifully by a woman I know who runs a very successful company. “The secret,” she says, “is to do one or two things really well.” And make sure everyone knows it.

It is smart advice – told in an accessible way.

4. Cosmo focuses on a full and happy life – with a heavy focus on heterosexual partnership.

It is fairly obvious that Cosmo focuses solely on heterosexual relationships. I can’t even think of an article about alternative sexuality that might have appeared in Cosmo. And yet, the magazines bread and butter is how to navigate communication between men and women. As I discussed a bit earlier, the dating industry is a billion dollar business, set up to prey upon that human need for companionship. And Cosmo is right at the forefront of that business, asking their readers to continually renew their subscriptions and visit their websites in exchange for knowledge about men, sex, dating, and relationships.

But in recent years, Cosmo has also slightly altered their content, unveiling a “You You You” section that focuses on personal development. Articles like “Reclaim the Girl You Left Behind” provide a window of insight, and a discussion on how to determine if something is missing in your life. It’s strange to see a magazine like Cosmo asking things like “Do you have a tendency to put other people’s wants and needs above your own?” – especially when they encourage that kind of thinking in other articles – but it is an interesting step forward to try to help their readers find balance.

5. Helen Gurley Brown

The original Cosmo girl, she published “Sex and The Single Girl” before “Four Blondes” was a gleam in Candace Bushnell’s eye, and continues to this day to write books, letters, and steer the direction of Cosmo’s international titles. Looking back at her work is an indicator of exactly how far women have come. And if you are ever in the mood for a laugh, check out Glossed Over‘s Working Girl Wednesdays, where the blogger pulls gems from Gurley Brown’s archives:

Welcome to Working Girl Wednesdays! Need advice on handling the complexities of the modern workplace? Well, fret no more! Whether it’s a senior partner making a move or a catty co-worker plotting for your plum position, Helen Gurley Brown’s 1964 book Sex and the Office has a solution. Every Wednesday on Glossed Over, I’ll present a new tip from the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan. Is her advice utterly ridiculous or startlingly prescient? You decide!

Love it or hate it, Cosmo really is the magazine that keeps on giving.

And whether I’m checking it out for the punchlines, or scamming for a byline, I’ll probably be reading for a long time to come.

Call it yet another one of my (Un)feminist Guilty Pleasures.


Edited to Add: Whoops, forgot my soundtrack!

So Hot – The Wonder Girls (Korean)

The War of the Sexes (Song Only) – The Streets

Author: has written 21 posts for this blog.

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56 Responses

  1. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson September 7, 2008 at 3:11 pm |

    I was kind if disappointed when I realized that Cosmo and its ilk really do make me feel bad about myself, and they’re not pleasures, guilty or no. It makes you feel really alienated, to have to walk away from so much of your own culture. I’d rather pass the time on the elliptical watching the six kinds of MTV they always have on the TVs than re-read the re-used sex tips. I also like to stick a copy of bitch or Bust into the magazine rack at the gym after I’ve finished with it.

  2. Suzanne
    Suzanne September 7, 2008 at 3:27 pm |

    1. It recognizes women have a sex drive and can be visually stimulated.

    Cosmo is the only women’s magazine that routinely features half-nekkid men for our viewing pleasure.

    That may be true for the American market, but certainly here in the UK we have – or at the very least, had – “more!” magazine, which featured in every single issue a butt naked (save for modesty measures) ‘centrefold’. They also had a section in each magazine where readers were encouraged to send in pictures of their SO’s butt-naked butts.

    This was, however, at least five or six years ago.

  3. Cara
    Cara September 7, 2008 at 3:46 pm |

    Five reasons I hate Cosmo:

    1. The gray rape article
    2. The gray rape article
    3. The gray rape article
    4. The gray rape article
    5. You guessed it . . . the gray rape article.

    And I don’t think that they really listen to their readers or fail to talk down to them when they responded to everyone who wrote in about the gray rape article with “no, you just misunderstood — you see, we’re not responsible for what we print in our magazine!”

    No, seriously. HATE. These assholes have managed to single-handedly turn “gray rape” into a buzz word and therefore set back the anti-rape movement by . . . well, a long fucking time.


    Sorry, but I really, really, really fucking hate them. See red at the mere mention of their name hate them. Wrote letters and started shit when Planned Parenthood gave them an award for some article on sexual health hate them. And yes, for this reason.

    But of course, I do love you, Latoya :)

  4. Cara
    Cara September 7, 2008 at 3:55 pm |

    . . . oh, and yeah I know that the article was published a year ago. Still outrageously pissed.

  5. J.
    J. September 7, 2008 at 4:16 pm |

    I don’t know. Is objectifying men really empowering to women? Sure, I would be amused by scoping out some guy’s package while wandering around the mall with a girlfriend, but I don’t see how this creates an atmosphere to help decrease male violence or disrespect or harassment toward women, or men feeling entitled to women’s bodies.

  6. Steph
    Steph September 7, 2008 at 4:39 pm |

    Cosmo is a sexist, size-ist car crash.
    There’s a million guilty pleasures I’d rather indulge.

  7. Steph
    Steph September 7, 2008 at 4:40 pm |

    (I also hate hate hate the “gray” rape article. And objectification.)

  8. Lauren
    Lauren September 7, 2008 at 4:53 pm |

    I love all the stupid general women’s interest magazines. I’ll spend extra time milling around the doctor’s office and the hair salon so I can read up on the bad celebrity gossip, fashion trends — now that I think about it, all I care about is the gossip and shopping — and I think part of it is exactly what I hate about it. It’s aspirational window shopping for shit I’ll never be able to afford, and in reflection it’s shit that I don’t know I really want (you know I don’t need it). I read Cosmo for the same reasons I read Jezebel. It is what it is.

    Sure, I would be amused by scoping out some guy’s package while wandering around the mall with a girlfriend

    I’m not saying I condone it or whatever, but it sounds like you’re more critical of Cosmo writing about it than that people actually do it.

  9. cubicalgirl
    cubicalgirl September 7, 2008 at 5:05 pm |

    Latoya, while I echo the love for you personally, I cannot and will not ever endorse Cosmo. When I was in my early 20’s and living on my own for the first time, I had a subscription to Cosmo and couldn’t figure out why my life wasn’t as fabulous as the all the young professional women who were quoted in the magazine. Because I was single, fat, and and budding feminist, my life was not reflected in those pages and I would literally cry after looking at page after page of clothes I couldn’t wear, men who wouldn’t date me, and consumer items I had no hope of affording or even that much interest in. I wondered what was wrong with me. I finally figured it out: I was reading crap designed to make me feel inferior. I dropped those toxic mags and got myself subscriptions to Bust and Bitch instead. Now I never cry after reading magazines.

    PS: Oh yeah, “gray rape”? Suck it, Cosmo!

  10. Morningstar
    Morningstar September 7, 2008 at 5:09 pm |

    6. they put princess riri on the cover.

  11. Cara
    Cara September 7, 2008 at 5:23 pm |

    Latoya —

    The problem with the term gray rape is twofold. One is that I believe it’s victim-blaming and acknowledges all of the excuses for why women are to blame for rape and then justifies them. Why is it not rape but “gray rape”? Precisely because she was drinking/went home with him/went on that second date. If you read the article, you’ll see that this is the reasoning for why every single case described, all of which are very clear cases of rape, are somehow “gray.” I believe that the key to getting women to stop blaming themselves is not to provide a term that promotes their blaming themselves. I believe that they key is creating a society where we understand what rape is. Which leads to my next point . . .

    In addition to blaming women — and these two things do almost always go hand in hand — it excuses men. When something is in a “gray” area, it is unclear. Consent is always clear. When consent is not clear, proceeding is taking on the very real risk of raping someone. This is simple, but society believes it to be very confusing, and the term solidifies that in the public consciousness. That is why the term took off.

    It’s because Cosmo has such a high profile and the ear of so many women that this article was so profoundly dangerous. As someone in that position, they could easily and responsibly use it to promote a real understanding of rape, that yes it’s rape even if you were drinking, yes it’s rape if you made out with him first, yes it’s rape even if you didn’t scream or fight. They specifically chose not to do that, and to separate sexual assault into two popular categories: real rape (the kind where a stranger jumps out of the bushes, beats you up and threatens to kill you) and gray rape (the vast majority of rapes where women are not virgins who refuse to talk to men, and might have even done something like had a drink or worn a short skirt).

    And since you brought up the impact on survivors, I’ll let this get a big personal. (And I direct this at Cosmo, not you Latoya.) As a survivor, and of a rape that would very, very easily fall into the definition of “gray rape,” having what was done to me and what took me years to believe was not in fact my fault and not in fact unclear, referred to as “gray”? That is extremely triggering and upsetting. It is also the exact mentality that has led countless assholes to assert that I wasn’t “really” raped. I hardly believe that I’m the only one to have that experience. And yes, it does make my vehemence against this article all that much stronger.

    As for the “Most Dangerous Date Rape Drug You Haven’t Heard Of . . . alcohol” articles — I fucking hate those things, too! Because those articles are almost never about guys spiking your drink with extra alcohol, but about women willfully ingesting alcohol before a man rapes her. And that goes back to the whole “tsk, tsk, why were you drinking?” and the idea that it’s women’s responsibility to avoid rape rather than men’s job not to commit it. Otherwise, why the article? Why isn’t the article about the fact that men are statistically more likely to commit rape after drinking, in fact significantly more likely than women are to have rape committed against them after drinking?

  12. [dave]
    [dave] September 7, 2008 at 5:26 pm |

    Latoya, thanks for both, “After all, how many different ways can you make a guy pop?” and the first line, which bracketed I plan on repeating to anyone who’ll listen … “[Cosmo] is The Onion for feminists.” …… genius. If I’d been drinking anything I would have spat it up.

    That said, I agree that its important to keep challenging ideas that society pushes upon us even if they’re ideas that we find ourselves inexplicably partial to, even in the face of them being a guilty pleasure.

  13. Ashley
    Ashley September 7, 2008 at 5:29 pm |

    Okay, so like Cara, I love your writing, but I hate Cosmo! And I hate the gray rape article most of all (though the number they did on my self-esteem when I was in high school comes in a close second).

    So, in reading that Cosmo article, I saw them trying to reach women who would otherwise push the incident out of their minds, or blame themselves.

    But Cosmo has the power to actually do that kind of massive public education effectively, instead of writing some half-assed, horrifically flawed attempt at it (and I don’t think that was their intention, anyway. The writer of the gray rape article obviously knew fuckall about sexual assault).

    Cosmo has the power to write an article about what rape really means, and how our culture rationalizes sexual violence and pretends it isn’t such a big deal. They have access to a huge swath of the population that anti-violence activists simply don’t have the resources to contact.

    If Cosmo wanted to write an article to give women the courage to come forward, they could do exactly that. Instead, they wrote something that gives women further reason to doubt their gut feeling about what happened to them, and that implies that only a very small portion of rapists should face consequences.

    Bah. Cosmo.

  14. Radfem
    Radfem September 7, 2008 at 5:40 pm |

    Maybe it’s just me but I find both Cosmo and Glamour like paint dry these days. Cosmo had its moments and Glamourseemed much better under Ruth Whitney who really tried to inject feminism into it but went south when Bonnie Fuller (from Cosmo) took over.

    I was in a Glamour article during her reign and talked to editors there about issues impacting women and sexism and they were so much more approachable in that way than in later years. One of them actually called me after I wrote a letter.

    Women’s magazines especially the teen ones exist mainly to advertise the selling of beauty products and I did a paper once for mass media class on the relationship between magazines like Seventeen, ‘TEEN, Sassy and YM as well as Brit teen magazines and Australia’s Dolly which was clearly the forerunner for Sassy. Except for Sassy(which had great difficulty most of the time getting ads), the U.S. magazines were inundated with ads, complimentary copy (which is stories that sell products or the need for the products) and business relationships for advertising dictating editorial content (i.e. a beauty product company not being within four pages either direction from an article on abortion or contraception), The magazines outside the U.S. at the time I did my paper weren’t as high in percentage of copy taken up or related to beauty ads.

    It was a fun paper to research and write but was very sobering to analyze content of these magazines.

    Big advertisers were Clarol, Cover Girl, Maybelline and companies like these.

  15. natmusk
    natmusk September 7, 2008 at 6:41 pm |

    I actually was going to express that Glamour is a better girly magazine guilty pleasure than cosmo. They are not perfect but I feel that they have managed to at least attempt to care about real life issues. Although, I don’t know when this takeover occurred I haven’t bought a Glamour in a few months

  16. Meghan
    Meghan September 7, 2008 at 7:01 pm |

    I was in Europe in 1999 and, missing English-language reading material I could carry in my backpack, I bought a couple issues of Cosmo. One was British Cosmo, one was American. They each had a story on ghostly run-ins and the stories were exactly the same. Instead of the bed-and-breakfast in Maine, though, it was an inn in the Lake District or something. I was disappointed.

    The magazine also makes me feel bad about myself and I don’t need anyone else’s help with that, so I swore off it. I think my husband is okay with missing out on whatever tricks the magazine might suggest that I couldn’t think up myself.

  17. Cara
    Cara September 7, 2008 at 7:18 pm |

    Whoa. That Yahoo answers thing put me in quite the bad mood. I should have seen that one coming a mile away, but I don’t recommend clicking over, folks . . .

  18. Sniper
    Sniper September 7, 2008 at 7:24 pm |

    I was exposed to Cosmo when I was way too young (under 12) and I think it was one of the reasons I avoided boys/men for so long. That being said, Latoya’s article cracked me right the hell up.

  19. oh!press pass
    oh!press pass September 7, 2008 at 7:45 pm |

    I just wrote about this in response to THE F WORD’s mention of it.

    In the F Word’s chapter “A New Cultural Landscape”, I was a little disturbed by some of the content. While I desire all women to have control over their sexuality, I believe some of the examples given in the book trace back to misogynistic sexuality. Cosmopolitan magazine was noted as a magazine that “bluntly addresses women’s sexuality” and dared to label it is as “a part of modern feminism in action”. The sexuality most commonly addressed in Cosmo is male focused. It’s understandable that women would want to please their male sexual partners. But Cosmo gives the illusion that the only way to please him is to constantly focus on his pleasure and his desires. I am looking at the current issue of Comsopolitan and every single cover story has to do with “him”: “His Body”, “15 Dates He’ll Be Into”, “How Long Guys Want Sex to Last”, etc. It encourages woman to uphold “sex kitten” persona instead of discussing realistic sexual relationships with men. I believe this magazine has nothing to do with my ideas of feminist sexuality.

    Also…I remember the article that made me vow never to read Cosmo again. The article told me not to put my nighties (a.k.a. sex clothes) in the dirty clothes hamper because he will see it all dirty and wrinkled with the rest of the dirty clothes. So basically, if you show real human routines like dirty laundry…you aren’t sexy.

  20. octogalore
    octogalore September 7, 2008 at 7:47 pm |

    Good post. Yeah, “it is what it is” is an accurate insight. As you note, the “powers that be” who put women’s mags out there have not yet come up with a magazine that has the kind of coverage of say, GQ or Esquire, but with a female slant the way those mags have a male slant, and with less of a “how to please” theme.

    That being the landscape, Cosmo actually is not all that bad, IMO. I have the same issues others do with the grey rape article. Cosmo blew an opportunity, and caused harm. Yet mainstream publications as a whole are blameworth in this regard; most of them won’t go near the topic. Compared to other mags which focus on unaffordable “fashion” and harlequin-type tips, Cosmo does seem to have more meat on the bone.

    I hope someday somebody puts together a magazine which targets women who’ve already honed their techniqe at going down on whatever gender floats their boat, are past the 101 phase of career evaluation and self-esteem, maybe have a number besides “2” in front of their age, and have questions about politics besides whether female politicians of the moment look like Tina Fey.

  21. scamps
    scamps September 7, 2008 at 8:11 pm |

    Like many. I started adulthood with Cosmo. I bought almost every single issue. Then one month, I read a whole issue, and suddenly thought, “This is completely insulting to my intelligence.”

    You discuss how they make complex issues accessible to readers, but in my opinion, they tend to be very inaccessible. If you don’t fit into their idea of a “Cosmo Girl” even the slightest bit, then you’re not acknowledged as even existing on this planet. They sometimes give lip service to racial diversity, but have they ever shown a model wearing glasses, probably the most common “accessory” on earth?

    You also talk about them acknowledging women’s sexuality. But, as previously pointed out, they spend nearly all of that time discussing ways to please your partner(always male). It’s no wonder so many women have little to no knowledge about how to please THEMSELVES. Self-pleasure isn’t even hinted at. And the only time I have seen anything on alternative sexuality is the occassional article on the women-kissing-women “trend”.

  22. Ashley
    Ashley September 7, 2008 at 8:12 pm |

    So, considering that Cosmo has the ear of so many women, would it be better for feminists to switch gears and try to get published there, in order to debunk some of those myths? It could kind of go the way Glamour magazine did when they had that black hair scandal go down recently – it ended up being a three part series on race, and the door is open for more conversation in that vein. I know that you wrote a letter, but can you think of anyone who aggressively tried to get published?

    I guess I don’t know anything about getting published, and haven’t ever tried. I don’t know if I’d consider myself a good enough writer, honestly. But aside from that, my assumption is that me trying to get published in Cosmo would be kind of akin to Rachel Maddow trying to get a job on Fox News. Maybe I’m wrong.

    And, you bring up an interesting point – what about the men’s mags? What is Maxim (Cosmo’s brother publication) saying about rape? Should we be targeting them as well?

    Men’s magazines are much worse than women’s magazines on the sexual violence issue, in my experience. Hustler loves a good rape joke, Hugh Hefner denies that acquaintance rape happens, and I once read a whole six or seven page diatribe about the lying womenz in Penthouse. Maxim and such are really awful, both in their policing of masculinity and in their portrayals of women. And the ads! Axe ads all over the place. Blech. Esquire seems to me to be mostly for gay guys, so there’s less misogyny because women are kind of irrelevant. More classism though.

    I definitely agree that targeting these publications and asking them to publish work by good, feminist writers would be a great idea. But I also think it would require a big community effort by feminists, not just one person trying to get published on their own. Because obviously feminism is kind of going to destroy the entire business model of magazines selling women’s insecurity about their appearance and men’s insecurity about their masculinity.

  23. The Girl Detective
    The Girl Detective September 7, 2008 at 8:33 pm |

    I never noticed that Cher’s last name is Horowitz (of course, I haven’t seen the movie since I was 14). I never knew we’re meant to see her as a JAP.

    I’m depressed now.

  24. Mo
    Mo September 7, 2008 at 9:00 pm |

    They seem to have dumped “Aunt Irma’s Agony Column” which was always one of the main things balancing the ridiculousness for me. Irma gave forgiving, but get your act together fast, girl answers to the reader questions. And the queries were of the “there are no stupid questions, but there are overly inquisitive idiots type.”

    Best way to experience Cosmo – read aloud on a long car trip. Especially with guys handling the more ridiculous stuff. True story – we were reading sex tips aloud and when we got “to really turn him on, insert a finger in his butt during intercourse,” one of the guys cringed. “That’s where girls get these ideas!?!” It turned out that two of the guys had had this happen and it had really freaked both of them out. They were even more freaked by the fact that the women (and it was different women) had probably gotten the idea from Cosmo. One later confessed that the “Hot Sex Stuff Guys Love” headlines now freak him out a bit. But that he does use the story as a funny way of bringing up boundary issues.

  25. scamps
    scamps September 7, 2008 at 9:21 pm |

    Latoya –

    Kind of refreshing to see such a quick response.

    Of course every magazine will only appeal to certain audiences. In my personal experience, though, it seems like a lot of other magazines at least acknowledge others in one form or another. Maybe it’s not always in a positive way, but they’re aware of others. Cosmo seems to be in an extreme state of ignorant bliss that, in my opinion, can be unhealthy and dangerous for such a large communication platform to have. This isn’t a fringe group that can just be swept under the carpet.

    Again, this is just how I see it. These are only qualities that I notice.

  26. Radfem
    Radfem September 7, 2008 at 9:24 pm |

    LaToya, I agree and I think the uniformity of female magazines and the tailoring to the beauty industry is a reason why they come off as just being boring to me. It’s like reading the same one over and over. And I agree with what you said about men’s magazines. When I travel, I read Details sometimes which is the only male magazine except occasionally Esquire that I read and even the articles I don’t like, I can see why the magazine’s engaging to readers for the reason that you address whereas one woman’s magazine seems just like the next. Sometimes even the headlines are the same!

    natmusk, Fuller took over from Whitney and turned Glamour into Cosmo lite years ago but I don’t know who’s running it now but it’s hard sometimes to find a single interesting article. Maybe I’m getting too old (as this magazine is tailored mostly to 20 and 30 somethings).

    Though there was an interesting article on race and friendships which had Carmen from Racialicious interviewed as part of a panel.

  27. Jordan
    Jordan September 7, 2008 at 9:30 pm |

    I quickly read through this post in RSS and my eyes picked out the words ‘glazed donut’ – uh…huh.

  28. Lukovka
    Lukovka September 7, 2008 at 9:42 pm |

    It was funny for me to see Cosmo compared to the Onion, since I was just watching one of the Onion‘s video news parodies, ‘Cosmopolitan’ Institute Completes Decades-Long Study on How To Please Your Man. I thought it was pretty well done–it makes sure to make the point at the end it seems a lot of us would want to make.

  29. Jill
    Jill September 7, 2008 at 10:26 pm | *

    I haven’t read Cosmo in a long, long time, but the last time I seriously browsed it was when I was doing a project in college comparing international versions of women’s magazines to American versions. I think it was Cosmo whose American tagline was something like, “Fun, Fearless, Female.” The UK version’s tagline was “Fun, Fearless, Feminist.”

  30. annalouise
    annalouise September 7, 2008 at 10:43 pm |

    God I love Cosmo. It’s the only exception to my firm stance that “loving things ironcly is for douche nozzles”. My housemate at the anarchist commune I lived in a while back had a year-long subscription to Cosmo and it was the greatest thing. I’d come home from work and find a bunch of guys from some punk band, deciked out in spikes and patches, sitting around our coffee table taking the quiz to figure out their “Love Style”.

    On sort of serious note: I kind of get annoyed when I hear women say “Cosmo makes me feel bad about myself”. 90% of the time I hear this from women who are relatively thin, white, young and conventionally attractive. It make me suspect a couple of things about those women a) feeling really bad about your body is a relativ novelty that only a ridiculously unrealistic magazine like Cosmo can create or b)they’ve decided to notice the body hate in Cosmo rather than the body hate in their own subculture because it’s an easier target.
    Cosmo actually leaves me feeling less lousy about my fat body than going to say, a hipster record store where tiny girls in tiny girl outfits look at me like I can’t possibly be cool enough. It makes me fee less lousy than, for example, that article a few months back on Pandagon where the author praised the indie rock scene for it’s obession with tiny breasts. Feminist and lefty communities make me feel like utter shit about my body all thef fucking time, because my body is used a symbole that I can’t possibley be cool or down or feminist enough. So, I always feel a little kneejerk grumpy when people start on that “Cosmo makes me hate myself” line.

  31. JenLovesPonies
    JenLovesPonies September 7, 2008 at 10:50 pm |

    Reading these comments, I feel bad, because I love Cosmo. I don’t subscribe, but its the first magazine I pick up in waiting rooms. The things I like include that the sex articles mostly seem to talk about the importance of getting off- that men always enjoy seeing a woman’s pleasure, which seems a little sex 101 to me, but is not a message everyone seems to know. I also love the sexy book excerpts- they are always female authors.

    That said, I never read the gray rape article.

  32. bittergradstudent
    bittergradstudent September 7, 2008 at 11:02 pm |

    The scrunchy thing is actually good advice, but not for the reason they cite—it would function like a penis ring, and help extend intercourse, without being too absurdly tight.

  33. Beppie
    Beppie September 7, 2008 at 11:32 pm |

    The last time I bought Cosmo– about two and half years ago, mind– I was about to take a long train trip and had no other reading material. This was Aussie Cosmo, btw, which has not, to my knowledge, explicitly perpetuated the “gray rape” myth– but what it did wasn’t much better. This particular issue had a sealed section of “erotic stories written by YOU”– and these were supposedly representative of all Cosmo readers. ALL of these stories involved the women (they were, of course, all het) being passive as all hell. There was one in which she took the initiative, but once they actually got down to the sexxins, the man took charge, and several of them began with the woman outright resisting the encounter, only to be won over by the man’s persistant attempts (an insidious rape myth if ever I saw one). At the same time, however, I was struck by the fact that, in the actual articles, there seemed to be an assumption that a large portion of the readership would identify as feminist– something that’s rather rare these days, I think.

  34. Fatemeh
    Fatemeh September 8, 2008 at 12:43 am |

    Latoya, thank you for making me laugh out loud; I loved your post.

    Even though I hate Cosmo. But, shit, who I am kidding? I’ll pick that garbage up and flip right to the fashion section if I’m in a waiting room and it’s between Cosmo and Family Matters or whatever the hell that magazine is that talks about 20-minute meals.

    And I appreciate your different takes on Cosmo’s ways to reach its audience. Anybody can tell that this shit isn’t empowering per-se, but it takes a real analytic brain to figure out the positives.

  35. Allison
    Allison September 8, 2008 at 1:08 am |

    I had always heard bad things about Cosmo, so when I picked it up at work one day I didn’t have high expectations. But, omg, it was ALL ABOUT SEX and not just ‘for his pleasure’ type crap. It talked about masturbation. It taught me that the morning after pill can be attained without a prescription if you’re over 18. The relationships section doesn’t just talk about getting a man to marry you. It talks about hookups too. It could use more full figured models and more POC models.
    I find it refreshing that basically the entire magazine is about having fun, and not a guide to starving yourself and being a homemaker like the crap my mom has lying around her house. (women’s day and ladies home journal type sadness.) And it is a big deal to talk about women objectifying men, so I like that alot. I think it could definately be meatier in the articles, but in general I’m a fan of Cosmo.

  36. Lucy
    Lucy September 8, 2008 at 1:21 am |

    Loved “Cosmo is the Onion for Feminists”, but not so much the rest. I love a controversial defense of a much hated piece of entertainment (I found the recent Britney Spears one much more sensible) but I just cannot agree.

    As somone said above, I have found that Cosmo is not evem a guilty pleasure anymore. I borrowed a woman’s Cosmo on a Greyjound bus trip recently (not being in the moood for more of my grim and depressing war books) and I read it through, and it was just so much worse than I remembered. I read it thinking, this is what I am supposed to care about, this is the cliche of what a woman is. Every fucking issue is the same, pleasing your man, token pretend career tips, 547289423742374 sex tips, embarrising stories, bad erotica, overpriced fashion. It’s depressing and offensive to read. The depressing part is how successful the magazine is.

    I gave the Cosmo back to the woman after realizing I wasn’t even entertained enough to justify my disgust, cleared my head with some Ramones, and vowed to stick with Outside, Reason, Bitch, and Atlantic magazines.

  37. Jill
    Jill September 8, 2008 at 1:32 am | *

    Also not a huge Cosmo fan, but like Lauren I love trashy celeb gossip rags and I admittedly do read fashion magazines. The SEX SEX SEX stuff in Cosmo irritates me because the advice usually just isn’t that good (as Latoya illustrates), and it’s all about how to please your man in 305482 new ways. And I hate the tone — I don’t talk like that, and I don’t know anyone else who talks like that. But hey, we all have our trashtastic loves — mine happen to be Vogue and Us Weekly. Those are probably both far worse than Cosmo, for different reasons.

  38. Cindy
    Cindy September 8, 2008 at 11:17 am |

    if Cosmo really cared about women’s sexuality it would feature more articles about teaching women how to please themselves and leave a man if he’s pressuring you into something you don’t want to do, not try to make you all insecure and just try to please the guy.

  39. Isabel
    Isabel September 8, 2008 at 11:26 am |

    On sort of serious note: I kind of get annoyed when I hear women say “Cosmo makes me feel bad about myself”. 90% of the time I hear this from women who are relatively thin, white, young and conventionally attractive.

    annalouise: As someone who probably fits into all of these, and who doesn’t identify with any particular subculture, I’d like to explain why I feel like Cosmo & its ilk make me feel bad about myself (note: this isn’t to disagree with what you said, because you bring up some really interesting points, and of course your experience is totally valid. I just wanted to share my own personal take on the mater).

    Hating my body isn’t a novelty for me; I’ve been doing it since I was ten years old. Is it all Cosmo’s fault? No, obviously it would be silly to blame the giant pressure on women regarding appearance on one magazine I didn’t even pick up an issue of till years later.

    However, the reason I can’t even bring myself to read Cosmo as a brain turn-off is because they basically normalize disordered eating and body hate. They talk about all these little ways you can cut calories and they make it seem like it’s about both health and sexiness and like it’s some fun cool thing to do, like it’s normal and, yes, something all women should do, and all women should WANT to do, to mentally scan every bite of food you put into your mouth and you know what? That kind of thinking is the exact kind of thinking that has taken over my life in the past and made me miserable and crying and totally unable to enjoy food for days on end. I don’t think my story is uniquely terrible or anything, and honestly I think I’m lucky that it never moved beyond a messed-up mental relationship with food that had a few minor health consequences (mostly somewhat decreased bone density) to a full-blown eating disorder. But it happened, it still happens sometimes, and if I read Cosmo I find myself half-wanting it to happen.

    So. Is it Cosmo’s FAULT that I have these issues? No, of course not. Does reading Cosmo reinforce patterns that are incredibly damaging to my mental health and general ability to enjoy life at all, and that have been present since I was 10? Yes, it absolutely does.

    Weirdly, I do occasionally enjoy Self magazine, even though they have some of the same issues. I find them less prevalent than in Cosmo, I guess, or the way they’re presented isn’t as upsetting to me for some reason.

  40. Isabel
    Isabel September 8, 2008 at 11:40 am |

    Just wanted to clarify something from my last comment–I’m not saying that my response is a response every woman has or should have to Cosmo, and I do think that my response to Cosmo is connected to the fact that I am white (and, in a different way, to the fact that I am also Hispanic/not-Anglo–being white makes their beauty standard somehow relatable to me, but being non-Anglo–and unless they’ve changed a LOT in the past few years, their beauty standard is definitely white Anglo–made it feel, to me, more hopeless. Not that I recognized when I was younger that that’s what was going on, not that this is exclusive to Cosmo, not that it actually WAS more hopeless for me than for anyone else–it’s pretty hopeless for everyone–but that was what I felt, in an adolescent “you call THAT pear shaped??? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ABOUT MEEE” sort of way). I also really hope my comment doesn’t come across like “wah it’s hard being young and white with Cosmo in the world!!!” because that is the exact opposite of how I meant it–this was just my own story, which was influenced by things I probably can’t even see.

  41. Natalia
    Natalia September 8, 2008 at 11:42 am |

    As it was said upthread, Cosmo is what it is.

    And yeah, I read it. ;)

  42. » Blog Archive » whew » Blog Archive » whew September 8, 2008 at 12:53 pm |

    […] was reading this article the other day that said something to the effect of “Cosmopolitan is like The Onion for […]

  43. choice
    choice September 8, 2008 at 1:40 pm |

    Beauty magazines are made to make you feel ugly. If you feel ugly, you will buy the sponsors products.
    Got straight hair? Oh No! Buy the hair curler products!
    Got curly hair? Oh No! Buy the straightener products!

    And you better take care of that curly or straight hair fast or you wont be attractive to a man! Once you have used all these “beautifying” products, you can snag a man! Work hard at keeping him by taking the ridiculous sex advise!

    If it was about empowering women and acknowledging our sexuality, it would be about us gaining sexual pleasure. The articles would be about BC. About our sexual health. About healthy boundaries.
    Not about how to keep a man.

    I’m saddened to discover it has such a huge readership.
    That informs me that we haven’t come nearly as far in the movement as I thought.

  44. McStar
    McStar September 8, 2008 at 2:54 pm |

    “1. It recognizes women have a sex drive and can be visually stimulated.

    Cosmo is the only women’s magazine that routinely features half-nekkid men for our viewing pleasure.

    That may be true for the American market, but certainly here in the UK we have – or at the very least, had – “more!” magazine”

    I’m in the UK, and I had a phase of reading “more” as a teenager (cut short when I left a copy lying in the livingroom and my mother confronted me with “you need to keep this in your bedroom, I do NOT want your younger sisters reading about “sex position of the fortnight” and I hope that you are NOT having sex”. I was so embarrassed I stopped buying it.

    Anyway, I’m now 22 and out of my parents’ house; and the only women’s magazine I spend money on is “Scarlet” ( – amusingly I just went to the site and on the homepage is the tagline “Scarlet makes Cosmo look like a Methodist prayer book”). It’s about 10% sex toy/lingerie ads and 70% erotica or articles about sex (which I guess is either a good or bad thing, depending on your view/personal politics/number of tracks in your mind) but it’s almost entirely written and edited from (IMHO) a feminist standpoint – the editor and several writers unashamedly describe themselves as feminists; they are currently running a campaign again media sizism which includes articles, open letters to TV shows and using models with a larger range of body shapes and sizes than most women’s mags. Which is to say, still mostly white girls size 8-14, (that’s US 4-10ish, I think) but at least the upper end of that range appears at all… Their erotica section is mostly by female writers and often features stories or scenes involving non-hetero couples. Articles about sex and relationships focus on mutual pleasure and respect, and often feature women enthusiastically experimenting with sexuality and new ways to play. They have a strict restriction on the number of pages per issue focusing on fashion & beauty, and a “no-diet policy”. Oh, and they give a free box of sex toys to anyone who signs up for an annual subscription! I’m a big fan :)

  45. RacyT
    RacyT September 8, 2008 at 8:52 pm |

    Almost everything I could say has already been said — I can’t stand it. Though I read it religiously through my 20s.

    I stopped buying Cosmo many years ago, b/c as a journalist it pissed me off that instead of having real stories, they started having “round ups” which were just reader tips edited into an “article.” It lost all its substance… and, once upon a time, it had some. The first time I read about the Taliban, at least 10 years ago, it was an investigative piece in Cosmo. Amazing how things can change.

  46. timothynakayama
    timothynakayama September 9, 2008 at 12:02 am |

    Wow, your reading of men’s magazines is way different from my own. I need to head to the store, but I’ll answer when I get back.

    Latoya, what I think when you check out the gamut of men’s magazines, you’ll find that they vary greatly, from the smutty, shrink-wrapped soft porn magazines, to the banal lad mags, to health-oriented men’s healthy mags, to more heavy hitting mags like GQ, and I’m not sure of they have this in the US, men’s fashion magazines that focus solely on men’s fashion.

    When I am looking for a Western-style men’s mag to read, I usually look at the cover: if there is a woman on the cover, I usually dismiss it. If there is a man on the cover, preferably in nice clothing, then I might consider getting it. While this may seem like a cosmetic choice, but IMHO, whether they place a man or woman on the cover does give me a clue as to what to expect inside.

    That’s why I avoid lad’s mag like FHM and Maxim like the plague. I am sick of having beautiful women shoved down my throat at every single opportunity, as if that was my sole purpose in life, to look at beautiful women…when all I really want to do is read about fashion or cosmetics or things that pertain to men, like men’s health or lifestyle choices. I mean, you’d NEVER see a man on an issue of Cosmopolitan for one.

    I collect men’s fashion magazines, but I don’t think the US even have them. These are magazines that focus solely on men’s fashion to the exclusion of everything else. these magazines are quite rare and usually are published outside the US. Actually, in Japan, there are magazines dedicated solely to men’s fashion, as well as showing how to style the hair, how to apply cosmetics, how to pair clothes. Women get this all the time in women’s mags, but these things are often never seen in issues of Western-style men’s mags.

    Having said that, I get the “Are you gay?” a lot from both men and women for simply wanting to read such mags (men’s mag sans women). I just sigh at such comments.

    I have seen no women’s equivalent of GQ, however, and if you do know one, I’d like to have a look at it, and recommend it to my female friends, who sometimes hunger for a bit more.

    In regards to Cosmo, I used to read my Mom’s issues of Cosmo when I was younger, and like Racy T mentions above, there were some pretty investigative pieces in Cosmo at that time (this was like the late 80s to early 90s). There were articles on war, serial killers, etc. I’m not sure about the modern-day Cosmo though….

  47. Chloe
    Chloe September 9, 2008 at 5:40 am |

    I might be opening myself up to attack here, but I’ve noticed the British Cosmo is much more intelligent than the American one (I’m American and I read both). It has a lot more actual journalism, like articles about things that are going on in the world, along with all the usual service journalism. It also has a features about topics that US Cosmo doesn’t usually cover, like career advice and travel articles. I’m not sure about other International Cosmos, but it would be interesting to see what they cover.

  48. Georgia
    Georgia September 23, 2008 at 7:24 pm |

    You know, I actually brought a Maxium magazine back in high school because Michelle Branch was on it. The pictures were okay, the articles were AWFUL. The kinda guys who’ll read these magazines for the articles are the guys you want to avoid, not the guys who view it for pictures. Within that issue we have the advice of getting a woman drunk…and prison rape jokes in the exercising tip section, I stillremember the line ‘protecting your cornhole chastity’.

    Anyways, I found this article while searching for a feminist opinion on Hugh Hefner, sometimes I think he’s a sleaze, sometimes I think he’s a somewhat decent sleaze, within the context of him being born in the dinosaur age and that at least he pays well….unlike that American Apparel creeep!

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