Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Cosmo magazine - friend or foe?

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Kim Kardashian always has the right amount of cleavage.
Photo / AP
Kim Kardashian always has the right amount of cleavage. Photo / AP

You know those times you can't figure out if guys find your outfit sexy or skanky? If your neckline says 'Take me home to mum' or 'Take me home to mack'? Or just generally when you can't decide on anything at all because, you know, what would HE think?

Those times are the worst.

Well, help is at hand. Just yesterday I was zooming around the net, when I bumped into HelloStyle, a new online destination offering solutions to issues just like the above. "YouTube's hottest new fashion & beauty entertainment network, featuring weekly shows from Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Harper's Bazaar, Seventeen & Real Beauty."

The video that caught my eye was a piece of investigative journalism called Sexy Vs Skanky, from Cosmopolitan magazine. Here it is.

I hope you learned your lesson: men are "robots" wired to gawk, so COVER UP. But not too much, 'cos those things are hawt.

Seriously, though. Is it surprising Cosmo's Youtube debut was a piece of drivel? No. But it did make me think about Cosmopolitan in general.

When I was 14, the publication seemed rebellious and exciting. I couldn't wait until its content actually applied to me and I had a real grown up life. A boyfriend to do quizzes about and all that.

Now, I can't help but see the magazine as a parody of itself; a How To Be A Proper Female paint-by-numbers on a nightmarish monthly loop. In colours so offensively bright they make me sick in my mouth.

Anyway, if the proof is in the pudding, the ethos of Cosmopolitan can be summed up by these real life headlines, plucked at random from its website:

'You Farted in Front of Him. Now What?'
'What Men Really Think About Your Bikini.'
'8 Compliments Your Man Wants to Hear.'
'8 Times He Wants You to Brag About Him.'
'9 Ways to Impress Your Man.'
'Sneaky Stuff His Body Language Reveals.'
'6 Ways To Win Over His Friends.'
'What Guys Wish You Knew.'
'8 Things Guys Notice About You Instantly.'

Sometimes when I try to view a media source objectively, I imagine I've just arrived on earth from another planet and have no idea how the world works. All I've got to go on is the magazine/website/whatever else it is I'm looking at. (I also try to imagine I didn't just write that in a newspaper for all to see.)

Here is what I would learn from Cosmopolitan:

1. Its writers can totally count numbers.

2. A woman's entire world is her boyfriend, and what he thinks of her. Or men in general, and what they think of her.

I might also gather that, if you are a woman, you best be on MAJOR HYPER ALERT at all times. Because there will ALWAYS be a guy lurking about, champing at the bit to rate you Hot or Not.

While it's all very well to mock, few women are 100 per cent immune to Cosmo's dark allure. The publication moulds itself so single-mindedly to female insecurities that it can actually be hard not to look.

Like last week, in a queue at the post office. One minute I'd spotted a copy on the shelf and was scoffing at its cover; the next I was all, 'But, what IS the number one turn on of all time involving a saddle?'

And just now, when I perused the online version. I don't even know if I read some of those stories to make fun of them for you, or from some subconscious compulsion to discover Things Never To Utter Around Him. (Because: "Some subjects of conversation will make a dude's eyes glaze over in boredom, put him on the defensive... or even leave him questioning your sanity.")

The sad thing is, Cosmopolitan was a fairly radical magazine in the late 60s. Thanks to an influential editor called Helen Gurley Brown, it encouraged women to explore contraception, own their sexuality, and ask for what they want. Reading it was a form of social activism and 'Cosmo girls' lived life on their terms.

How it went from that to Sexy vs Skanky, is anyone's guess.

Follow Rebecca Kamm on Twitter.

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