Plenty of modern women may admit to having read Cosmo — that bible of sex tips and plunging necklines — but very few will proudly admit to being subscribers. It's kind of like a gossip magazine; something you might like to check out, but don't necessarily want everyone to know that you're checking out. But what many readers — lovers and haters alike — don't realize is that Cosmopolitan magazine, once a bastion of recipes and conservative Americana was transformed to the slightly embarrassing-but-fun read we know today by one very brave, controversial and ahead-of-her-time woman: Helen Gurley Brown. Brown passed away in New York City on Aug. 13 at the age of 90, and while she was a devisive feminist figure, she also upheld the best of feminism's teachings: Speak Your Mind.
The longtime editor (30-plus years) of Cosmo was known in the '60s and '70s not just for helming the glossy as much as she was for promoting the idea that women could — and should — enjoy and pursue sexual relationships before she was married.
What she started at Cosmo, she followed up on that theme with a book that cemented her opinions and reputation. As the New York Times reported in her obit, "Sex and the Single Girl" was published in 1962 and, "Though the book seems almost quaint today ('An affair can last from one night to forever'), it caused a sensation when it was published in 1962 by Bernard Geis Associates. It sold millions of copies, turned Ms. Brown into a household name and inspired a movie of the same title starring Natalie Wood, released in 1964."
While some women praised her for her outspoken ways and promotion of women's sexuality as worth just as much attention as men's, plenty of women (including yours truly), found plenty of Cosmo's ideas — and Brown's — regressive and too looks-marriage-men focused. Sometimes it seemed the advice was less about making yourself look great for you (and for your own health), and more about doing what men found attractive, which seemed to run up against the "You Go, Girl!" empowerment wall that the magazine seemed to be otherwise selling.
But Brown had little to use as a template, and she went with her gut, creating a super-successful product, and talking about what plenty of other people wouldn't dare to discuss. She is a certain kind of female role model — not just for her plain-old success, but because she did things the way she wanted to, kept going, held her opinions steady, was imperfect, and at the end of the day, really believed in women.
She certainly showed that care through her actions. Lori Greenburg, a graphic artist, shared this story on Facebook upon Brown's passing: "When I was about 17, I walked up to her in a store, introduced myself, and told her about starting college soon. She spent a lot of time talking to me, and gave me some pretty good advice about being an independent woman."
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