Ah, Cosmo. You’ve been with me since I was in my early teens. You told me that men like having their nipples licked and their testicles “jiggled like dice” during sex. You told me I should try a two-tone lip! I wrote furiously about you three years ago and I stand by everything I said. And you know what: you’ve got better in the last year. I generally buy you with a burning guilt inside, but recently you’ve stretched your boundaries a bit, with the editor’s letter this week about the importance of young women engaging with the upcoming general election, an article about LGBT issues, and a kind of glossy sense of feminism running throughout. So well done for that. But you’re not done yet. Let’s talk about what you need to really reflect that “fun, fearless women” label you’ve so generously landed yourselves with.
1. The Fashion Stuff
Look, I like fashion. Clothes are an important way of expressing who you are, and I’ve got no problem with the pages Cosmo dedicates to pictures of cool dresses or coats or boots or whatever, even if it’s not really what I buy the magazine for. But you cannot have a piece praising a woman as a “crusader” for creating clothes for larger women, and featuring size 16 women on catwalks, and then have this parade of conventionally beautiful, young, slim women on your fashion spreads. Take a look at the three female models featured in this month’s issue-
This is something that has always baffled me- and it’s not because I think thin women shouldn’t feature in their fashion pages, but rather because it would be so damn simple to stick women with different body shapes in their at (presumably) no extra cost. They’re undermining their own positive message in a way that’s so obvious and so easy to fix. Later in the magazine, an article discusses how and why women judge each other’s bodies so often, while they eliminate anyone who isn’t youthful, skinny, and beautiful from their pages. Come on now.
2. The Other Models
I went through the rest of the magazine to look at the pictures that are used to illustrate the articles-I assume a lot of them are stock pictures, but whatever they are, they’re there to add a bit of colour to the writing. But guess what- outside of the Cosmo Promotes pages and pictures of columnists or subjects, the only pictures of people used to illustrate the pieces were of young, slim, conventionally attractive, predominately blonde, and almost entirely white women. This is another thing that’s just so bloody easy to fix, so I just don’t understand why nobody’s noticed this yet.
3. Thier Big Interview
Every month, Cosmo features a famous female on the front page of their magazine. promising an in-depth interview with her inside. Now, I often skip these sections because I find reading interviews with people I don’t know a lot about pretty dull, but this week I read it. It was with Emma Willis, who’s a pretty successful TV presenter. The hookline on the front cover was “INSIDE EMMA’S MARRIAGE: THE DAY MATT FEARED HE’D LOST TRUST IN HER” and the interview inside- which spans two full pages- has just one paragraph focused on her career. Much of the rest is focused on how she supports her husband, Matt Willis, of McBusted, A lengthy part of the interview recounts a time when her husband and his band called Emma when she was live on Radio 1 and told her they had been offered a trip to America, and she needed to make a decision about it right now. She was devastated, and hung up and burst into tears. But it’s okay because “the other lads and wives (because they have no other notable life attributes other than being married to a slightly famous person, right?) thought she was brilliant” and “it’s really cruel but that’s what makes it so good to listen to”. If Cosmo really wants to promote “fun fearless women” as it declares on the spine of every copy, the interviews should be focused on the achievements and struggles of these successful professional women they’re interviewing, not on how their husbands made a shit joke one time but it’s fine now. They do interview women about their careers in other sections of the magazine, but fail to extract any genuinely interesting insight from their celebrity guests. If I’m buying this magazine because Emma Willis is on the front cover, I want to read an interview about Emma Willis- if some of that touches on her family life, great, but there simply should be more on her substantial achievements in a highly competitive field too.
4. FUCK OFF WITH FIFTY SHADES
I hate bringing it up again, but not only does this issue feature a full-page ad for the movie, it has a two-page article about how Fifty Shades has affected our sex lives, some of which is pretty interesting, including the interpretation of BDSM from a feminist perspective, and a short space-filler about things you didn’t know about the series. But, aside from a small pull-out section which acts as a sorry excuse for lip service, they don’t touch on the problematic, abusive elements in the book that have been romanticised. Considering the number of abuse survivors- who Cosmo claims to support- who’ve spoken out about how the book romanticises abuse, you’d think they’d put some real time and effort into discussing it.
5. Sex is Only for Straight People
As someone who’s had sex with women, I had to teach myself how to do it safely (and I’m not just talking about snapping an ankle while scissoring). There’s a woeful lack of sex education for LGBT people in schools, and Cosmo would be doing some readers a service by talking about how to have safe, brilliant sex with people of your own gender. But nope, the sex tips are still basically outrightly aimed at straight people. Sort it.
Cosmo, you’re trying. And, as one of the most widely recognisable women’s magazines in the world, I appreciate it. But you’ve got a long way to go yet.