The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 17


Rhajon N. Colson-Smith, who probably never thought her name would end up on my dumb blog, finished her thesis in 2005: “Look Younger, Lose 10 Pounds, and Influence Your Audience: A Content Analysis of Popular Men’s and Women’s Magazine Cover Blurbs and the Messages They Project to Their Readers”. She looked at four different magazines’s covers (Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Gentlemen’s Quarterly, Vogue) for the years 1999-2003 to see what kind of messages they contained.  Her literature review, unlike mine, was a real one, and she found that magazines telling women what they ought to be has its beginnings in the early 20th Century.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 16


And what I’m finding from the handful of articles, one thesis, and one monograph that I’ve identified as relevant for this series, is that Cosmopolitan’s covers say a lot of things, too!  I’ve been staring at the cleavage and not even reading the words.

Words like

  • the gyno crisis every woman dreads
  • 10 girlfriend goof-ups
  • make him your love slave
  • is your skin aging too fast?
  • draw men like moths to a flame
  • get Cosmo cleavage


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 15


I’ve also done a modicum of research for the second half of this series, to try to answer the question of why cleavage was being used to sell a product to women. My coverage of the literature is going to be spotty and incomplete.  I feel like I need this kind of disclaimer (read: apology) since I’m a librarian and part of my job is to encourage students to be as thorough as they can when searching for academic resources on a topic.  Get more than you need and winnow, I say.  Check their bibliographies for further relevant research, I say. Use Web of Science to see newer pieces that cite what you already have, I say.

I say a lot of things.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 14


And, yes,

“sought confirmation” = sneakin’ peeks at breasts because I was 13,


“sought confirmation” = everyone’s a scientist whether or not they want to admit it.

It can be both!

My hunch was, with only a couple of exceptions that I can remember, validated and re-affirmed each time. To sum up what I’ve said so far: hunches have value; hunches have shortcomings, hunches need data. And I’m building what could, if you’re feeling generous, be termed a dataset.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 13


And so we come to Cosmopolitan, and my fascination with the fact that it seemed as though I had never once seen this magazine not feature cleavage on the cover. Once the pattern was noticed, I sought confirmation every time I went through the checkout.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 12


Going to the grocery store, or to big box stores like Wal-Mart, has been for the majority of my life an almost-weekly ritual. And the last part of the rite is passing through the narrow gate of purchase. Seen from the perspective of the corporate theocracy, this is the last chance to get you to purchase more items. We are presented with low-cost, mass-appeal products which tap into the caveman parts of our mind. Food (meat, sugar, recipe magazines), entertainment (toys, celebrity magazines), and sex (breath mints, magazines promising better positions, fashion, bodies).


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 11


That should be enough theory for the moment, and we’ll come back to more academic stuff later on. But I want to talk awhile about me and boobs.  I’m not sure when I started noticing this “pattern”, but I think it’s safe to say it was after the time when my body had developed enough for me to become aroused when seeing breasts.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 10


But the point I’m stressing here is that you must seek out information that will either confirm or disagree with your ideas. You must disprove the null hypothesis to believe your main hypothesis.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 9


Basically, when we encounter information that does not match our patterns, our idea that we are right, we experience what is called cognitive dissonance. This dissonance causes mental discomfort. There are many responses to it; creating subcategories (“you’re one of the good ones”), discounting the source (“these scientists are liberals and have a bias that distorts their data and conclusions”), changing one’s mind (you can think of examples from the final act of your favorite films), or if you’re really cool, just sitting with the conflicting thoughts for awhile.


The Cosmopolitan Divide, part 8


We must, to differentiate ourselves from our knuckle-dragging forebears, seek out information that will help us confirm or deny the patterns we see. We must also be very careful to be open to acceptance of information that goes against the patterns we have told ourselves we see. Ego is an essential part of functioning. I think it likely necessary to one’s mental health to believe that the vast majority of our thoughts are based in reality and are true. Can you imagine how crippling it would be to doubt every thought, to the point of doubting your doubts, or your ability to doubt?