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
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