A thought I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately was the old theory (which I have every reason to believe is fact) of how that which one beholds one becomes, or differently put, that which we constantly expose ourselves to begins to shape what we think, how we act and in time what we desire – often regardless of whether we think this ‘thing’ or idea to be good, either in itself or for us.
Aristotle remarked that ‘it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it’. But no matter how educated we often are or how unhealthy certain things for us knowingly may be, the deep emotional need craving it, together with our fallen state, can convince even the sharpest mind that that unlikely solution and dangerous thing, is just the medicine we need and we’ll then accept it. Even to the point where it becomes our new truth, our point of reference, that thing we crave.
Ideas are regularly and ceaselessly communicated at us from all angles and through various media, to the point where an awful idea could be become really difficult to entertain rationally without us caving to the point of accepting it.
There is this saying of “you are what you eat” but I believe the alternative of “you are what you read” is the more accurate one. We all have some form of reading material lying next to our bed, sitting room couch or lavatory throne. Chances are, you would be able to walk into someone’s house, browse through their bedside or seatside material and have a fairly good idea of their stance on most of the hot topics society is currently grappling with. We ARE shaped by ideas, more specifically those we entertain.
Large parts of the social demographic I find myself in have traded classic novels, the Christian bible or possibly an academic journal, for magazines appearing on a monthly basis containing the same basic messages repackaged as something more exciting or ‘a level higher’ than that of the previous month, to fall asleep with.
One of these has largely shaped the way many women (and men – as they also read it when they find one lying around) think and act today: Cosmopolitan magazine, or simply Cosmo to those who know her quite well by now. Helen Gurley Brown, long time editor of Cosmo mag, passed away yesterday at the age of 90. She took Cosmo from a magazine containing “articles on home and hearth, along with uplifting discussions of current affairs” which “covers had featured photos of demure, high-collared girl-next-door types” and introduced her first issue with “a voluptuous blond model whose deep cleavage was barely contained by her plunging neckline” on the cover. Text appearing on the covers went from a typical “Diabetes: Will your children inherit it?” to “World’s Greatest Lover — What it was like to be wooed by him!” for her inaugural issue (apparently her husband wrote all the cover lines throughout her 32 years as editor).
She was widely credited with being the first to introduce frank discussions of sex into magazines for women. The look of women’s magazines today — a sea of voluptuous models and titillating cover lines — is due in no small part to her influence. She introduced the idea, as one journalist suggests, that “sex as an end in itself was perfectly fine… As a means to an end — the right husband, the right career, the right designer labels — it was better still.” Thus, sex is a tool through which women can obtain that which they desire, their bodies are the tools through which they obtain those things – their bodies become their trade currency, their measure of value – they reduce themselves to material objects. She also wrote various advice books (as Cosmo is an advice magazine of course) suggesting to women over 50 (for instance), that as they age and the supply of available men dwindles, they should simply appropriate their friends’ husbands for jaunty recreational sex.
Another article states, “to locate Brown’s legacy in the pages of today’s magazine, you need not look any further than its cover. A quick Google image search for “Cosmopolitan Covers” pulls up a gallery, with “SEX” blaring in all-caps in the top-left corner of nearly every issue.”
“Brown often described the Cosmo Girl as the young woman she had been — or dreamt of being — 20 years before”, it is reported. But who was she 20 years before, dreaming of these sexual exploits, the tour de force of turning womanhood, as she knew it, on its head?
She was a mouseburger – a physically unprepossessing woman with little money and few prospects – a term she coined and used to describe girls like herself. She lived in a time when a woman’s main chance (of achieving ‘a place in the world’ and be recognised) was to marry well, a chance she did not give herself as “she did not consider herself pretty and had rampant, intractable acne”. So she wrote years afterwards. It seems quite plain that the foundations of this ground-breaking magazine and the drive behind its message is a young girl with feelings of inadequacy and a misinformed idea of her self-worth.
It was from that place that the following quotes likely sprung forth:
“Marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life. Save the ‘best’ for when you’re single.”
”Make a list of the men in your life and arrange them in categories: The Eligibles, The Eligibles-But-Who-Needs-Them, The Don Juans, The Divorcing Man.”
“And forget about church. (It has) ‘Spiritual benefits,’ yes. Prospects for bed, unlikely.”
“Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.”
“You can’t be sexual at 60 if you’re fat.”
“I’ve never worked anywhere without being sexually involved with somebody in the office…”
“My own philosophy is if you’re not having sex, you’re finished. It separates the girls from the old people.”
One tribute written to her quoted her reason for never having children as not wanting “to give up the time, the love, the money.”
Although she called herself a feminist (because which woman isn’t really, in some other-defined way?) she did receive lots of criticism from many feminist camps as she greatly influenced the cultural objectification of women as ticking sex bombs, waiting to be detonated, with few other uses. This especially came to the fore when she publicly disdained the charges (of sexual harassment two prominent men faced at that stage), arguing that sexual attention from men is almost always flattering.
As the books go so goes the people it seems? Where we once typically studied a topic or idea carefully via the book we chose as bedmate we now ramble through one mag after the other, each promising the same thing which will satisfy this time around, only in a wilder way than before. Yet, it never really does?
To be fair to Brown, her actions are understandable given the place she operated from, but it is still up to us to decide which ideas we entertain and whether we are able and can afford to entertain them without actually accepting them. In my ’98/2 principle’ article I mentioned that none of us can choose not to be followers but we can choose whose ideas we follow and further, we can get a fairly accurate idea of where we’ll end up should we choose to follow them and their ideas by simply considering where their lives or that of the ones they followed ended up.
Ladies (and gentlemen – because there are so many magazines similar to Cosmo nowadays), can you entertain and do you want to entertain the ideas Cosmo and its founder communicates to you? Is Cosmo still communicating this idea since Brown left as editor and remaining true to her philosophies?
Do read the more complete article on her life here: Gave Single Girl a Life in Full (Sex,Sex,Sex)
And, Martin Daubney, longest serving editor of ‘lad’s mag’ Loaded confesses his magazine ‘turned a generation (of men) onto porn’
“We can make a dent in our culture by moving discourse beyond soundbytes and clichés. And we can help folks realize that the examined life, which is the only one worth living, cannot be reduced to a slogan…” -Eric Metaxas on Thinking in Soundbytes