From my late teenage years to my early twenties I was obsessed with Cosmopolitan magazine. I never missed an issue and I saved all of them inside an old travellers trunk in my closet. When my collection and I finally parted ways, right before I left on my semester abroad during the winter of my third year of university, I swear I could’ve supplied an entire hospital’s worth of waiting rooms with reading material. I think I had roughly seventy magazines in my collection, all of which were put out with the recycling the day before I left.
After my return home, I kept reading Cosmo. I can’t remember whether or not I collected them, nor can I remember when I stopped buying them altogether. What I do remember is the last time I opened one: I was at the gym, right around my 25th birthday, and I needed something to read to get me through a particularly grueling treadmill workout. Since I used to enjoy Cosmo so much and my females-only gym was full of them I picked one up from the pile, revved up the treddy, and started reading.
To my surprise, I couldn’t even make it to the middle of the magazine before throwing it to the floor in dramatic disgust.
It was the same old Cosmo I’d always read and enjoyed, but something had changed. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I realized it was me. I’d changed. I wasn’t who I used to be. I was no longer a young woman desperate for tips on How to Please a Man! or What Look He Likes Best! I no longer cared what the male population of the world thought of me, nor did I believe it to be my responsibility to make a man happy. Maybe it was because, at the time, I was nearing the crux of my relationship with my abuser and there was an ever-present rage simmering under the surface of my skin, just waiting to turn into an angry boil, and there was nothing I wanted less than to discover the best tips and tricks to keep my man interested when what I really wanted was for him to disappear into oblivion.
That was five years ago. I haven’t picked up a Cosmo magazine since, but last year I subscribed to the digital edition of Women’s Health, thinking it would be more up my alley. As you know, I’m pretty fitness-oriented. I run, I eat well, I occasionally partake in strength training (I know, I know, I should do more of this). Surely Women’s Health would have more articles relevant to my interests, right?
Okay, sort-of wrong.
Women’s Health does have a predominant focus on fitness. Yes, it’s cover models are still usually well-known celebrities, but they’re normally displayed appearing fit and confident, not sexy and stuffed into a dress that’s more akin to a sausage casing. Each issue has a section called Scoop!, highlighting fitness, health, nurtrition, weight, and beauty – all areas of interest to me. It has a fashion section. It talks about vitamins and common women’s ailments and how to treat them. Women’s Health does indeed have more of the information I tend to look for in a lifestyle magazine, unlike Cosmo’s primary concentration on what women can do to better appeal to their romantic partners.
Women’s Health is not just a magazine. Like most every brand these days it also has a Facebook group, to which I used to subscribe (key words in that sentence: used to). I unfollowed the group just yesterday. Why? Because, even though there’s no real focus on it in the magazine itself, the group does share articles more-or-less up the Cosmo reader’s alley, including, but not limited to: Deciding What To Do With Your Pubic Hair, Men’s Biggest Turn-Ons (and Turn-Offs!), and, my personal favourite, 13 Things You Should Never Say to a Naked Man. For a magazine meant to promote and focus on the health of women (it’s called Women’s Health, right?), it seems quite concerned instead with how men view us females, as well as what we should do to receive positive male attention.
Needless to say, I also won’t be renewing my magazine subscription next year.
The good news is that while some women seem to accept these types of posts without complaint, a lot of women who follow the group do complain. A lot, actually, and loudly. They don’t like being told how to please a man, nor should they. They are vocal in asking why the content has been posted. There are voices speaking up against this weird status quo of women only existing for male benefit and I feel extremely uplifted when I read their comments. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in thinking, “What the actual fuck does this have to do with my health?” because believe me, I existed for a loooong time trying to make men happy and guess what? It never made me happy. It was only when I stopped doing it that I found my own inner happiness and, after that, a healthy, well-rounded relationship with a man who loves and respects me and doesn’t give a shit what I look like or what I wear as long as I love and respect him back. Full-disclosure? The skin on my face currently looks like that of a thirteen-year-old instead of a thirty-year-old, and he still says I’m beautiful every night before I go to bed, sans makeup. That’s love, guys. Believe that. Believe me, I don’t put on my makeup every morning for his benefit or anyone else’s but mine.
This is getting long, as my posts are wont to do, but I just have to say this: I don’t only have a problem with magazines that try and make women feel like they need to do x to get y. I have a problem with anyone or anything that does. Women don’t need to do anything for anyone but themselves. Like I said, I don’t put on makeup for anyone else but me. I like eyeliner a lot because I like how big it makes my eyes look, but you know what? I like my face without it, too. I don’t wear pretty dresses or leggings as pants (don’t judge) because I want others to admire my toned legs, I wear them both because they’re so damn comfortable and honestly, pants with zippers and buttons fit me funny because of my never-ever-going-to-be-flat-because-it’s-not-in-my-DNA belly. I don’t owe my husband, my father, my brother, or any unknown man on my morning bus ride anything. Any man is entitled to look, but he better know I don’t do anything for him. I do it for me.
Somebody, somewhere, tell me that someday women will finally achieve full autonomy; that we will be confident and respected because we’re people. Tell me magazines will stop pushing the message that if I don’t know how or I’m not willing to learn what my husband/lover/boyfriend/whatever wants from me I’m less of a person somehow. Tell me shit like this will stop happening because I can’t take it anymore. [Insert deity of choice here] give me the strength and the wisdom to raise any potential daughter I might have to respect herself first above all others and know without a doubt her body is her own and not a prize to be claimed. Give me the strength and the wisdom to raise any potential son to know women do not exist solely for his pleasure and her respect must be earned and not taken, either through violence or by the whispering of sweet nothings in her ear.
It’s 2014. Hell, it’s almost 2015. Let’s move on, shall we?
Note: The title of this post was directly stolen from, yes, a Jessica Simpson tune. Whatever, I love her, haters to the left.