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Jen Vitkus (Thunderpants): Reading Cosmo Isn’t Even Fun Anymore

April 4, 2012

By: Jen Vitkus

Team Thunderpants

Reading Cosmo Isn’t Even Fun Anymore


After learning of the ways that pop culture represents women, specifically through stereotypes in women’s magazines, I can honestly say that I no longer enjoy reading my guilty pleasure, Cosmopolitan.  Katie Milestone and Anneke Meyer discuss women’s representations in magazines at great length through their work in Gender and Pop Culture.  Milestone and Meyer begin their chapter on “Representing Women” by highlighting the popular topics in women’s magazines between the 1960’s and the 1990’s.  Even despite the women’s movement and all of the other strides women have made between now and then it is hard to ignore that our current issues of magazines like Cosmopolitan are still reproducing the same stereotypical articles.  Milestone and Meyer discuss how, “There has been a shift towards a ‘new femininity’ which is more socially and sexually assertive, confident, aspirational and fun-seeking” (Milestone 88).  Obviously this new, sexually-driven femininity is plenty present in Cosmopolitan as words about “How To Get the Most Pleasure” and “55 Ways To Orgasm” are littered across every cover of every issue.  However, Milestone and Meyer also make a point to note that, “ . . .this new femininity is not displacing conventional femininity . . . teenage magazines continue to reinforce a conventional femininity in many ways: for example, they continue to emphasize the importance of relationships and physical beauty and reinforce heterosexuality as the norm . . .” (Milestone 89).  Therefore, it is no wonder that the majority of the “How To” articles in magazines like Cosmopolitan are geared toward relationships with men and specifically focus on ways to stay beautiful and impress the men in your life.  Milestone and Meyers also accurately point out that, “Girls are told to self-improve, but in moderation, to achieve a ‘natural’ look- in effect they are told to go along with what men, presumably, want” (Milestone 94).  Asking women to preserve their traditional femininity while at the same time becoming more sexualized and concerned with gaining boyfriends and male attention goes back to the ever-present Madonna Whore Complex.  Women today are faced with the impossible challenge of balancing sex, poise and physical fitness so that they can really succeed since, “. . . getting a boyfriend or husband is the ultimate quest in life” (Milestone 94).

            Oftentimes in Cosmopolitan the goal of gaining a boyfriend or husband is blatantly obvious.  Because of this it came naturally to me to read issues through a negotiated reading where I knew their message was bad and transparently shallow.  I somehow always justified to myself that it was acceptable to continue to buy these magazines because everyone else was doing the same thing.  However, after reading Milestone and Meyers’ thoughts on the topic of how women are being represented after years of progress for women’s rights I can’t help but read magazines like Cosmopolitan in an oppositional way.  While some view Cosmopolitan’s sexualized nature as empowering or liberating, I can’t help but question whether reinforcing these long-held stereotypes of femininity are bettering the lives of the female readers or if all of the articles are just to help better the lives of men.  My hope is to challenge other young women to reject the ideals portrayed by Cosmopolitan and to begin critically thinking about the pop culture we are consuming and what it says about us as young women in America.  It is also extremely important that we question the messages present in magazines like Cosmopolitan in order to prevent them from having detrimental effects on young female readers.


Dating Advice on Cosmopolitan’s Website, “How To Get a Boyfriend”:



Milestone, Katie, and Anneke Meyer. Gender and Pop Culture. Polity, 2012



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  1. Gabby Masters permalink

    Reading Cosmo used to be a guilty pleasure for me, however as I’ve gotten older (and taken more women studies classes) Cosmo has become something else for me. Cosmo, and many magazines similar to it are built on the insecurities of women. Sure they’re advertised as being empowering for women, but how empowering is it to see a gorgeous woman (who has been photoshopped) on the front cover and realize unless we buy every beauty product, clothing, or whatever advertised in the magazine we might JUST might be able to look just like the? Also in terms of Cosmo’s sexualized nature being liberating and empowering, it seems to do so in a way that prioritizes men over women. To be empowered sexually is to do whatever you can to pleasure the man in your life. The focus is undoubtedly on what men want instead of putting the spotlight on what’s pleasurable for women and how we can go about achieving that. We need to shift the focus from how we can pleasure men to how we can find pleasure ourselves whether sexually or in another way. This magazine is supposed to be for women but it still manages to be full of patriarchy. More women need to realize this.

  2. Jessica Crowe permalink

    Obviously while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, I am guilty of picking up Cosmo and reading it. My mother has been against this magazine for as long as I can remember and I never understood why when I was younger. After discussing in class and growing up I know realize how bad this magazine actually is especially for us women. I feel that this magazine may be one of the reasons that girls throw themselves at boys and don’t have boundaries or self respect for themselves. Many if not all issues focus on sex in one way or another. Some article headlines have been on tips on how to have better sex, what makes a guy like you more or how to achieve the best orgasm.” Although sometimes Cosmo does provides tips about hairstyle, clothing and celebrity trends the main focus is sex and the image of that “beautiful girl.”

  3. Sandra Han permalink

    Cosmo is notorious for their sexual content and objectifying images of women. But they are not the only ones that do this. In fact, all magazines and tools of media oppress women. Its almost impossible to avoid everything that demeans women, since we live in a male-dominant, sexist society. Then we would be left with nothing–and worse these images and contents would continue. I believe it is much more effective to change the content (even though it may be a slow process0 since they already have a broad audience. For example, Cosmo supported a campaign for safe campuses and reporting sexual abuse. Since so many people read Cosmo, they were able to reach an audience that may not usually be receptive to this kind of campaign.
    Surely, Cosmo is far from being a feminist magazine. But hopefully their writers and editors overtime will be more educated on women’s issues and will shape the magazine to be a positive resource for women.

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