Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Cosmo’s Menstrual Politics

August 14th, 2012 by David Linton

Saniya Ghanoui and David Linton

How peculiar are the sexual politics of Cosmopolitan magazine?!?! We previously noted the editorial avoidance of menstrual sex, but let’s take a look at their most recent ride on the menstrual cycle.

On one hand, Cosmo aspires to liberate women from sexual repression into a world of ever better orgasms and perpetual youth and beauty. On the other hand, it ceaselessly stokes anxiety and insecurity with its constant twin emphasis on pleasing “him” and urging the purchase of the latest Big Thing. Occasionally, in an effort to demonstrate concern for women’s health there appears a reference to some aspect of the menstrual cycle.

The most recent example occurs in the June 2012 issue whose cover, under a hot photo of the rock star Pink, announces that inside you can learn, “Why your Period Makes You Cra-a-zy”. Off the bat, the cover recirculates the tired notion that the period is responsible for some kind of transformation, turning a woman into a crazy person. The use of an extra “a” emphasizes the word in a way that enhances its meaning, thus the period causes almost an abnormal form of craziness. There’s also a lovely irony to this cover. Pink is dressed in a vibrant solid-red dress that counters her pale skin and hair. She pulls up one side of outfit as she claws her dress and her expression is meant to show a “tough girl” side to her personality. It’s as if the cover alludes to notions of craziness, as caused by the period, via the image of Pink.

The article does seem to contain practical advice for those who experience some level of discomfort prior to getting their period. The five suggestions include topics such as diet, exercise, orgasms, coffee, and laughter. Unfortunately, embedded in the nuggets of advice one finds relentless reinforcements of age-old prejudices, stereotypes, and negative perspectives. Even the opening page, which sets up the piece, is titled “Beat the PMS Brain Haze” and shows a woman whose head is slightly out of focus and fading into a cloud. In case you miss the point, a sentence beside her head states, “It’s hard to function when your head is in the clouds”. In larger type under the title the message is reinforced, “It’s when you feel so foggy, you can barely choose between a lemon and a lime for your diet soda”.

The next two pages of suggestions comprise a litany of ways to cope with the “annoying symptom”, “hormonal cloud”, “haze”, and “PMS coma” that leave women “easily overwhelmed, stressed out, forgetful and indecisive”, Women are told to “cancel everything that’s optional”, “snack on yummy oatmeal” to “make up for the PMS brain drain”, “ask your guy to rub your back”, and have “a dose of caffeine”.

As published in June 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan

What is obvious about the article and the tips that are meant to keep women “sane”, insinuating that one may be insane while PMSing, is the way in which each bit of advice is meant to fix some frustrating characteristic that is either caused or heightened by PMS. Thus, the message is that women have an extra hindrance they must overcome in order to have a peaceful week leading up to their period. In order to solve the problem Cosmo advises some simple changes, such as having a cup of coffee, to more radical ones like changing or canceling items on your schedule. What the latter puts forward is the idea that PMS is such a hindrance that one must change one’s weekly agenda in order to function normally. While it is true that some may have discomfort during PMS and desire extra time to relax, to completely cancel or modify a weekly schedule suggests a level of wealth or leisure that is in the realm of fantasy.

Despite the appearance that the article is simply a pleasant set of suggestions, it turns out that the three pages are actually a lead into a fourth page on the right side so the connection can’t be missed, consisting of the latest ad for Tampax Radiant tampons. In design and placement the ad blends perfectly with the article so as to flow, as it were, directly from the pre-menstrual days into the period itself with Tampax waiting there to fill the need.

There has been a lot written in recent years about the blurring of lines between editorial content and advertising but the only blurring in this case is the unintentional design of the first page of the piece which is purposely shot out of focus to visually illustrate how women must feel as their hormones debilitate them.

Furthermore, the ad purposely counters all the frustrations exhibited in the previous three pages. The ad promotes the “invisible” period, thanks to this specific tampon, that has “leakguard technology” and a “discreet resealable wrapper.” All of these characteristics are meant to ease irritations associated with the period. And why wouldn’t a woman want to have her aggravations eliminated, especially after reading three pages of problems associated with PMS? It seems the message is that since there isn’t a menstrual product (outside of drugs) that can ease PMS, at least the period can be eased by this tampon.

  

8 Responses to “Cosmo’s Menstrual Politics”

  1. Quite the timely article…. meanwhile in Holy Hormones land I interviewed Suzan Hutchinson, tampon- related TSS survivor, and Director of Connectivity for You Are Loved.org on my radio show last night (http://holyhormones.com.

    Suzan shared information on not only the deadly infection caused by a common bacteria – but how many other reproductive and endocrine issues have been tied to toxic tampons: endometriosis, PID, fibroids, and the 1.7 million hysterectomies performed annually. Twenty-five years ago these were all rare illnesses – today they are epidemic.

    Susan even discussed how the fibers and chemicals from tampons can even affect men’s health. Makes one stop to think about what to insert into the vagina.

    Keeping your period invisible keeps girls invisible. Thank you Saniya and David.

  2. Laura Wershler says:

    Time to write an article called: “Why Stories About the Menstrual Cycle in Womens’ Magazines Make Me Crazy.” The examples are endless.

  3. Judith says:

    I love my menstrual cup.

  4. Arrrgh! Arrrgh! Arrgh! How many more decades do we need to fight this attitude?? Thanks for the blog.

  5. Saniya Ghanoui says:

    I think the repetitive nature of these articles is what makes studying them so fascinating. One would think that readers, particularly female readers, would tire of this same information and attitude rehashed every month. I’m not personally aware of any recent research that looks at audience reactions to articles such as these; maybe readers are tiring and we just don’t realize it. But women’s magazines don’t seem to think so and the infinite examples illustrate that.

  6. [...] their Facebook page that discusses Cosmo’s period politics. Here is a link to the article: Cosmo’s Menstrual Politics. The article discusses the type of rhetoric Cosmo uses to talk about our cycles, and how they pair [...]

  7. Telula says:

    So another tampon company came out with another tampon that does the exact same thing that all other tampons do. You may think that this tampon is different but really it’s not. Since switching over to a reusable menstrual cup 2 years ago my period has honestly been a much better experience. I stick it in, leave it for 24 hours (I have a really light period, for most users it’s 12 hours), take it out, empty it, stick it back in, repeat. I am no longer sticking gross dangerous chemicals up there. I am not putting myself at risk for TSS. I don’t have to change it every 4 to 6 hours. No more running out. No more taking my telltale purse to the bathroom with me when out in public. Less cramping. My cycle is now shorter by about 2 days. I haven’t had to go down “that aisle” in 2 years, and have saved a couple hundred dollars because I don’t need to buy anything else. DivaCup, Mooncup, Lunette! Now they are different and so much better than tampons.

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