October 11, 2005

Cosmopolitan & Me: 40 Years Old

Cosmopolitan magazine turned 40 in September, and I turn 40 in October, which makes me nostalgic for my 1970s Cosmopolitan Youth.

Whereas little boys had to sneak peaks of their father or older brother’s Playboy, little girls simply picked up the copies of Cosmo that were on the neighbor lady’s coffee table or in the grocery store magazine rack. It was right out there in the open for us Holly Hobby aficionados to thumb through while waiting for The Electric Company to come on. While it was an educational adventure for the newly liberated peers of Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern, for a curious Alice it was like falling down the rabbit hole.

Helen Gurley Brown (above left) was the Cheshire Cat that began every issue with an eternal grin molded on her face, all wide-eyed and breathless: “How long has it been since you heard from Cosmo about orgasm? Only about 15 minutes, you’re thinking? Actually, we’ve been quiet about it since May!” She was a Forever 21 purring exclamation point! The late Francesco Scavullo (above right) was her Queen of Hearts, the photographer responsible for 30 years of cover girl Glamazons. Eyeliner, lip gloss and cleavage was all he needed to transform anyone into a Cosmo Girl, and those iconic covers were the most sedate portion of the magazine.

Per page, there was probably more female nudity in 1970s Cosmo than in any era of Playboy. Real and illustrated T&A accompanied everything from shampoo ads to dessert recipes to exercise programs, and I could never figure out why there were so many naked chicks in a lady’s magazine. Even something as routine as income tax tips or manicure basics flaunted an exaggeratedly salacious tone, and the graphic nature of real-world Cosmo sex made Penthouse Forum read like silly boys playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Every issue featured the notoriously slutty quiz, the horny horoscopes, Lauren Hutton in some form and the same basic topics (open marriage, plastic surgery, how to achieve orgasm, how to decode men, etc.) with slightly different slants. And the guiding principal of the Cosmo Gurley World was crystal clear to even a 3rd grader: As an independent career girl, you must sleep around a lot so you can find the perfect husband.

Yes, being trampy was a prelude to being a wife; everything you do is to entice a man to be your husband. Once you land him you trade in Cosmopolitan for a Good Housekeeping subscription, and you need never douche again.

Ah, yes…douching. While Cosmo was relentless with its sex education, there were certain ads that I could never quite figure out. Lots of pages about liquids that conjured “intimate cleanliness ” as it “protects you inside so you can stay fresh outside.” They wanted you to use “internal deodorant” no more than twice a week and warned that “The world’s costliest perfumes are worthless unless you’re sure of your own natural fragrance.” Why aren’t these ads in any other magazines? Why does becoming a woman make you pig stinky? And where exactly is this embarrassing odor coming from? By 1974, Massengil dispensed with euphemisms and explained their product with a clinical bluntness that put me off my feed for days. Come the official sex education class in 5th grade, I found their curriculum lacking because they never addressed a randy career girl’s urgent freshness needs, as seen in the pages of Cosmopolitan.


Con-Tact self-adhesive paper inadvertently repulses any potential customers, but neatly summarizes the Cosmopolitan philosophy in its ad copy: “Show him how clever you are… Impress him with your do-it-yourself skill and good taste… It’s such an easy way to win a man. And such fun to live with while you’re waiting for him to come along.”

The JFK era was sexy, but Nixon’s administration was rather sensual, no? In a roundup of “Washington’s Most Eligible Bachelors,” Henry Kissinger was “dubbed ‘secret swinger’ of the administration.” When, a few years later, Watergate’s Deep Throat was named after a porno movie, the “secret swinger” label was not lost on me.

These are willfully promiscuous times and a girl has to be fresh. There are 4 douche/feminine spray ads.


From Ms. Dickson’s personal experience, some important points include: If you won’t take off any clothing, leave the room; Wear underwear so you have an easily understood way to indicate your level of participation; Falling asleep is the only way to hide humiliation at being rejected. Wow, there must be an awful lot of this orgy thing going on if they have to offer up proper etiquette. The next time the babysitter comes over so my folks can go out, I’m worried for them…

Emily Post is of no use to the modern buccaneer girl, so Cosmo puts together an etiquette book for the “with it” generation. Featured chapters include: “Things To Do With Your Hands That Men Like,” “The Etiquette of Not Getting Pregnant,” “Why I Wear My False Eyelashes To Bed” and “Scorn Not the Street Compliment.”

Heading into the holidays, things are even more promiscuous than usual, so there are still 4 douche/feminine spray ads.


“What’s A Nice Gal Like You Doing In Women’s Liberation,” asks an article. The answer amounts to “get your head together” so you’re truly free to screw around until you land a husband. For those with low self-esteem, landing a famous husband is a way to go.

These women aren’t common groupies, because they’re manipulating famous men with intent to marry, which is honorable. Even though these types of shallow marriages end badly, I learn that it’s worth it because you then have stories people are willing to pay good money for you to tell. And in that vein, we check back in with that sexy swinging Kraut, Henry Kissinger, who insists he’s not a womanizer, even though there’s a page of photos of him squiring Jill St. John and Marlo Thomas.

Since husband hunting is this month’s theme, we’re down to only 3 douche/feminine spray ads.

APRIL 1972

Burt Reynolds
as the Cosmopolitan centerfold, and somewhere a would-be publisher gets the idea for Playgirl


This article appears right around the time the no-fault divorce laws gained in popularity. To summarize, (for anyone outside of show business) there is no such thing as an open marriage because there are too many rules necessary to make – and keep – it so. At this time, my parents break the news that they’re separating because one of them was practicing the more secretive aspects of open marriage and the other disagreed. Will Cosmo have an article that explains divorce to me?

Every issue features perfectly ghastly interior design suggestions save for the one above, which works because it’s a straight rip-off of the classic Billy Baldwin chocolate brown and white color scheme. Housekeeping Plus: sangria spills wipe up effortlessly because those couches are covered in vinyl.

You don’t have to be an airhead to be easy. Cosmo coaches the smart girl on “Brains As A Black-Lace Turn On.” That they find intelligence and sex a potentially awkward combination is worrisome to a girl who was just placed in the highest reading group.

High IQ Hotties on the sex scene don’t need as much hygiene coaching, so there are only 2 douche/feminine spray ads.


In a few years,
Randi Oakes would become a minor TV star, and by the 21st century would only be memorialized as Gregory Harrison’s wife, which is soooo Cosmo.

And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery from Madison Avenue…

Informative, do-it-yourself articles have to have a slutty headline and opening paragraph, or else they won’t read it? If this is what it takes to remind liberated gals to regularly change their oil, then so be it.

Since it’s a Christmas issue – and that’s holy and stuff – there’s only 1 douche/feminine spray ad.


Gaudy chic accessories ferment in the brain of
Stevie Nicks, but tackiest of all is the “congenitally heavy, chunky legs” slam regarding that “vast wasteland” below the waist of all those big-legged women who’ve got no soul. Should I start starving myself now, or wait until puberty?

Mom's space helmet-like hair dryer was good for a few minutes of play, and in those last moments before hand-held blow dryers hit the market, it was also Kelly Harmon's last bit of print work before becoming TV’s Tic-Tac lady. Actually, this entire issue was a primer of Who Would Be Who for the rest of the decade; within 30 pages of each other are the following:
Jaclyn Smith as the Breck Girl; Cheryl Tiegs for Cover Girl; Christine Farrar for Max Factor; Meredith Baxter (not yet Birney) for Helena Rubenstein; Susan Blakely for Woolite; Jennifer O’Neil for Cover Girl.

A feature on Paul Newman highlights how his mesmerizing blue eyes get women all hot and bothered. This requires 3 douche/feminine spray ads.


From day one, movie critics have always trashed The Way We Were. Everyone except Liz Smith, who got it. Long before she became a New York Post gossip columnist with heart and scruples, she reviewed movies for Cosmo readers as if she was one of them, and it was a refreshing change from the film school snobbery that would piss all over such instant-classic Hollywood glamour as provided by Babs & Bob.

And this particular issue must have been in the subconscious of the Spelling-Goldberg offices whenever making casting choices for
Charlie’s Angels:

Farrah Fawcett-Majors as Jill Munroe (and stealing Kelly Harmon’s Lady Schick thunder because she had better hair)...

Jaclyn Smith as Kelly Garrett…

…and Shelly Hack as the least favorite Angel of them all. She’s #11, 16, 26 & 33 in the above ad, but would soon trade up to being Revlon’s Charlie Girl.

Plus, there is a special photo spread on the famous women who personified “That Cosmopolitan Girl”:
Lauren Hutton (naturally), Raquel Welch, Dyan Cannon, Gina Lollabrigida (what?), Liza Minnelli and Candice Bergen. Since not a one of them is under the age of 25, it gives me hope about my Mom’s chances now that she's a dating divorcee.

For holiday shopping suggestions we have “Gifts You Wish He’d Give You.” Of course every sexually adventurous women’s libber wants “Au Naturel Dolls.” Her man takes time to carefully “specify hair/beard/eye color” of these sock puppets so that they will totally creep her out 3 hours after unwrapping them.

And since all that pink felt and Polaroid action gets the elves all stirred up, there are 4 douche/feminine spray ads.

JUNE 1974

Rene Russo is on the cover as well as in 2 ads inside because she is one of the most in-demand models of the '70s. She eventually has the distinction of being the only (kinda creepy) Aziza cosmetics girl to become a really cool actress.

And here’s where I started getting confused. I got a bottle of this same perfume for my 9th birthday, and it’s also in Cosmo?! Also, there’s an article (“Goddesses on Horseback”) that explores the sexual connotations of girls and their horses, and I have a horse! I’m just sneaking peeks at this magazine, but maybe I’m already a full fledged Cosmo Girl, whether I wanna be or not?

Holy Ernie & Bert! What the hell is a lesbian? And it’s something that some women do only half the time…what?! I am not wearing any of this Love’s Baby Soft. I’m pouring it down the drain, ‘cos I’m not about to give up David Cassidy for Susan Dey. Sorry, I’m just not. You’re confusing. Go away.

There are 3 douche/feminine spray ads. Just go away.


She's on one of the coolest TV shows ever (All in the Family) and Sally Struthers likes to eat at McDonald’s as often as possible. Sure, having a red fake fur couch is pretty cool, but it's not as cool as…

…being the most famous groupie of all! Connie “was a Baptist until I was 15…then I became a groupie.” She’s only 19 and has already “taken care of 200-300 people in The Industry.” She only has relations with famous rock stars and the people who schlep their equipment (easily taking care of 5 to 10 people per show), and whenever she starts to gag during oral, she halts it by reminding herself what an important job this is. She’s very lucky that she’s only had VD once, and only been beaten up twice, which is not counting the one time she broke her own rules and told a rock star that she loved him and “he slapped me and everything.” She doesn’t feel the need to finish high school because she’s going to be the Xavier Hollander of groupies (you hear that, Miss Pamela DesBarres?), and even got offered a starring role in an X-rated movie! She has nothing but optimism for a bright future.

And though I’m far too young to be like Sweet Connie, I could certainly dress like her if they made these things in girls’ sizes. But the local Sears doesn’t have anything remotely similar to Las Vegas Elvis clothes, though they do have some platform shoes. I go to try a pair on, but the saleslady sadly informs me they don’t make platforms in girls’ sizes. I dream of a day in the distant future when a 9 year old girl will be able to buy groupie clothing at the local mall and wear it proudly.

The sexual revolution may have peaked a few issues back because there are only 2 douche/feminine spray ads.


She’s appeared in Cover Girl and Virgina Slims ads in every issue for the past 2 years, and Cheryl Tiegs finally makes it to the cover. From this point on, magazine covers would be her specialty, and she'd eventually have a (very un-groupie) clothing line at Sears.

Ahh yes, I'd remember this article when several years later they couldn't write enough articles on sexual harassment in the work place.

Warren Beatty has Shampoo to promote, and “you have to get used to the almost arrogant perfection of his face and form as he is – or suffocate.” And “Should You Own A McDonald’s?” Back then, it was a $160,000 franchise fee for 20 years, and there was only one woman franchiser at the time, and it wasn’t Sally Struthers.

The gals have leveled off into a regularly scheduled maintenance routine because there are still only 2 douche/feminine spray ads.


Things are starting to take on a noticeably conservative edge. There’s nowhere near as much nudity and how-to sex articles, and then there’s the completely unsexy, orthopedic Earth Shoe, which no self-respecting Cosmo Girl would be caught dead in!

Even the clothes are starting to get ugly, a full year before the absolutely hideous Bicentennial fashions melted our eyes. And the book excerpt is of the best-selling Looking For Mr. Goodbar, wherein an unrepentant, promiscuous woman finally winds up brutally murdered by one of the men she picks up in a bar. The whole vibe is starting to get ugly and messy; is it Cosmo, is it the stark reality of the Women's Liberation hangover, or is it just me bewildered in the Valley of the Dolls and wanting to get off the merry-go-round?

Talk about a buzz kill. They hold still at only 2 douche/feminine spray ads.

Come my 10th birthday, Mom thinks I’m now old enough to have subscriptions to Teen and Seventeen magazines! At first I found them anti-climactic, even a little dull. But it was important to balance a little girl's Cosmo habit with puberty articles and Clearasil ads. While it was helpful to get tips on how not to blush when you had a crush, I was fortified with optimism about the Cosmopolitan delights my post-puberty years promised. By the time I got to that point, it was the opening day bugle call of AIDS, with the everyone afraid to have sex with anyone, much less their mechanic. The Grade School Historian had gone beyond the valley of the dolls.


Anonymous said...

Incredible! Thank you...

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

That was great! You really took me back to the days of my teens and talking over the mysteries of Cosmo with my girlfriends.

I was a Love's Lemon girl myself.

Anonymous said...

OMG. You are brilliant! Totally took care of the last half hour of work!!!

Anonymous said...

Great work ... and I've made sure lots of folks will see it. Good writing should be rewarded with readers.

Viviane said...

Wow. What a flashback. I remember reading Cosmo at the supermarket checkout, in front of my Dad. I saved a bunch of issues and somewhere, there is a picture of my friend in front of a whole wall of Cosmo covers, trying to look slutty! I"ve linked to your post from my blog.

Anonymous said...


im sam from philippines. i found an old Cosmopolitan magazine dates Sept 1965.
can you give me an idea how much does it worth now (in US dollars?)
i hope you can help me on this.

thank you so much.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.