Today: Jun 17, 2024

Cosmopolitan and the real world

Ryan Ianni – Staff Writer

I remember the first time I ever flipped through an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.  I was 19-years-old, and sitting by myself in the break room at work, right next to a stack of an assortment of magazines.

After deciding that Outdoor Life and Good Housekeeping weren’t up my alley, I came across a soft, pink-covered magazine, bearing a voluptuously curvy woman named Kim Kardashian.

As a young male, this initially intrigued my interest, however, my interest piqued even higher when I gazed over the articles and sub-heads that the issue was labeled with.

Blatant proclamations of  “What Guys Think During Sex,” “Foreplay Men Crave,” and “8 Ways to Make Him Notice,” stunned me initially, because I had never truly looked over the cover of this magazine before.  It was even labeled right under the magazine’s title “The Bad Girl Issue: For Sexy Bitches Only.”

Needless to say I was confounded with curiosity, with what for me was a revelatory discovery.  I knew girls all through high school who carried Cosmo around and I always assumed, inaccurately, that it was strictly a fashion magazine, but I was wrong.

Wrought with harried anticipation, I flipped to the aforementioned sections to see just how vivid these articles were and what they entailed, and was once again, blown away.  Tips on how to give oral sex and about sending naked pictures over the phone, even ways to “give him an erection without physical contact;” I was speechless.

I couldn’t believe that this magazine wasn’t wrapped in cellophane, and that it was just allowed to sit in the open, at check lanes, in waiting rooms, etc.  I vividly remember calling my girlfriend to share my discovery, and was essentially told, “Are you being serious? You didn’t know that?”

From that day on, I’ve had an odd relationship with the magazine of Cosmopolitan.  I don’t subscribe to it personally, but I find myself always looking through it if it’s available.  In a way that initial shock has never went away, and it has followed me all the way until present day, where the most recent cover girl, of what in my mind is the most scandalous magazine, is actress Rachel Bilson.

With more of an understanding about this magazine now in my frame of mind, what are the specifics of Cosmo? Meaning, what is their goal? Do they feel they are accurately portraying women and/or men? Do they think they make women feel either good or bad about themselves?

I have my own preconceived notions, but after looking through the May 2013 issue from cover to cover and reading every last article, I found myself yet again being surprised at what I discovered in Cosmo.

The ideal Cosmo cover girl is almost always someone exclusively famous, as an actress, singer, model, or some other from of celebrity.  Usually scantily clad and done up in every kind of makeup there is, my initial assumption about this periodical is that it holds women up to a higher standard than what anyone would possibly consider to be the norm. I tried not to go into this issue of Cosmo with this mindset, but I must confess, it still rooted itself there, as it always has.

However, this is the first time that I have ever sat and analyzed this magazine so intensely and purposefully to try and suss out what type of women they cater to.

After reading every last article and poring over all the pictures, it became clear that the people that Cosmo portrays on their covers are not the people that they are writing for or about.  Through the first 60 pages, there is virtually no mention of celebrities or pictures of them as well (excluding the advertisements).

What was surprising to me was that it took in stories and quotes from real people, who had either been interviewed or sent in their own experiences.  In a segment of the magazine entitled Fun, Fearless Confessions, both men and women share personal stories about embarrassing situations they were placed in with the opposite sex, and how they dealt with each one.

While these only took up two pages of the 258, which the magazine is comprised of, it was interesting to see their placement in the magazine on pages 42 and 44; so early in the magazine, and with virtually no mention of photos of the rich and famous prior to this.

After this revelation, or what to me seemed like a revelation, I began to notice trends within the magazine.  The next major component of this particular issue was from pages 50 to 136, which was strictly all fashion.

With massive spreads showing entire wardrobes and the average prices of whatever pieces of clothing were available.  This was yet another section that was nearly devoid of celebrity appearances, save for one or two here and there for fashion comparisons, and of course, excluding the ads.

However, it became apparent that this portion of the magazine, which was entitled Fun, Fearless Beauty, had the largest amount of advertisements of the entire publication.  There was a 13-page spread of only ads, which was infuriating for me, having to leaf page to page in what felt like a joke, due to absolutely no appearance of a magazine, only a book of ads.

Finally what seemed like the “norm” for Cosmo returned, as articles about women empowering themselves with their careers were headlined.

Then of course the scandalous, and admittedly most interesting to me, articles involving sex questions, advice and relationship quandaries were presented.  It all started to make more sense to me, as the magazine appeared to begin innocently with beauty and fashion tips, and slowly morphs into a more dangerous beast regarding sex and other less than socially acceptable dialogue.

However, even with the articles claiming that you could have an “Orgasm Guaranteed,” and “7 Moves You Think He Wants In Bed-But Really Doesn’t,” they still catered to the average run of the mill girls who have everyday jobs and lives that are so unglamorous, especially in comparison to whomever is gracing the cover that month.

The last thing, which surprised me, was that even though it is always some vixen on every issue of Cosmo’s cover, in this particular issue, Ms. Bilson was not given her photos until page 222, so far towards the end of the magazine.  All of these things coupled together made me realize that the preconceived notions I had were false.

Cosmo, while showing the beauties of the world, doesn’t try to tear the “average” woman down by telling her to aspire to that.

The articles seemed to genuinely be designed for the women working low-paying jobs, and having relationships with the people around them.  It was almost endearing that it no longer felt in my mind that Cosmo may be talking down to its readers, but instead was talking with them.

Despite the stereotypically gorgeous women on the covers of Cosmopolitan, to me that is not their stereotype, it is the average women of the country, who are just as curious as a 19-year-old boy on his lunch break.  However, having Kim Kardashian on the cover never hurts either.


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