When ‘Cosmopolitan’ magazine’s legendary editor Helen Gurley Brown, 90, passed away on Aug. 13, I lost a friend and mentor. But we all lost the woman who blew open the doors of opportunity for us all.
You may not have ever met Helen Gurley Brown, the legendary Editor in Chief who created Cosmopolitan magazine in 1967, but she changed your life without you even knowing it. I got to know Helen when I had the honor of being named as her successor as editor of Cosmopolitan after Helen had led the magazine for more than 30 years.
When you look at the opportunities that you have today to choose the college and career of your choice. The fact that you have equal relationships with the men you love , and that you can have a sex life that you enjoy — you have to thank Helen.
That’s because when Helen was a young woman making her way in the America of the 1940s and ’50s, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for young women.
Few went to college and even fewer pursued careers. If you did, by chance, want or need a career as Helen did, then you had three basic choices: nurse, teacher or secretary.
Helen called single women the most discriminated group in America. That’s because so many doors were slammed and nailed shut for them — they simply couldn’t get hired or trained in numerous careers and professions.
Plus when it came to their love lives, women were supposed to be ‘good’ girls who married young and produced families. They weren’t supposed to become sexually experienced.
Helen once said that if you hit 30 in those days and weren’t married, you might as well go to the Grand Canyon and throw yourself in — your life was over. Even worse, if you were single, 30 and God forbid, having sex,then forget the Grand Canyon: you should simply go to the oven, turn on the gas and stick your head in.
That’s how bad it was for women in those not-so-long-ago years.
You were supposed to become a housewife, defer to your husband and forget about thinking about sexual fulfillment — you weren’t supposed to talk, think or have sex until you were married. And even then, there was no such thing for women as HOT sex.
Well, Helen Gurley Brown revolutionized that way of thinking. She made it acceptable, normal and desirable for women to have sex lives that they could enjoy.
She preached the positive power of achieving through career building in the pages of Cosmo. She thought it was hugely important for women to be financially independent — to support themselves so they had the freedom to live the lives they wanted without being dependent on a man.
She told her “Cosmo girls” (the readers of her magazine) that they didn’t have to be born rich, beautiful or hugely talented. She believed that if you just got up every day and worked hard enough, you could achieve success.
And she felt that the greatest high was the feeling you got when you were achieving.
She was a tremendous believer in the power of hard work and common sense. “Good things will happen if you get up every day and work at it,” she told me. “What you have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.”
She also believed that being a feminist and being sexy were not mutually exclusive. Women didn’t have to give up feeling and looking sexy to be serious and to be taken seriously. She felt that looking sexy was empowering – that’s why she featured confident, attractive, sexy women on her covers.
They looked like they owned the world, and she believed that her readers and all young women, like you, could too.
If there had been no Helen Gurley Brown, we wouldn’t live in our modern world in which we can choose our own destinies and work to fulfill our dreams, without fear of disapproval or discrimination.
If you think Carrie Bradshaw and Sex and the City created new role models for young women, then you have to realize what those TV and movie characters owed to Helen Gurley Brown.
So R.I.P. Helen. You may have passed away, but your ideas will live on in the world of opportunity that you very much helped to create for all young women today. It’s true HollywoodLifers – we’re all Cosmo girls!
– Bonnie Fuller
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