By Molly Franklin
I will admit that the beautiful women on the cover of your magazines, paired with taglines such as “Better Sex Now,” have always been able to draw me in. Because who wouldn’t want to be that self-assured woman smiling and looking sexy in front of the bright colored drop cloth? But after reading “The Best Advice Ever” issue, which promised to supply me with all the best advice about love, work, and health the modern woman needs based on previous Cosmo advice columns spanning the decades that Cosmo has sat against that magazine rack like the cool kid against the wall outside of the mall, I feel the need to share with you how one of the articles managed not only to alienate me as a woman but cause a similar reaction in your other readers.
I stopped at the grocery store after an exceedingly long shift waitressing, picking up some amaretto and popcorn and promising myself a few careless hours of mindlessly watching TV with my feet up and ice cubes ringing like bells in a mason jar. As I stood in line, I was once again lured in by the woman, her lips painted pink, blue eyes peering outside of a satin mask. I thought about how my mom had told me in that very grocery store that I wasn’t allowed to read Cosmo until I was older. It made my hands itch every time I came to the local Hy-vee or Walmart, and my hands itched again now. And here I was, twenty-two with my own job and apartment, and I decided to splurge. Cosmo was to become part of my routine and so when I got home I poured myself a glass, turned on Dateline, and decided to flip through a magazine that validated that I was, in fact, a grownup. I was a woman. But I found out that I am not a Cosmo woman. I am not even close.
One of the first articles I flipped to was “18 Beautiful Habits to Acquire Now.” As I read over the advice from the seventies I stopped at the piece of advice that stated “Study your body (naked!) at least once a month,” in which the author goes on to state “Be critical… In fact be ruthless!... Intensify your self scrutiny.” At this point, I would like to acknowledge my attempt of backtracking to when another woman told me to make sure to look at the pieces of my body that look great and not to be too hard on myself. But this was an article that was chosen for the Best Advice Ever issue. I found myself thinking back to a scene in Mean Girls where the aforementioned mean girls stood in front of the mirror and picked out features they hated about themselves for sport, ranging from ankles to collarbones, arms, and noses. The main character remarks that there were so many different things to dislike about yourself that she had never realized. If this were the only piece of advice about your body like this, I would have read over it and moved on. However, another piece of advice shocked me, reading “Weigh yourself every day. If gain exceeds four pounds over normal weight, go on a mini crash diet at once.” At once, the advice said, and I still think about that statement now. The finale of this article insists that if you make these things a habit, you will be a permanently put-together woman. But I do not know a single put-together woman who weighs herself every day or looks into a mirror and is purposefully self critical.
I closed the magazine, not daring to go any further, and repressing the urge to the toss the glossy paper to the other side of the room. But instead, I cradled it in my lap. I cradled it like I cradled my self hatred every day. All of the mirrors had been covered in the house with threadbare towels when I had moved home from college. I had avoided the scale like a rattlesnake. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for years, and the new medication I had been on had helped me gain nearly fifty pounds in three months. I felt trapped in skin that didn’t feel beautiful anymore. Those eyes on the cover of the Best Advice Ever issue had turned from beguiling to harsh and judgemental, and suddenly I was seeing brown instead of blue. I saw freckles pucker on the perfect skin and I realized that it was the only mirror I had looked into in weeks.
Of course, it can be argued that this was an article originally written in the seventies and that there was “today’s take,” which updated some of the advice. But even with the commentary, the message to women hasn’t changed. Here is your definition of beauty. Here is your definition of what it is to be a woman. In an age that is arguably the revival of feminism, this advice magazine for the modern woman is anything but modern. Feminism nowadays is not just the white heterosexual woman’s right to have a sexual appetite. But instead, we are fighting for inclusion, the right to an education, the right to equal wages...but these are not the articles that are being written in Cosmo.
I have realized that my mom didn’t want me reading Cosmo not because she didn’t think I was old enough. She didn’t want me reading Cosmo because she was worried that I would do what I did this night. She was worried I would find myself wanting what wasn’t realistic, and pick myself apart instead of finding body positivity.
A magazine that advertises raising people up now (and perhaps have always in a sense) brought them down. In order to find the voice of the 21st century woman, I believe that Cosmo needs to reach out to its audience. I don’t want to compare myself to who I could be if I ate less or if I stood on the scale every day and how that would make me happy. Instead I want recovery stories. I want stories of triumph and beauty and pictures of women outside the norm. The beautiful women on the covers always had a way of pulling me in, but there are women that I think who are beautiful who have never used that word to describe themselves.
I threw out your magazine that day because the Best Advice Ever was a mean girl poking at my flaws. And your advice to me was to be that mean girl.
One day I hope to describe myself as beautiful. Today is not that day.