My teenage years can be defined by the magazines I read – they formed my clothes, my opinions, my loves and my dreams. A weekly or monthly treat to look forward to, they were my instruction manual for life.
I can still remember the excitement of opening my fresh new copy of Jackie every week. The anticipation was poignant as I slowly took in the tantalising details on the cover. Which pop star was featured? What was the fashion like? And most importantly – Who were the Pinups? Delight when it was David Cassidy, David Essex or David Bowie – ‘David’ was definitely a theme running through my seventies crushes – despair when the beautiful cover image of David Cassidy with a horse was transformed into a centre spread of Noel Edmunds; I had to resort to carefully cutting round the woefully small image on the front cover to adorn my wall. The wall was bright turquoise but only glimpses of colour could be seen between the posters. Jackie kept me supplied with a constant flow of beautiful pictures of beautiful pop stars and I took full advantage.
There was a method to my reading: A quick flick through to see who was in the posters – sometimes Jackie tantalised you even further by printing one half of your adored one in one edition and the other half the next week. It was no good only having David Cassidy’s legs you definitely needed his head and shoulders too!! The rear cover had another poster and although only the most revered made it onto my wall some of the stars from the rear might be donated to my little sister’s walls. Next a slower flick through, stopping to read the pop gossip and look at the fashion, fantasising about the time when my Saturday job would pay me enough to buy the hot pants and maxi dresses featured. Jackie Models included Fiona Bruce and Leslie Ash but there was no hint of the fame that would come to them later. Occasionally there’d be a bonus, as if one was needed, and a gift would be included. The most impressive was in November 1973 when the magazine included a free David Cassidy record. I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember what the song was but I know it was played until the vinyl was paper thin. The Problem Pages came towards the end of my reading ritual, I was never brave enough to write about whatever my current teenage angst was but it was enough to read the all so familiar problems of others. It felt like Cathy and Claire’s advice was all for me. When Jackie introduced a Dear Doctor page every base was covered including ‘below the waist issues’ and not having to discuss the excruciatingly embarrassing problems with my mother or even with our throw-back Victorian doctor was lifesaving. My ritual-like reading saved the interviews until late at night when, with only the light from my mushroom light to help me, I would submerge myself into the life of one of my Davids, Marc or Michael and fall asleep dreaming of my future life with them.
When the UK edition of Cosmopolitan hit the stands in 1972 it was a must have for every fashion conscious teenage girl. At first it didn’t replace Jackie as my magazine of choice but joined it. Weekly Jackie and monthly Cosmopolitan just meant that I had five issues of loveliness and intrigue to look forward to every single month. What joy!! The recent death of Helen Gurley Brown has bought Cosmopolitan to the fore again and along with it much criticism about its ethos. Where Jackie was a magazine that could be bought in full view of parents Cosmopolitan was a much more furtive purchase. For those of us who were under eighteen when it first came to the UK it was sneaked into the house between school books and secreted under the bed only to be brought out when parents were happily ensconced elsewhere. The first issue’s cover listed a feature on Michael Parkinson’s vasectomy – I didn’t know what that was but I soon did after reading the article. And that sums up what Cosmopolitan did for us curious young women. We were at the cusp between childhood and adulthood but in seventies suburbia you would no sooner talk about such things with your parents than take your mother disco dancing. It’s difficult for teenagers today to see what the fuss was about but these were issues that had never been aired in public in such a relaxed and informal way. It was revolutionary. On the same cover the simple statement ‘I was a sleep around girl’ told us that reading about ‘the art of being kissable’ in Jackie would not be enough to interest us for much longer. The fawned over but innocent images of our idols were replaced by more graphic and scantily clad versions. In April 1972 a full page image of a scantily clad Burt Reynolds shocked the nation – that one didn’t make it to the wall but had to be glanced at when privacy was guaranteed. It was 1974 before Jackie was totally replaced by the relationship and sex manual that was Cosmopolitan. I couldn’t bring myself to throw the back issues away and they stayed forlorn and abandoned at the bottom of my wardrobe. They tragically disappeared after I left home some years later, I say ‘tragically’ as some of the issues I’ve mentioned are now fetching upwards of £30 an issue.
Cosmopolitan continued to shock and delight me for many more years and the piles of magazines followed me round from flat share to flat share. The fashion pages were cutting edge but attainable and the glossy images enticed all of us to buff and preen ourselves as far as we could go. This however was in contrast to the feminist theme running through the magazine and this is where much of the criticism has been aimed. If feminism means being equal and then Cosmopolitan gave us young girls equal knowledge to men about previously taboo subjects but many feminists felt that the glossiness belied this by putting the main focus on appearance and pleasing men. Whatever opinion you have there is no doubt that Cosmopolitan passed on information that without it would have remained a mystery to most of us.