Compromising Positions

A sex ed blog with more


I began writing this post and promptly realized that I had not actually read Cosmo in about 7 years. Hmm. Tricky.  You will be able to tell the portions that were written pre- vs. post-reading. And let me say, I read that shit cover-to-cover. You’re welcome.
Lots of chickies grow up reading Cosmopolitan magazine. We seem to start pretty young i.e. age 12 or 13 at summer camp. It’s the perfect time and place: many nubile tweens head to a cabin in the woods for weeks at a time with no parents, and teens as guardians. Naturally, the 16 and 17 year olds taking care of the pre-pubescent cherubs share these magazines, allowing for a relatively safe space to giggle and ask questions. Upon returning home, magazines of all varieties are at the checkout stands in grocery and drug stores – a virtual smorgasbord of sexuality.
Personally, most of what I knew until the age of 18 was derived from the monthly addition to my collection. In some ways, Cosmo is a great introductory foray into the world of hetero coitus. I learned how to flirt, put on makeup, do my hair, make out, give a blow job, and on and on and on. There were even bits of romance novels at the end – just a few pages, but a taste was all we needed. (Now that taste is pretty disappointing, not gonna lie.) I learned what to say, how to behave … essentially, how to use my feminine wiles to make him melt. And it worked, most of the time.
I’m going to briefly delve into some of the effects Cosmo could have on teenage females:
•    Body image: Cosmo portrays a very select body type and how to make it look great with certain workouts and beauty products. It makes young girls think they need to look a certain way in order to be deemed attractive, namely: flat tummy, big tits and ass, long flowing tousled locks. All of the ads for makeup, hair products, perfume, restaurants, food and wine are very much included to encourage a certain type of Cosmo girl. There was a huge spread featuring Miranda Kerr (Aussie supermodel, married to Orlando Bloom, just launched a skincare line): she says all the right things meant to empower and encourage us to be ourselves and follow our souls. Yet she’s a freakin’ supermodel aka not my body type. I’m glad they’ve started to photograph people who have something to say…. Some of the time. There was an article entitled “Lasers for Every Skin Tone.” This would encourage us to go for all kinds of work so that we can look a certain way i.e. a way deemed appropriate by Cosmo. And it really worries me that what we see in this video from Upworthy what is happening in magazines like Cosmopolitan:
•    Heteronormativity: hetero = guy + girl; normative = normal. Cosmo perpetuates the idea of heternormativity:  it’s exclusively Westernly attractive hetero couple photos and issues that are covered.  There was one mention in this issue of a woman with a fiancée/girlfriend; and I was completely surprised to see that.
•    Keeping it Vanilla: “Role Playing for Dummies: a 6 step process” Cosmo has mentioned the most vanilla of all possible BDSM, of which, as we know, there are a TONNE of options. Now, I would assume that the typical Cosmo girl is not necessarily ready for a whole lot of hardcore fetish talk, so maybe this is a good start.
•    Slut-shaming: “Celebs: Sexy vs. Skanky” Thanks for perpetuating girl-on-girl slut-shaming, Cosmo. When you’re all about female empowerment, following your passions, and being true to yourself, telling other women they’re being skanks is completely counter to your objectives. Fail.

Cosmo has the potential to be inclusive, informative, and educational. Currently, it’s virtually the same thing every month and unfortunately, it’s ludicrously profitable. I suppose their market is hetero females in their late teens/early 20s…. So what about those quieter girls; how did they meet and woo people if they weren’t being so obvious?? Cosmo didn’t prepare me for that. I mean, wait! You mean I don’t need to behave like a daft, giggling bimbo to meet potential dates? Turns out we’re all attracted to different things, and the glossy pages never mention anything other than a stock of beauty tips, fashion trends, and ways to please your man while keeping your thighs toned or your hair bouncy or your tummy flat. It is also important for readers to recognize that just because Cosmo says something does not make it so. Everyone reacts in different ways at different times to different things. Not every guy will get hard when a girl offers to suck him off under the table at a restaurant.

That being said, I must say that I was surprised at the breadth of topics lurking in the November issue – which, of course, comes out in October. I assumed that the vast majority of the magazine would be about hair and makeup, with very little “real content.” Well, I will admit that I now want to go out and purchase all kinds of fun eye shadows and liners, along with a number of perfumes and fun new clothes. Mission accomplished, Cosmo. But here’s the interesting thing: there were a bunch of articles that were honestly and truly interesting for someone in her mid-twenties. I have been inspired to make some changes in my life, to look up various groups online, and to continue to follow my passions in new ways. They are starting to take pictures of real people (not just models), include career tips, and an accurate work out how-to. I was also surprised to find a makeup how-to: not just the products, but actually how to make yourself look like the woman in the photos. Fascinating. Point: Cosmo; that was truly unexpected.

I would say that if I had not started reading Cosmo as a teen, I would be unlikely to pick up a copy now. I used to think their target audience was the teenage group; now I realize, they try to keep things relatively light to hook the audience early. They want women in their 20s to be reading all of these valid life tips, but they need to keep it appropriate for the teens who are inevitably picking it up, hoping for more juicy content than the teen mags provide.
If I were to create an issue of Cosmo, these are some of the things I would include:
•    A spot on birth control: fun facts about a new method each time; I was pleasantly surprised to find not one, but TWO, in-depth methods of birth control in this issue. They were advertisements, but incredibly detailed and informative i.e. 3.5 pages each!
•    Sex tips: how to talk about it, as well as have it
•    Work out options that don’t involve going to the gym, like a zumba class at a community centre or learning to salsa
•    Non-hetero ANYTHING. That’s how bad it is.
•    Healthy eating: a new breakfast smoothie each edition and different healthy and tasty foods that are easy and don’t break your budget
•    Trending celebrity topics, getting different writers to cover numerous opinions e.g. Miley’s VMAs performance or Wrecking Ball video

What would you include?

There are a number of things that could be changed about Cosmo, but simultaneously, it’s great when you’re learning and interested in figuring things out for yourself – if you’re a teenager interested in straight boys. I happen to quite enjoy reading it, and may continue to do so on occasion. And let’s just say that while Cosmo can prepare you for certain things, it does not get us ready for everything. And personal experience/testimonial will always outweigh what Cosmo may or may not have said.


One comment on “Cosmo

  1. Megan
    October 31, 2013

    I think this view of Cosmo is a pretty typical one, which is totally reasonable! After picking up one issue and reading it through all of those flaws can surely be found. However. As a long time subscriber (and someone who has similar concerns about similar issues) I think Cosmo is doing.. Maybe not as bad as you think.

    It seems to me that Cosmo is slowly backing away from offering nothing but sex tips. In issues from the past two years they have slowly been decreasing to allow for more important content. there are however all kinds of tips about sex and talking about it on their website!

    Although in the issue you read there wasn’t much info about birth control, just a month or two ago they had an entire section of the magazine (8-10 pages maybe?) about almost every birth control option! They probably wouldn’t put that in every issue, and that’s okay with me!

    There are a couple heathy recepies and tips, usually near the end. In the October issue of this year, healthy steak tacos!! Yum!

    As for non-hetero anything, it’s the same story as birth control. They simply can’t have it in every issue! I would say they do this over half of the time when the tell the story of a real woman overcoming a struggle. In this particular issue in front of me it is a young woman and the story of her brain tumour, but I recall many others like a transgendered woman talking about her transition, two women who were among the first gay couples to be married in New York, and one of the first to be divorced, and many others.

    Although Cosmo doesn’t have EVERYTHING some people look for in a magazine, their readers don’t tend to care about these kinds of issues. It’s for that reason I think Cosmo is doing a great job. What it seems like to me, is that Cosmo is slowly trying to immerse readers in real issues, which I think is a noble goal.

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