Cosmopolitan magazine, originally  named The Cosmopolitan, was launched in 1886 as a general-interest family magazine by Schlicht and Field Publishers. It changed publishers several times  and  eventually enjoyed success as a leading  publisher of both serialized  novels  and  short stories. The  1950s  saw the  rise  of inexpensive paperbacks and television, and circulation declined for magazines like The Cosmopolitan. The  magazine industry shifted  from a focus on general-interest magazines to special-interest magazines aimed  at specific populations.

In 1965, the Hearst Company, then publishers of The Cosmopolitan, were about to  stop  production of the  magazine. At the  time,  Helen Gurley  Brown  was attempting to find  a publisher for a brand new  type  of magazine for the  modern woman. Brown  was best  known at the  time  for her  bestselling novel,  Sex and the Single Girl, a book  that  celebrated the single life of young  women, and she wanted to launch a magazine that  spoke  to the  women who  had  made  her  book  a bestseller: young  professional women trying  to find their  place in the  modern world. The  Hearst Company received  a proposal from  Brown  and  opted to  turn the magazine over to her  rather than cease production completely. Brown  took  over as the  new editor, transforming The Cosmopolitan into  Cosmopolitan, the  magazine people  recognize today.  In  the  mid  ’60s, however, a magazine for  young  single women that talked openly  about sex and encouraged them  to enjoy themselves as men  did was considered shocking.

One  of Brown’s  first editorial decisions was to  print  a cover  story  about the birth  control pill with  the  headline, “The  new  pill that  makes  women more  responsive.” The  headline promoted the  idea that  women would  enjoy  themselves more  sexually if they did not have to worry about pregnancy. Cosmopolitan continued to print  provocative articles and, in April 1972, the magazine featured a nearly nude centerfold of a minor actor,  Burt  Reynolds. The  picture created a scandal, but  also  helped to  push both Cosmopolitan and  Burt  Reynolds to  the  center of American popular culture.

Cosmopolitan, often  referred to as Cosmo, remains a women’s fashion and beauty magazine that emphasizes a woman’s right to control her own sexuality and physical beauty. The magazine runs articles on current fashions, women’s health, beauty tips, celebrity  gossip,  and  sex. Each  magazine features at least one  Cosmo quiz  on topics from finding out what kind of girl you are to how to tell if your man is cheating. The  magazine has dedicated readers who are often  referred to as Cosmo girls.

Feminist  scholars  have  celebrated  the  magazine  as  upholding a  vision  of women living life on their  own terms, but  it has also drawn  criticism for promoting unrealistic body images and for emphasizing male sexual pleasure over that of women. Cosmopolitan also drew  criticism for running an article  in the  1990s  that told  women they  didn’t  need  to  be  concerned about contracting HIV  through heterosexual sex and  for  dismissive  comments that  Brown  made  about sexual harassment in the workplace. Brown was eventually forced  out of the editor  position  in 1996.

Cosmo’s covers continue to feature young  attractive models and always contain at least one  headline about sex. Some  stores  still consider it a racy magazine and sell it behind plastic  flaps that  cover  the  model  and  the  headlines. Cosmopolitan publishes 58 international editions, is printed in 34 languages, and  is distributed in more  than 100 countries.

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