Why Cosmo Magazine Makes Me Want to Blow My Brains Out
Originally published on SexReally.com on September 27, 2010.
“Guy Sex Confessions, Untamed Va-jay-jays, Seduce Him!, The Touch that Calms Him During a Fight!” are all headlines on the front cover of the September issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. I picked up a copy at a local bookstore and proceeded to bang my head against a table while flipping through the pages.
I tried explaining to friends why the magazine threatened to push me over the edge and had trouble verbalizing it. I’ve been pondering it for the past month, reading and rereading it, trying to get down to the nitty gritty of why it rubs me the wrong way. It came down to four fundamental messages:
1. Partnership is everything.
Whether you are single or in the middle of a relationship, the idea that is continually pushed forward is who we are in love is the most important thing in life. It’s about landing that guy. Or keeping that guy. Which in my view makes the whole magazine not about being a fun, fearless female, but rather about men and how we relate to them. Which isn’t a bad thing in itself. However, the undertones of sexual liberation and feminism ring false when a majority of the articles are about how to beguile the opposite sex. Or how to please your partner.
For example, the article that screams “Untamed Va-jay-jays” in 1-inch type on the front cover is about dressing up our nether-regions. It lists the newest trends in vagina embellishments including V-Bling, Accessories, and Fitness. The one that got me was V-Makeup. Apparently there is a new product called My New Pink Button that promises to temporarily dye the labia. So, do you think that women are doing this type of accessorizing for themselves? Of course not. It’s about making a part of ourselves different, younger, or more beautiful for a partner.
“The Walk that Drives Men Wild,” takes one page to describe the most sexually appealing way to change our natural walk. In a potentially great piece about feeling a greater level of happiness each day, nearly half of the tips given involve a guy. We are instructed to, “Turn off the phone during date night…Make eye contact with a hot guy…Switch positions during sex…Daydream about getting it on with your guy while waiting in line….Kiss your guy for 20 seconds every day….” Well, what about the single girls? Or those ladies who want to increase joy in a way that isn’t connected to a partner?
2. It treats men as the “other.”
One of my biggest gripes about the magazine has to do with how it treats men as a homogenized group that needs to be manipulated in order to catalyze action.
We are able to learn tricks on how to get him to apologize. How to get him to stop text messaging one-word answers. In a piece entitled, “8 Touches that Tell Him Everything,” we are taught ways to physically handle men in order to get what we want.
I handed the “8 Touches” article over to a guy friend to get a second opinion. After reading it, he said something quite profound:
“This article views relationships as a back and forth manipulation. It reflects lack of honesty and a baseline gamesmanship in relationships.”
Wow. Quite the insight. My friend went on to say, “These things [touching] are honest when they aren’t being thought about. When they are being thought about, it is training.”
There is truth in the idea that men and women communicate differently. The question is do we want honest relationships, or do we want to train men to give us the responses we want?
3. Even the fashion is about relationships.
Cosmo does include sections about fashion, including great info on what is hot each season. In the spread, “Most Likely to Seduce,” we are shown clothes that, “…put the naughty in naughty schoolgirl every time.”
The argument can easily be made that all fashion is about attraction and sex. This idea has always struck me as a bit odd, personally. The reason I became a fashion consultant is centered on identity – how people express who they are on the inside by what they wear on the outside. It doesn’t have to do with a reflection of a man’s perception. Clothes are, ultimately, a means of engaging with life. It comes down to the question, “for whom are you dressing?” If the answer is for the opposite sex, I think it shortchanges us on a deeper level of enjoyment. We should dress for ourselves – to put on things that make us feel vibrant, to dress for pleasure, to have clothes that give us joy.
4. It pits women against each other.
As I was conducting my unscientific survey, I was surprised how the magazine called out different women on their appearance or reputation. The magazine asked 100 guys on the street, “How do you feel about cosmetic surgery” and 53% stated, “It’s okay, but natural is better.” It then showed a picture of Ashlee Simpson-Wentz with the statement, “If it makes you look and feel hotter, go for it,” versus a picture of Heidi Montag stating, “Knives, stitches, swelling…huge turn-off!” Meow! I’m not the biggest Montag fan, but nor do I see the need to slam her in a national magazine.
It doesn’t stop there. In the article,” You Just Broke Up – Now What?” one of the Your Got-Dumped Funk is Beyond Pathetic If… statements was, “You feel that given the chance, you and Jen Aniston could become BFF’s.” Ouch. Huge burn on Aniston.
The “Beauty Showdown,” gives us beauty tips and celebrity examples of who has done it correctly and who has messed up. Apparently Megan Fox knows how to wear plum colored lipstick, but Asley Olsen has “shriveled-raisin lips.”
So, the lesson is….being a Cosmo girl means talking smack about other women?
Here’s the thing – reading a fun magazine is not bad or wrong. But, I think we need to be careful about the messages that we are ingesting and do a bit of critical thinking. Cosmo is the number one selling women’s magazine in the world, so obviously it has our attention and people are listening. But is it just reinforcing its readers’ insecurities? Is it catering to that part of us that whispers, “You aren’t enough”?
Here is what I decided to do. I rewrote the definition of the Cosmo Girl.
Cosmo Girl (noun) – A woman who is bold, who lives her truth, who works her ass off, and who stands up for what is right. A woman who takes responsibility for all areas of her life, including her sex life. A woman who tries her best to be honest and compassionate. And who sure as hell dresses for herself.
Notice the definition didn’t have one mention of rhinestoning your vagina.
Kaarin Moore is the owner of Closet Caucus, a fashion consulting company located in Washington, DC. Her goal is to help clients express who they are through the medium of clothing. You can reach her at www.closetcaucus.com or on twitter (@closetcaucus).