Wednesday, September 26, 2012

a cosmo girl worth remembering.

helen gurley brown was a complicated woman.

the editor-in-chief of cosmopolitan magazine for 32 years,
helen was a self-described feminist, & her messages of
empowerment for women supported that.
yet, in the words of women in media & news director jennifer pozner,
helen created "one of the most body-shaming, insecurity-provoking, long-lasting
sexist media product of the last hundred years."

the truth is, helen gurley brown was both progressive & retrogressive
when it came to the roles women play in our society.
as noted, she was a complicated woman — who made no excuses or apologies for it.

helen marie gurley was born in the ozarks on february 18, 1922.
the younger of two daughters of two schoolteachers,
helen described her life as "ordinary, hillbilly & poor."
she earned pocket money by offering dance lessons to other kids.

the family moved to little rock when her dad was elected to the state legislature,
but when helen was just 10yo, he was killed in an elevator accident.
five years of depression & poverty later, her mother moved them to los angeles.
helen's older sister mary contracted polio & became paralyzed from the waist down.

but helen carried on. she graduated as valedictorian of her high-school class,
& studied briefly at the texas state college for women [now texas woman's university].
but with no money to continue college,
helen returned to la to go to secretarial school.

following her graduation, helen held a string of 17 secretarial jobs,
until she was promoted at an advertising firm to copywriter.
helen was so good that another ad agency stole her with an exorbitant salary offer,
making helen the highest paid advertising writer on the west coast.

in 1959, at 37 yo, helen married for the first — & last — time,
to two-time divorcee david brown,
a former managing editor of cosmopolitan who had become a hollywood producer
[jaws, the sting, cocoon & driving miss daisy are some of his credits].

it was david who persuaded helen to write a book based upon some letters
she had written in her 20s to a married man who was smitten with her.
sex & the single girl was published in 1962, stayed on the bestseller list
for over a year, & helped usher in the sexual revolution.

[the book also inspired a movie of the same title in 1964,
starring natalie wood as a completely fictionalized helen gurley brown.]

in 1963, the browns moved to new york city.
two years later, the hearst corporation asked helen to take over cosmopolitan.

cosmopolitan was a post-war product whose target audience was married suburbanites,
& which addressed such pressing issues as how to get the perfect figure,
how to raise the perfect children & how to keep the perfect household.

the first revamped issue hit newsstands in july 1965,
with a cover featuring a voluptuous blonde model with a plunging neckline.
its target audience was the self-made, sexual & supremely ambitious young woman.

helen was a 43yo married woman, but she urged her readers
not to settle just to settle down, to discover pleasure in her sexuality,
& to enjoy the search for mr. right with rather wild abandon.

in the 1970s, the magazine featured a series of nude male centerfolds.
sales grew each year until peaking in 1983 at just over three million issues sold.

during her 32 years with cosmo, helen's husband david
was the mastermind behind all the magazine's titillating cover teases.

helen's final issue as editor-in-chief was february 1997, but she remained as
editor of cosmopolitan's 59 international editions until her death.

over the years, in-between her editing duties, helen authored five more books,
wrote a syndicated newspaper advice column called woman alone,
& hosted a 1967 tv talk show called outrageous opinions.

in 1995, helen was declared a living landmark by the ny landmarks conservancy,
which seemed appropriate considering how much of her had been constructed ...
at 5'4" & never more than 100lbs., helen was outspoken about her extensive
plastic surgery, which included a nose job, multiple facelifts, eye lifts,
fat & silicone injections, & a breast augmentation at the age of 73.
no excuses, no apologies.

david died in 2010 at 93yo, with no children but a 51-year marriage to helen,
who was clearly the love of his life.

helen died august 13th at 90yo of undisclosed causes —
ever the woman with a little mystery, she was the quintessential cosmo girl.

"i have always said my message is for
the woman who loves men, but
who doesn't want to live through them."

image source: daily life, australia.

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