How Cosmo is Becoming Feminist


In June, the internet erupted in a debate over whether women's magazines produce serious journalism. Instigated by a Port magazine cover story heralding "a new golden age" of print with six white male editors on its cover, #womenatlength and #womenedswelove were trending on Twitter in response. Even Elle editor-in-chief Robbie Myers wrote a response in defense of women's journalism in the August 2013 issue's editor letter. Amanda Hess at Slate was not convinced, writing that "the women’s magazine problem is not just a perception issue."

In the midst of this debate, Cosmopolitan editor Joanna Coles announced her plans to cover more politics in the magazine. Coles began editing the magazine in 2012, and has already taken the magazine in a new direction. The August issue of Cosmo just hit new stands, and even just glancing at the cover a few changes stand out. 

Demi Lovato is Cosmo's August 2013 (above) cover girl. Demi appeared on the July 2012 cover (below) just over a year ago, a cover that was met with criticism about her being Photoshopped to look skinnier despite her ongoing recovery from an eating disorder. On the August 2013 cover, however, Demi's curves remain intact. While both covers include "Sex" twice, the more recent has a variety of other headlines as well — even one about careers in small print. 

Flipping through the magazine, it is clear to see that the makeover goes beyond the surface. The newest interview with Demi is remarkable for interviews with female celebrities in that there is no mention of beauty routines and only a brief paragraph on romance. The rest is the inspiring story of her struggle with cutting and her eating disorder.

There are several new features. One, "What's on your mind," has interviews with diverse women about their interests. Most responses are about politics or career, and one 18-year-old interviewee talked about her two year old son. "Fun, Fearless Females" features accomplished women; this issue includes an inventor, a political activist, and a Boston Marathon bombing survivor. 

Many sections have been revitalized as well, in big and small ways. On the "Confessions" page, the feature picture is of a biracial couple. On a feature called "Summer Lovin'," a collection of celebrity couple pictures, includes the lesbian couple Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi. The Fashion section feature the picks of successful female fashion bloggers or use college students as models, and the Work section has grown considerably (and none of the career articles were about clothes). Even the articles about sex focused on women's pleasure rather than the man's, one declaring, "Set a precedent and make sure you come first." 

In addition, after last month's issue's article on the Bechdel Test, this issue seemed to consider it when making entertainment recommendations. The article "21 Things to Do This Month" featured four movies, all starring women, with the comment "Screw blow-'em-up blockbusters," as well as three novels written by women. 

Other articles are downright progressive. The article teased on the cover about sex on the first date is actually more of a feminist manifesto than sex advice. The article begins, "we used to think that falling into bed with someone too soon would disqualify you from being considered girlfriend material. But welcome to 2013, when the world is a lot less sexist than it used to be." The article goes on to deconstruct the double-standard of the slut-stud dichotomy between men and women. 

Another article questions, "Will Your Guy Change His Married Name?" and frames the question around men who are "committed to equality." This article could perhaps be a response to one letter to the editor, which critiqued a past issue for not including not changing your name as an option for married women. 

Finally, an article about the trend of grown women dressing up like princesses quotes Peggy Orenstein, feminist author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter. The article concludes with a quote from a participant in the Disney's Princess Half Marathon: "I know it's silly, but there was such female bonding and empowerment out there. The women weren't like, 'Hey, move, you're in my way.' They were like, 'Hey, I like your tutu.'" Sure, it's not particularly hard journalism, but the lens is considerably more feminist than the Cosmo of the past. 

This may not be enough to qualify Cosmo as "serious journalism," but it's well on its way to being classified as feminist journalism. For the most read women's magazine with a paid circulation of over 3 million, feminist journalism is not an improvement to be scoffed at. This shift in the most popular women's magazine can only mean improvement in the entire genre, and perhaps women will finally stop feeling insecure and start feeling empowered after reading a women's magazine.