The iconic covers from the glory days of the women’s guide to aspirational lifestyle and sexual liberation.
Cosmopolitan magazine has been around 1886, though it took almost eighty years for it to become the publication that we are familiar with today – and its glory days are long since over. Originally a general interest magazine, it was the arrival of Helen Gurley Brown as editor in 1965 that reinvented the title as a magazine aimed at the newly liberated woman. Cosmopolitan – and its editor – celebrated female emancipation and the right of women to not only enjoy sex but to actively pursue it. The magazine’s emphasis on sexual pleasure – with its infamous sex tips and advice features – outraged both the prudes and the radical feminists, who saw it as little more than Playboy for women. They were right, of course, but the idea that such a concept was a bad thing is something that we might question. Sexual liberation should be for everyone and if Cosmopolitan provided a female version of Playboy‘s lifestyle fantasy, all the better. Famously, Cosmopolitan introduced the idea of the naked male centrefold in 1972 with its legendary Burt Reynolds spread – and while the nudity here was more tease than explicit, it certainly sent a message that yes, women can and do lust after men.
A classic part of the magazine was the covers, which during the 1970s quickly developed a style that was sophisticated and sexy. You can certainly see the Playboy influence – quite frankly, the two magazines could’ve traded covers on several occasions during the1970s and 1980s. The Cosmo cover girl – be she celebrity, fashion model or glamour girl – almost always had the patented look directly into the camera – a combination of overt sexuality and power that made it clear that they were very much in charge. These were women that knew what they wanted and how to get it – and plenty of women bought the magazine hoping that it would tell them how to get it too. Cosmopolitan was aspirational and a sign of sophistication for many. carefully-placed copy on the coffee table or poking out of your handbag told the world that you were modern, liberated and in control.
Like many a magazine, Cosmopolitan has floundered in the brave new world of humourless, moralising social media and social justice. It’s struggled to find an identity since Helen Gurley Brown finally left in 1997 and more recently has tried to move away from the classic Cosmo girl to feature more shapes, sizes and genders – whether this is what the readers want rather than what the current staff think they should want is open to question – we might argue that once aspirational magazines stop featuring the unattainable and instead show the relatable on the cover, they lose their very essence – and like other magazines desperately aiming to be more ‘inclusive’, the editorial staff still seem dazzled and obsessed with celebrity.
Here, then, are a collection of iconic covers from a simpler time – namely the 1970s and 1980s, when the magazine was at the peak of its powers.
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