Loath as I am to sound so much like a Vagenda article, I wanted to blog about this.
A colleague donated a recent-ish copy of Cosmopolitan to me the other day, as it was deemed too racy to be left in the waiting room. I used to read a lot of these magazines in my late teens, before I discovered zines, mainly because I wanted something fluffy and easily digestible that wasn’t as intellectually demanding as the broadsheets. Once I found zines a few years ago, I immediately lost interest in the vacuous content the glossies offered me, instead spending my time and money on publications about feminism, healthy body image, queer visibility, and female solidarity. It’s no exaggeration to say that my self-esteem immediately improved when I stopped reading glossies, and was no longer spending so much of my leisure time staring at unattainable examples of female beauty, and reading about how I could make myself more attractive to men. Of course not all women who read Cosmo and the like are doomed to chronic low self-esteem and poor body image, but I think it’s fair to say that they play their part in our unhealthy self-perception.
I read Cosmo the other day, interested in what £3.50 bought you (especially when you consider that most UK zines cost less than £2 for a decent amount of text), and interested in what had become of the magazine I used to read. Aside from the unhealthy messages about sex and the female body that it threw at its readers, the whole experience of reading the magazine was just deeply unsatisfying. At least I knew I was right to stop my subscription all those years ago.
So, why was Cosmo such a frustrating waste of time?
1. Furtive approach to sex and relationships
The main article in this issue that caught my attention was “50 annoying things men and women do in bed”. A male and a female writer share 25 things each that the opposite gender should never do during sex. The things that men shouldn’t do troubled me, because it struck me that so many could be achieved by just asking your partner for them. For example, writer Rosie Mullender suggests “if we look a bit bored… you guessed it, we’re a bit bored. try working on some different moves” – why not ask your partner to do something different if you don’t like it, rather than wait for them to notice that you’re not enjoying yourself, and get annoyed when they don’t? I’m a big believer in openness, honesty, and frankness when it comes to sex. People in healthy relationships don’t ever pressure their partner into doing something they don’t want to do, nor do they use emotional manipulation or guilt-tripping into getting their way. If you don’t like a certain position or sex act, you are perfectly entitled to say “actually I don’t like this, can we try this instead?”. And don’t let Cosmo lead you to think otherwise. Furthermore, some of the things men do that Mullender mentions are quite hurtful – e.g. “laughing at our come face”, “grumbling that we take ages to come”, and “comparing us to your ex”! Pro-tip: if your partner does any of these things, s/he is an arsehole.
Writer Martin Daubney’s tips for women are even more frustrating: don’t use “scary sex toys” during sex because they “threaten our fragile egos”, don’t wear pyjamas, don’t give “single-speed manual relief” – “You know how you shake hairspray into life? Well, this is NOT how to treat a penis”, don’t stop until the man comes, even if you’ve already come, and don’t “ration” the blow jobs. Nice. He also hates women “leaving used condoms lying around” – um, I think you’ll find that’s your mess to tidy up?! Even as someone who considers herself to be very sexually confident, I felt really uncomfortable reading Daubney’s dos and don’ts, and caught myself worrying that I was guilty of some of the things mentioned! “oh god, will I kill his boner if I wear too much perfume? Do I make too much noise? He says not to “ration” blow jobs, but also that I shouldn’t give too many because he “doesn’t want to spend all night on the practice lap” – the fuck?!” (I managed to rationalise my way through these anxieties, you’ll be pleased to know) This is not healthy advice for women who may have some anxiety and self-esteem issues surrounding sex! As one writer put it, “the advice that would put Cosmopolitan magazine out of business: WHY DON’T YOU JUST ASK HIM?” (via.)
2. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus
They have a section titled “Manthropology”, a page dedicated to “[studying] men in their natural habitat” that offers fascinating insights into the male psyche, including Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick’s favourite party trick. *sigh* Ok, so I know that Cosmo is a self-styled women’s magazine that caters to women, but there’s an awful lot of polarizing gender (e.g. the “confessions” page is divided by gender), heteronormativity, invisibility of queer and genderqueer people, and focus on “what men really think of love, sex and YOU”, like it’s some big fucking mystery because of course they think TOTALLY DIFFERENTLY from women, and we daren’t actually ask them outright what they like. Which brings me to my next point…
3. External validation
There’s definitely too much focus on what others (mostly men) will think of what you say, do or wear, rather than how good they may make you feel. The “men vs fashion” page, where 3 ordinary blokes trash female celebrities’ fashion choices, is pretty ridiculous – I don’t really give a shit if Nick from Cardiff thinks Hayden Panettiere looks like “a budget Barbie doll”. And as for “never be tagged in the same look twice”… I’m pretty sure no one pays that much attention to what you were wearing in your tagged photos? Quite frankly, all this speculation about what men like is not only unhealthy, it’s also really fucking boring. I don’t care what made Kevin Jonas realise he wanted to propose to his fiancée, or how warehouse operator Denis met his girlfriend Fiona.
4. Lack of actual content
At least a third of the pages in the magazine are either adverts, or “Cosmo Promotions”, i.e. pages that look like features/articles, but are actually extended adverts for a particular product. On top of that, a further third or more is made up of pages that look like this:
Which I’m sure is nice if you’re into fashion (and I’m not denigrating you if that’s the case!), but in terms of actual written content/stuff to read, it’s very thin on the ground, considering the price. Furthermore, I think what made me skim over Cosmo’s fashion pages in particular was how stupidly expensive many of the garments featured were. £550 for a studded bracelet? Are you serious, Cosmo? We’re barely out of the recession, dontcha know!
5. Inability to google “BDSM”
Special mention must be made to the ridiculous 50-Shades inspired piece on how to introduce some BDSM in the bedroom, subtitled “‘the hottest bad girl tips we’ve ever printed”. The tips are so ridiculous and unsexy, I had to read it through my fingers because it made me cringe so much – my favourite suggestion was to get your partner to “wrap your wrists and ankles in toilet paper for lighter restraint”. Because nothing says “erotic” like being wrapped in toilet paper like some sort of weird sexy mummy.
Credit where credit’s due, here are some vaguely positive things I found in this issue:
1. A lovely article briefly profiling 40 kick-ass women under 40, including campaigners, journalists, CEOs and scientists – but why only women under 40?
2. A little paragraph on this issue’s “Alpha female” Julianne Hough with some “go-get-’em tips” – it’s all pretty banal advice like “have faith [in yourself]”, but I suppose it’s nice that they’re focusing on something other than her looks.
3. A short article on one-night-stands, which listed ways to keep yourself safe physically (make sure you use contraception) and emotionally (don’t sleep around as an attempt to affirm your attractiveness).
4. This photo:
Conclusion: yawn. If I want some mindless drivel to flick through on my lunch break, I’ll stick to Buzzfeed, thanks.