Cosmopolitan March 2013, The Women’s Magazine Project

In some ways, I’ve been looking forward to covering Cosmopolitan. It’s the magazine that really started this project, and it’s different from the other women’s magazines. Cosmo is the one that gets shielded (at least at my local grocery stores) for its scandalous content. Cosmo seems obsessed with sex; on this month’s cover, there are titles for articles on “your best sex ever!” and threesome confessions, as well as a “super sexy spring.”

Also on the cover, there are titles for articles on cheap beauty products, words a woman must never say to a guy, and an abs and butt workout. Miley Cyrus is the cover girl, and I find her pose interesting. She’s wearing a suit jacket and a pants, with no shirt. But her pose is powerful, rather than come hither. She’s got an edgy haircut, and the tag next to her head reads, “It’s Miley, bitches…” (Bitches is censored.) The alternative covers are similarly powerful, and in one, Miley is sneering.

The advertisements are for hair care, clothing, make-up, and tampons. There is also an ad for Cosmo‘s Latina magazine, and there’s a section in the ad encouraging women to nominate a “fun, fearless Latina” who has made a difference in the community. There are magazines for Black women and Latina women, but as far as I know, only Cosmo has a line of its magazine that specifically targets women of color.

Unsurprisingly, many of the people in charge of Cosmo are women. It’s a trend that I’ve noticed through all the magazines I’ve looked at, and I appreciate that women control most of these magazines.

Much of the content is not worth remarking on. As in Seventeen, women share their embarrassing confessions in one section. In another section, Ivy League students discuss a typical day. There’s an article on Kevin Durant, a section on skank vs. sexy (three of the people mentioned are, actually, men), things to do this month, many sections on fashion and beauty, a work etiquette section, an article on budgeting, sexy moves in the bedroom, and so on.

I’m intrigued by the three words men don’t want to hear, and it turns out they are: “I feel fat.” They don’t want to hear these words because they don’t know how to respond, it kills the mood, it makes them suspect you are fat, and it makes them feel secure. It’s an absurd section, of course. It’s blaming women’s physical insecurity on women, when it is in fact the result of social expectations, enforced and produced by the patriarchy. A woman doesn’t feel fat because she just does; she feels fat because society has told her that she is not skinny enough to be attractive. Cosmo (and men) are missing the point.

The article I really want to focus on, however, is a one page essay that is entitled “Worst Date Ever: He Didn’t Want to Date Me–He Wanted to Be Me!” The picture with the article is of a hairy leg attached to a foot in a high heel. Seeing the leg before I read the title, I thought the article was about women not shaving their legs. It is in fact about a trans woman. Or rather, it’s about a woman who briefly dated someone she thought was a man, but was a trans woman.

We only find this out in the middle of the second to last paragraph of the article. The writer of the essay continues to refer to her date, Chris, as “he,” even after she reveals Chris’s desire to have a sex change operation. It’s as if this is the punchline of the joke. I really dislike this article. Chris’s gender dysphoria is treated as some kind of trick she played on the writer. I feel for the writer as far as being disappointed that the person she was trying to date turned out to not be the right partner for her. However, it’s really gross that Cosmo would print this article. It’s unsympathetic to the trans woman, and while it didn’t have to be sympathetic to Chris, it would have been a much better article if the writer had focused on learning that her date was trans and discussing her conflicting feelings.

It would, in fact, be better if Cosmo had printed an article from a trans woman, but from the presentation of this article, I doubt that will happen any time soon. It’s a shame, since so many people are ignorant about trans people. Trans women are not gay men, as the article implies, and they’re not trying to trick cis people. They’re just women, like the creators and readers of Cosmo. I can only hope that Cosmo will, in the future, change its poor attitude toward trans women.


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