Cosmo vs. Esquire: Why do women's magazines lack intellectualism?
Originally published in The Tartan on 09.10.2007. Visit www.thetartan.org.
I've always been a big fan of magazines — they're cheap, portable one-stop-content-shops that suit most any kind of mood that strikes my fancy in the supermarket check-out line. I'm such a big fan of magazines that, despite their expendability, I hoard stacks of them in my room (blame a natural inclination to be a pack rat and a healthy dose of a weird guilt). I read a few different kinds of magazines, usually news (Newsweek or Time), design (Print or HOW), or women's lifestyle (Cosmopolitan or Glamour or Marie Claire or Allure, to name a few).

Then this summer happened.

It was a hot day in June and I was waiting far too long for a tomato and mozzarella panini, trying to pick a back issue of a magazine from the windowsill to pass time, and debating which one would most impress the hot guy who might walk in and start up a conversation with me because of what I'm reading (hey, it could happen). I skipped over the old Cosmos and Marie Claires, ashamed that I'd even entertain the idea of reading that smut while trying to appear intellectual (the hot guy who might walk in would also be very, very smart... obviously). An issue of Esquire caught my eye, but I felt that might give off the wrong impression. I settled for an issue of Black and White Magazine ("for collectors of fine photography") that entertained me for approximately 52 seconds. I glanced back at George Clooney, chillin' on Esquire's cover. I was jealous of the Esquire cover. I wanted to look at it, touch it. I wanted to have made it, really, but I also wanted to see what other sweet designs were on the inside.

I caved — neither my panini nor a hot guy was in sight, and Esquire's typography was too much to resist. This, readers, was the beginning of a new endeavor in my life. I was hooked after the table of contents. Such nice design! Clean! Easy to read! Graphic! And the blurbs! Witty! I was excited. I read every word on every page that wasn't an ad. In one sitting. I was sure I'd miss something crucial if I skipped a page. I loved everything. I hadn't known what I was missing in my oft-read women's lifestyle magazines (this list is short): everything. Esquire's content was varied, intelligent, humorous, and their features contained some serious journalism. And, they still have sex! Damn! Why do men get this kind of magazine?

At home, I glanced at my collection of random Cosmopolitans-et-al. Every issue in front of me screamed SEX in such big type, the name of the magazine might as well be Cosmo: SEX. It was sad. It is sad. Half of the sex content isn't even for women — it's all about "pleasing your man." I went to the bookstore in an attempt to find the female equivalent of Esquire; I left with current issues of Esquire. And GQ. And Details. And they all rocked my magazine world.

I did some digging, and found that both Esquire and Cosmopolitan consider themselves ultimate guides to men's and women's lives, respectively. That's fine and all, that's the content they're covering, but apparently women's lives are a lot more, ahem, superficial. A look at their media kits illustrates just what is perceived by the magazine industry as pertinent to men's and women's lives.

Check it: Esquire claims to offer "intelligent services, stories with substance, [and the] ability to entertain and inspire," to "survey the landscape to unearth the smart edge of culture: the people, places, things, and trends that intelligent, sophisticated men want, need, and ought to know," and to focus on the "well-educated, urbane, affluent" man. Cosmo, on the other hand, believes they "inspire with information on relationships and romance, the best in fashion and beauty, the latest on women's health and well-being, as well as what is happening in pop culture and entertainment." Teehee! brb I totes have to go fix my mascara before I finish this...

Esquire's second largest portion of editorial content is national, international, and business affairs. Sophisticated! Cosmo's is fashion. Esquire's editorial calendar is varied; this year's issues cover Meaning of Life, Dubious Achievements, Style Issue, All About Women, The Better Man, Most Useful Issue, What It Feels Like, Fall Style, Esquire 100, Sexiest Woman Alive, and Best and Brightest. Cosmo's is a bit more of a broken record: Bedside Astrologer, Fun Fearless Male Awards, Spring Fashion Shopping, Fun Fearless Couples, Healthy Skin/Swimsuit, Summer Sexy, Beach Beauty, Hot Issue, Fun Fearless Phenoms/Fun Fearless Fashion, Cosmo Beauty Awards, Cosmo Men, and Hot Holiday Looks.

It's demeaning that these are the topics Cosmo thinks encompasses "every area of [fun fearless females'] lifestyle." Every area? What about social awareness? Professional life? Arts and culture? Entertainment that isn't biographical interviews with the hottest actor ever OMG? Women in the 18–50 age bracket have many more things to be concerned about than the newest makeup (note: If your wrinkles didn't go away after the May issue, they're not going to go away after the November issue). There are independent women who don't need issue after issue of every women's lifestyle magazine to dictate to them the best ways to please and keep a penis. At the least, women deserve a magazine that sets the same standards as some of the best men's magazines.

Maybe I'm having a gender identity crisis, or maybe Condé Nast, or Hearst, or ANYONE should get on this left-out demographic of well-educated, cultured, sophisticated women. Pronto.
back to the top