Helen Gurley Brown died yesterday after a brief illness. She was 90. As editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine for 32 years, Brown helped guide and shape young women’s views on sex and relationships. I know. I was one of them.
Brown wrote the best-seller Sex and the Single Girl in 1962. Just imagine how ground-breaking and bold that was. She was an advertising copywriter at the time and a 40-year-old one at that. The book’s success got her the job as Editor-in-Chief at Cosmo which I and all of my teen girlfriends bought religiously after we graduated from Tiger Beat. Cosmo was a reach for a girl my age. It dealt with issues about looks and relationships and sex and diet but it took a subservient stance on all of the above. Its attitude was, if you work a little harder on yourself to be attractive and pleasing, you’ll catch Mr. Right. Feminist groups staged protests at the magazine’s New York office but I didn’t know about that back then. Few probably did. We had no way to Tweet it!
But as far as an example of a successful woman goes, Brown was a good one. She didn’t let fear of failure get in her way and pushed her views on a public that some might have thought wasn’t ready for such liberalism. They would have underestimated the times. Women were ready for a push. When Brown’s book came out she had already been married to her producer husband David for three years. They were together until his death in 2010. “I served him like a geisha”, she once said.
If I seem to have conflicted feelings about her, I do. I was simultaneously entertained and duped by her work. Entertained because in the sensitive teen years I was desperate for guidance on the usual issues. Duped because most of that advice centred on what was wrong with me if I wasn’t tall enough or thin enough or smiling enough. I never became what Helen would call A Cosmo Girl. And from this perspective I think that’s probably a good thing.