In 2011 Cosmopolitan sold more than 3 million issues in the US alone. Sure, Cosmo talks fashion, self-presentation and blablabla but we all know that after we’re done with the way we look, we flip right to dating advice and sex tips.
Articles in the May 2012 version of Cosmo tell readers “How to Display your Breasts” and the photos used for the Stud Meter portray the perfect man as a romantic family man who has a nice smile, washboard chest, coiffed facial hair, and loves dogs, oh and definitely famous.
While preteen push-up bras squeal on the metro, what is left for the boys to read? FEAR NOT, they can always turn to Cosmo’s counterpart – Maxim. Though the classic Playboy nudes are missing, the mag has sports news, articles on Navy Seals and debates of who would win: the zombie or the ninja? Lingerie photo shoots (Cover, p. 44, 45, 50, 52-54, 66-71, & 78-81) are in abundance.
So this forced me to wonder, what if their two most committed readers crossed paths?
Both the Cosmo reader and the Maxim reader expect women to be highly sexual, submissive, naughty and considerably concerned with their appearance. The same readers would also expect men to be sexually schooled in the how-to of female parts, classy, funny, romantic, and in peak physical condition. In theory we would be looking at the supermodel housewife and the shirtless guy from Old Spice commercials.
Based on magazine content, these two would probably get off to an awkward start followed by an exchanging of horror stories from friends’ blind dates in which one of them would ask the other, “Wait, you’ve never stalked someone before, have you?” – and they’d both laugh. He would probably try to be a gentleman but end up being a little too nervous at start to offer any good conversation, but she would politely laugh and pry him to continue anyways.
All jokes aside, pages of edited photos of half nude models have been shown to lower the self-esteem of those who do not fit their descriptions. Cosmo and other mags set expectations that are not necessarily reality for the majority of their readers and these expectations can sometimes get in the way of what we DO have and what we CAN enjoy. Men can get so caught up in in black lace that they become completely incapable of appreciating a nice summer dress AND THEY HAVE NO IDEA HOW FRUSTRATING THIS IT TO ME US.
But something else struck me: can I for a moment talk about how heteronormative these magazines are?? There is TOTALLY a part of me that would love to see a gay parallel of these magazines just for shits and giggles, and, well of course, to illustrate how this is garbage is so hypocritical, insane, and destructive.
Imagine for a moment these headlines:
What kind of butch is best?, or Newbie School: How can I tell if a guy is a top or a bottom just by looking at him? or how about, How do I know when I need to recalibrate my gaydar?
It seems to me that in the state of our society there is a far greater need for articles like How to tell Mom & Dad although I imagine that delivery/purchasing could become an obvious issue. But that’s what the internet is for right?
In small doses, dating advice, style insights, sex tips and beauty secrets can be relatively harmless, but (and I realize this is not a groundbreaking observation!) significant fixation on these magazines is unhealthy, and I am preeetty sure leads us to repress and/or overexert our otherwise natural sexuality, not to mention the standards these magazines set for beauty. Picking up one of these magazines could be a great way to get a smile, a laugh, a new trick in bed, or just a new do’, but is the body dismorphia and a life time of self-loathing really worth it?