Thursday, November 19, 2009

Top Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Cosmopolitan Magazine

Ahh Cosmo. Whether you love it or hate it, we’re all guilty of flipping through its pages. The wonders it can do to spice up waiting in line at the grocery store! Celebrity gossip, tips for your sex life, fashion trends and shopping secrets, as well as real issues, among them rape and abortion. All in one neat packaged and stamped with a half-naked A-list celebrity on the cover. Yes, Cosmo has come to be somewhat of a staple for many young women. But here are some things you might be interested to know next time you’re reading up on the latest make-up tricks or sexy/kinky/dangerous sexual endeavours.

September issue, 1939

1. Cosmo was first established in 1886. At first, Cosmopolitan Magazine was directed towards the “first class family” and there were different departments that published articles aimed at mothers, fathers and children respectively. Paul Schlicht (co-head of Cosmopolitan’s then-publishing company Schlicht & Field) is quoted as describing the women’s articles “on fashions, on household decoration, on cooking, and the care and management of children, etc.,”

2. Schlicht & Field went out of business in 1888. Cosmopolitan acquired a new editor, E.D. Walker, who’d previously worked for Harper’s Magazine, and a new owner, John Brisbin Walker, who revamped the mag and put a literary spin on it, publishing the likes of Edith Wharton, Jack Lundon, Annie Besant, Rudyard Kipling, and H.G. Wells (two of whose novels were first serialized in Cosmopolitan.)

3. Remember Orson Welles’ movie Citizen Kane about the really rich guy who bought everything he wanted and then died completely alone? It was based on a real person, identically ridiculously rich and successful, named William Randolph Hearst. Hearst made his fortune buying up newspapers and magazines all over America (28 or so before his empire collapsed after the stock market crash in 1929, including Los Angeles Examiner, Washington Times, Good Housekeeping, Town and Country, and the list goes on). He bought Cosmopolitan in 1905, bringing with him an impressive group of journalists including David Graham Phillips, Sinclair Lewis and Charles Edward Russell, among others.

4. By the 1930’s, Cosmopolitan had developed into a very literature-focused magazine, and its circulation was up to 1,700,000 with an advertising income of $5,000,000. However, demand for fiction plummeted in the 1950’s, and Cosmopolitan’s success was severely hurt, until the arrival of...
5. Helen Gurley Brown, the woman responsible for the Cosmo we know and love today. On second thought, that’s not really fair to say. Brown was actually an advocate for gender equality, stating that women should be able to have it all (“love, sex and money”) instead of society keeping them in their place as “homemakers”. At the age of 40, she published a book in 1962 called “Sex and the Single Woman”. In 1965, she became editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan, and changed the demographic to exclusively women, publishing the first versions of the sex-focused articles we see today. Her focus was to address women who “wanted to feel good about rather than ashamed of the life choices they made or contemplated” and eliminate the pressure of finding a husband and raising a family: “If you were female and not married by age 30, you might as well go to the Grand Canyon and throw yourself in.” The first issue Brown officially edited included an article about the birth control pill, a touchy subject at the time. For more info on Brown, click here.
6. Those risqué covers (ever notice that the cover girl of the month is always wearing either a low cut dress or a bikini?) and suggestive headlines are a bit much for some vendors, and are currently covered up (along with Maxim and Playboy, etc.) by some stores, reportedly including Wal-Mart.
7. Some of the sex tips found in Cosmo these days might be pushing the envelope a little too far. When biting enters into the situation, or pubic hair-pulling or vigorous twisting of genitalia, it may be time to step back and say “are you people fucking NUTS?” Click here for a complete criticism from the boys at
8. Cosmo recently acquired a television network, CosmoTV. Careful study reveals broadcasts of mostly horrible soap operas and teen dramas, excessive showings of Sex and the City, punctuated by commercial breaks consisting of infomercials for beauty and cleaning products, World Vision advertisements and, of course, advertisement of CosmoTV itself (these specifically are particularly excruciating to watch). They also run “Fun Facts” or “Cosmo Quizzes” between programs and commercials.
9. Cosmo is now published in 34 languages in over 100 countries, many with their own national editions. Its circulation in the US has skyrocketed to 2,907,000 and is sold in every state.
10. After much effort to track down an article I saw in an issue a few months ago, I’ve decided its effectively been erased from history; it had title to the effect of “Oops, Did We Say That?” and proceeded to list outrageously sexist “house-keeping” tips, presumably from Cosmo’s “first-class family” days. To paraphrase, the article included such valuable pointers as “have dinner warm and ready when your husband comes home, and make an effort to look nice so he’s reminded of why he married you in the first place, and FOR GOD’S SAKE, HIDE THE CHILDREN!” Making these kinds of errors in the past is semi-forgivable based on the society at the time. Laughing it off in a nonchalant “oopsie daisy” kind of way… not so much.

So next time you pick up an issue, remember the long history that has led to the magazine you hold in your hands. And despite everything, guilty pleasures are more than permissible. Just promise not to make your sexual partner sniff pepper because Cosmo told you that sneezing enhances orgasm.



  1. Hey, that was fun! Excellent blog post. I never knew any of those things about Cosmo.

  2. Oh cracked. The fact that they pretty much employ all straight males really shows - sometimes their articles can be so infuriatingly mind-numbing. But then there are those days where they hit the nail on the head, with hilarious results.
    Yesterday they had an article on Chick Flicks that hate women, which for some reason blogspot won't let me copy and paste into this comment, but you should check it out.

  3. Interesting post, but i think theres bigger issues with cosmo that need to be stated. For one, it is a magazine entirely devoted to explaining to women how exactly they can be more appealing to men, acheived through classifying them into types (through quizes like "are you a bad girl or a good girl?" or asking you to pick what vegetable shares the most similarity to your waist-to-hip ratio), providing suitable role models (Oh look at katy perry! shes the perfect mix of sexy and cute!), not to mention the disturbing and questionable diet tips they give (If your hungry call a friend and talk, you'll probably foget about it in 5 minutes!). Throw in some pseudo-journalism to add legitimacy and you've got a nice tool to socialize women to learn their place... as men's sex toys. I've never seen an article in cosmo about how lesbians can get down and dirty. I've never seen a male equivilent to cosmo (other than the "show-this-to-your-guy" section). Untill someone can correct me, im going to go right on hating that mysogenist bullshit.
    <3, allysa (michelles little sister :)

  4. Yes I agree with Allysa. I understand we all have our guilty pleasures, but I just cannot get into Cosmo, even in jest. The fact that it's the #1 read women's magazine actually disturbs me quite a bit.