Sexual Feminism

I cut my teeth on Cosmopolitan magazine. When I saw my first copy, I thought it slightly very scandalous and definitely titillating. For a pre-teen girl it was pretty heady stuff. Sexy women on the covers with provocative articles that I could only imagine related to someone else’s life. Someone more sophisticated. Someone more daring. Someone I secretly envied as I was busy at piano and ballet lessons.


With titles like, “I Was An Overage Virgin“, what young woman wouldn’t be curious to read more? And the cover photos! This man appears at her mercy, being stroked like a pet.
On the same cover, “Make This Bikini Yourself“. Really? Titles that grab attention from all angles. The wanna be femme fatale and the industrious young woman who might actually try to make her own bathing suit could both be enticed by these covers. I found them irresistible.
“Cosmo Girls” seemed as mystifying as “Playboy Bunnies” to me, which was an interesting dichotomy in retrospect.


Helen Gurley Brown, the original Carrie Bradshaw died at the age of 90 yesterday.
60 years ago she wrote Sex And The Single Girl. An advice book that encouraged woman to become financially independent and experience sexual relationships prior to and without marriage. Scandalous thoughts at the time. She told women they needed men “to compliment them and not take over their life”.

The early Cosmopolitan covers before Helen took over were quite different. It was a family magazine aimed at the homemaker which was struggling to succeed.



She transformed the antiquated magazine into a must-read for many young, sexy or what to be sexy girls. She told us we could do it all, have it all, and openly express our sexuality.


40 years ago she produced the first nude centerfold with Burt Renolds which led the way for Playgirl magazine. There was not one of my girlfriends who was not frantic to see that centerfold. Tame by today’s standards, it was explosive at the time.



Remember this?
Some of Helen’s more famous quotes :
“Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”- Maybe
“What you have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.” – True 


“Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort.” – Funny


“Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.” –  Gospel Truth


“Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlepp.”-  Perhaps


“If you’re not a sex object, you’re in trouble.” – Not true


Today it’s possible to upload your own photo to their website, “if you’ve ever dreamed of being a Cosmo Girl”. Sort of like at the County Fair where you can get your picture styled in vintage clothes. You make your own cover and do what with it? Hmmm.


Helen was a feminist in quite a different way than Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer. She encouraged women to “own” their own sexuality and careers. She helped  empower a generation of women who were at the forefront of the sexual revolution.
Did you read Cosmo? Did it influence you?

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  1. August 24, 2012 / 4:32 am

    Another fabulous an in depth post! I haven;t thought of this magazine…since I had children… over 20 years ago. but oh was it my go to magazine in ‘my day’! I remember ‘learning’ a lot… about a lot of things from my reading! When my fashion accessories made it into the editorial…i felt I had made it!!

    i recently watched the 60’s movie taken off of Helen and her book.

    Thank you for this blast from the past…and letting me know such an icon has left us.

  2. August 20, 2012 / 8:18 pm

    Love this post. Reading Cosmopolitan was the same sort of experience for me as you describe. I think Helen Gurley Brown was great, what a powerful NYC editor she was in her day, and I agree with quite a few of the quotes of hers you’ve listed here. Thanks for joining my blog and I am your newest follower! XO, Jill

    • August 20, 2012 / 11:35 pm

      Thanks…I just linked to your Chanel-Inspired post. It’s terrific.
      Now if someone would just tell me how I can photograph myself…

  3. August 20, 2012 / 8:10 pm

    I didnot get your e-mail!
    My e-mail is………[email protected]
    Hope to hear from you soon!Yes, I looked and looked for the e-mail from your site which is nothing short of FABULOUS!

  4. August 20, 2012 / 6:34 pm

    I emailed to you, from your beautiful site. Reminds me I need to add an email to my blog!!

  5. August 20, 2012 / 3:13 pm

    Yes, I read it cant believe she is gone………….
    Another question for you I saw your comment on French Essence…….did you go on a shopping trip to Bordeaux with a gal named Terry?Are you going the end of September?If so, I will be on that trip too!I must subscribe to your BLOG!Please be in touch!Elizabeth………..otherwise known as LA CONTESSA

  6. Joni James
    August 19, 2012 / 5:17 pm

    Yes, I remember reading cosmo magazine on my bed as a young teen for hours upon hours. It was fascinating to me. Now I just get tired of all the sexual references on the cover which just cheapens it for me. But, it’s a great entertainment source still. I love the big thick ones that come out in the fall.

    • August 19, 2012 / 6:40 pm

      I haven’t picked one up in decades…wow, does that ever sound bizarre!! Decades, phew. I’ll have another peek at one.
      Love your blog!!

  7. August 19, 2012 / 8:27 pm

    such a fascinating woman…and what great quotes… xv

  8. August 19, 2012 / 3:36 pm

    Should let you know that I linked to you in yesterday’s post. . .

    • August 19, 2012 / 6:19 pm

      Thank you so much!! That’s lovely of you.
      Almost took the little shuttle over on Friday to peek around but thought it would be too hot inside it. How’s wedding planning going?

    • August 20, 2012 / 3:59 am

      The boat you see on the Nanaimo side is actually just a waiting room — the ferry itself is open all around so gets a good breeze. If you’re around for a few more weeks, we should try to meet up, once the wedding is over and I catch my breath. The planning is going fine, and all that’s needed is a bit of perspective (!)

    • August 20, 2012 / 6:00 pm

      I’d love to get together. Perspective came to me once the wedding day came. I knew all that could be done, had been done, so I just enjoyed the day!

  9. August 19, 2012 / 1:56 am

    So many memories… “The Cosmo Girl” – such a strange combination, in some ways, when we think back 30 years ago or more. It did seem titillating at the time.

    (Remember Natalie Wood in the movie knock-off of Sex and the Single Girl?)

  10. August 18, 2012 / 11:52 pm

    I was introduced to your blog by Frances @ Materfamilias, and what a treat it is to “discover” you. I do remember the centerfold issue very well — I was in college and wow, what a hot topic. Cosmo was a treat for me back then, and helped me realize that sex was not just for boys to enjoy!

    • August 19, 2012 / 6:36 pm

      I’m so happy to find your bog! Frances introduced me to you also!! I followed your site but can’t figure out how to comment as me. Do I sign in?

  11. August 18, 2012 / 10:47 pm

    It’s so tame by today’s standards and I can’t help picturing how Burt looks today with the sad hair pieces and overdone face lifts.

  12. August 18, 2012 / 9:37 pm

    I DO remember that centerfold, at least the unroar about it – and can you believe this is the first time I’ve seen it. 40 years ago you say? So 1972? I was in junior high and maybe a bit too young. He looked real good. Sorry I missed it. I’ll just linger and enjoy it a bit now.

    And I agree that HGB was fearless and strong and did a lot for women. What a girl!

  13. Tabitha
    August 17, 2012 / 11:03 am

    Oh I remember buying it and hiding it from my mum just like Sulky, it was utterly scandalous! I loved Helen Gurley Brown, she was fearless and changed so much for women today.

  14. August 17, 2012 / 3:06 pm

    Helen was a pretty amazing woman! I don’t think young women today appreciate how much she did for us. I’m not sure my daughter had heard of her until now !

  15. August 17, 2012 / 7:38 am

    Hi,I remember sneaking my Cosmopolitan into the house when I was in my early teens. My mother was very religious and I’m sure she would have had me exorcised if she had caught me with it! I loved it and was addicted to it for years. I also loved HGB’s book Sex and The Single Girl.

  16. August 15, 2012 / 5:09 am

    I didn’t read the old Cosmo but I adore HGB and mourn her passing. I read all her books – including The Late Show!

    • August 15, 2012 / 1:50 pm

      I haven’t read that one yet. She was one terrific lady.
      Have a great day!

  17. August 14, 2012 / 5:29 pm

    Haven’t read Cosmo for decades, but I certainly did in my teens and early twenties — and I clearly remember the excitement around that centrefold!

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