“When my Cosmo issue came in the mail with Nicki Minaj on the cover a few months back, I was surprised. Not because I don’t adore Nicki Minaj (I do), but because a black woman was on the cover of the magazine. Compared to my stack of other magazines, and thinking back on previous Cosmo issues, this felt odd.
The unfortunate truth is that most magazines (especially their covers) are overwhelmingly white. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact, something that has become so pervasive in the magazine industry that some magazines resort to having an “all-black” issue of their magazine – the implication being that the norm is, of course, white.
Just how many black women and women of color have even been on the cover of Cosmo recently?
In 2011, only 3 of the 12 covers featured women of color — Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian. The rest? White.
Where are the Latina women? East Asian women? South Asian women?
I decided to take a look at Cosmo’s covers for the past 10 years (2001-2011) to see whether anything had changed.
Here’s what I found.
Total covers analyzed: 132
Note: I didn’t bother analyzing whether the women would be considered plus-size. It goes without saying that none — except Adele in on the Dec. 2011 issue — were.
HAIR COLOR: This was easy to examine. I just looked at the hair color of each person and tallied it up.
- Blonde: 85 (64.39%)
- Brunette: 39 (29.55%)
- Red: 4 (3.03%)
- Black: 4 (3.03%)
In Hollywood, blonde has overwhelmingly been defined as “better” — sexier and prettier than any other hair color. There’s no real surprise that a lot of the women on the covers had blonde hair, but I don’t think Cosmo specifically chooses women who are blonde for their covers, just that they are more attracted to women who are blonde because blonde women tend to be women who are white.
HAIR TEXTURE: I went into this thinking most hair would be straight because it’s often known as “white hair” — that silky, “smooth” texture exemplified by women like Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone and Reese Witherspoon.
- Straight: 53 (40.15%)
- Curly: 11 (8.33%)
- Wavy/professionally curled: 68 (51.52%)
I was surprised to see how many women had wavy/curly hair — or rather, hair that was professionally curled and given waves. It was very, very rare that naturally curly hair was used on a model. Off the top of my head, I can really only recall Debra Messing and that was in 2001. I sincerely thought most women would have been shown with straight hair, since there is this underlying message in American society that “natural” or “curly” hair is gross or ugly. This articleeven talks about how curly hair is seen as “less professional” than straight hair.
But I think the point still stands. Despite the majority of the women on the covers having wavy hair, most of them had their hair styled that way — that is, their was straightened FIRST and THEN given big, luscious curls, the kind that can only be achieved with hair product and curling irons and, quite frankly, “white” hair. (My mom has said she’s so glad I got her white hair instead of my Dad’s Puerto Rican hair.)
The message? Unless your hair is straight, don’t bother with your “natural” texture. Your hair should not be frizzy, at all. It should glisten and bounce like an Herbal Essences commercial.
“RACE”: I put this in parenthesis because race is a social construct and I didn’t have a very scientific way of going about categorizing these women. This is based solely off of the embarrassing amount of pop culture knowledge I’ve amassed combined with something simple — what a person’s skin color looks like. My method is about as scientific as how race is determined in real life because, let’s be real, people are judged entirely on the color of their skin, not whether they look Latino but are actually Italian. Are you light-skinned? Then you’re white. Are you dark-skinned? Black. Somewhere in between? You’re brown.
Note: there were ZERO East Asian women on Cosmo’s covers and I included South Asian women (like Armenian Kim Kardashian) in “brown.”
- White: 114 (86.36%)
- Brown/Latina: 12 (9.09%)
- Black: 6 (4.55%)
So there’s that. This is the category I cared most about and having hard numbers in front of me just made me feel even more disappointed. Nearly 87% of the women who’ve been on the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine FOR THE PAST 10 YEARS were white. And in the past year alone (2011), 75% were white. Less than the average, but not by much.
To be fair, Cosmo IS getting better about this. In 2001, 100% of their covers were white women. And I do recognize that some of the issue is simply that women of color in Hollywood do not exist on the same vast scale as white women. But how much can we blame on that? Cosmo only has 12 covers per year to fill, usually with celebrities — surely there are SOME women of color suitable for their magazine? Mindy Kaling, Zoe Saldana, Lucy Liu, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sara Ramirez, Maggie Q, Katie Leung, Kim Yoon Jin, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson.
Some years, Cosmo even chose to reuse women who’d already been on their cover instead of choosing a woman of color. Julia Stiles and Molly Sims, for example, graced Cosmo’s cover four times over 10 years.
Here’s a breakdown of the women who have been on the cover multiple times.
Hollyanne Leonard (white, model)
Laetitia Casta (white, model)
Britney Spears (white, singer)
Jennifer Lopez (brown, singer/actress)
Sarah Michelle Gellar (white, actress)
Katie Holmes (white, actress)
Mandy Moore (white, singer/actress)
Jessica Biel (white, actress)
Angelina Jolie (white, actress)
Eva Longoria (brown, actress)
Tori Praver (white, model)
Fergie (white, as she identifies, singer)
Hilary Duff (white, singer/actress)
Scarlett Johansson (white, actress)
Beyonce Knowles (black, singer)
Katherine Heigl (white, actress)
Amanda Bynes (white, actress)
Carmen Electra (white, actress)
Ali Larter (white, actress)
Rihanna (black, singer)
Katy Perry (white, actress)
Kim Kardashian (brown, reality show star)
Kristen Bell (white, actress)
Vanessa Lorenzo (white, model)
Cameron Diaz (white, actress)
Kate Hudson (white, actress)
Jessica Simpson (white, singer)
Brittany Murphy (white, actress)
Sharon Van Der Knapp (white, model)
Ashlee Simpson (white, singer)
Lauren Conrad (white, reality show star)
Jessica Alba (brown, actress)
Carrie Underwood (white, singer)
Of course, it wasn’t just white women who were on the cover multiple times. Beyonce, Jessica Alba, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, Eva Longoria were (and I’m very glad!) — but these are all women of color openly accepted in the white community. I feel like you’d never see a woman like Tracee Ellis Ross, who starred on BET’s “Girlfriends” for EIGHT years, on the cover of Cosmo. Sad.
HEADLINES: How much of a woman-hater is Cosmo? How over-the-top and ridiculous can the magazine be? Well. You don’t have to look any further than the headlines to see where Cosmo’s loyalties lie: with him.
- February 2001: Make him crave you!
- July 2002: Blow his mind!
- November 2003: Read his dirty mind
- January 2004: Turn him on tonight
- September 2005: 50 ways to be a better girlfriend
- May 2006: Touch him there
- June 2007: The thing every man needs a woman to say
- February 2008: Arouse him like crazy!
- April 2009: What guys crave after sex
- March 2010: How to touch a naked man
- June 2011: 78 ways to turn him on
CONCLUSION: I knew what I was getting into when I started looking at these magazine covers; I knew that the majority of the women would be light-skinned, heterosexual, smooth-haired, perfect-bodied women. I could spend days, weeks, months examining these covers at large — and with 132 of them, I know I’d get really interesting results. This is just the surface and I wanted some solid numbers to back up what I already (sadly) knew was true. If Cosmo really wants to diversify, it’ll have to do more than slap one token woman of color on its covers each year.
Oh, and also, Cosmo hates women. No big deal.
THE COVERS: For those interested, here are gifs I made of each year’s cover. They’re not the prettiest, but they get the point across pretty well.”