Cosmo Editor Joanna Coles Speaks In Defense Of Women Who Like Fashion AND Feminism

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We all know what Cosmopolitan magazine is famous for: sex tips. This is what has made it one of the most popular magazines for women aged 18-40 around the world, which has 65 international editions, is printed in 35 languages and is distributed in 11o countries. But when British-born editor-in-chief Joanna Coles took over the reigns in 2012, she decided to give the magazine a much-needed facelift to reflect the changing culture of what women want, largely in part to the rise of social media and the internet.

She is already being compared to what legendary EIC Helen Gurley Brown did from 1965-1997 where she took a magazine that was declining in sales from its creation in 1886 as a family magazine, and re-branded it as an cultural tome for the modern single woman.

There has been much criticism of the way Cosmo promotes often explicit sexual content, so much that Hearst Publications heir (who own the magazine) Victoria Hearst started a campaign with a Christian girls online community called Project Inspired to get Cosmo magazine banned for underage girls, and have it sealed in a plastic bag similar to Playboy to block out the sexual images from passers-by.

Perhaps Joanna Coles heard about this, or perhaps she is just a smart woman who wants to cater to the modern young woman of the 21st century, when she announced the magazine would include a lot more political content. It was a huge step in the right direction in terms of reflecting how feminism has changed. Gone are the days when a feminist meant someone like Gloria Steinem who participated in protests and sit-ins.


These days feminists are more likely to look like a the made-over version of Anne Hathaway in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ than a woman who doesn’t shave her legs or wear a bra (read: these are complete myths about feminists!).

In an interview with NPR, Joanna, who was also recently appointed as the Editorial Director of Seventeen Magazine (in a move that some are saying will set her up to be the next power woman in publishing like Anna Wintour) said there is an important message behind Cosmo’s political push, but it doesn’t aim to take away from their usual focus on relationships, sex, fashion and careers.

“One of the things Cosmo feels really strongly about is we need more women candidates running, and we need more women across the parties in D.C. We’ve seen what the men are up to, and it appears to be not very much. There’s total gridlock in Washington. And I’m a big believer in you just have to have a seat at the table,” she said.

Joanna talks about birth control and contraception, another hot topic that the magazine is going in-depth with, saying it is not just a woman’s issue anymore.

“Contraception is a couple’s issue. Men like having sex, too, and men don’t want to have to have a baby every time they have sex. In fact, if you presented them with that option, they would never want to have sex again. So I think it’s important that we frame this in terms of both men and women.”


“And, I think, it’s also been seen as a specifically Democratic issue. And we have a lot of young Republican readers who feel that they want access to contraception. They want to control when they have a baby. And, for a woman, when she has a child is the single most important economic decision she’ll ever make in her life, and we want her to have a choice over that.”

There are still some aspects of the magazine that may cause a little confusion and contention for readers, most notably its recent cover featuring un-buttoned model Emily Ratajkowski (you know, of ‘Blurred Lines’ music video fame) which touts a headline “I Feel Lucky That I Can Wear What I Want, Sleep With Who I Want And Dance How I Want And Still Be A Feminist.”

Yes, being a feminist in 2014 is absolutely about having a choice, a choice that generations before us did not have. But in our opinion, with that freedom of choice also comes a duty. Like Annie Lennox spelled out in her explanation of calling Beyonce a “feminist lite”, she feels adamant that the sexualization of young girls in the media has a lot to answer for and can absolutely have a damaging and overpowering effect on a woman’s self-image. But Joanna thinks it is a wonderful picture and message of Emily and that’s ok. We can agree to disagree, and focus on the points we know are empowering.

In her opinion, having a woman like Emily on the cover touting a message about feminism sends a clear message that just because women like fashion, doesn’t mean they can’t be interested in politics.

“I think that women’s lives are multilayered. I have no problem understanding that women are interested in mascara and the Middle East. Men are allowed to talk about sports relentlessly, and yet we still take them seriously. I don’t understand why women can’t talk about fashion, or sex, or love, or wanting more money and not be taken as seriously as men.”


Women in leadership is another aspect they want to promote more, which goes hand in hand with the political aspect, and the #Cosmovotes campaign which they have launched in a bid to make young women aware of how politics will affect them in the upcoming elections.

“I think that young women today feel that so much more is possible for them than, certainly, 30 years ago when I was growing up. And I think they look around and, although there are still very few female leaders in American business and there’s still not enough women in government, it does make a difference to see Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook or Marissa Mayer at Yahoo”

“It’s really important that we have these role models so women feel, ‘I, too, can do this,’ if they want to. I’m not saying everybody has to run a boardroom, of course not. But if you want to run your own business, you should be able to. We want to give you the tools and the psychological kind of input to be able to do that.”

Our modern culture needs female ambassadors on all fronts, representing the diverse gender that we are. We’re glad women like Joanna Coles is doing her part with the platform she has. We don’t all have to be the editor-in-chief of a major women’s magazine, what can you do with your voice today to share a powerful message?

Here is the full interview with Joanna on NPR:

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