We’re entering a brave new era for women’s magazines
Cosmopolitan magazine may be known for celebrity interviews, sex quizzes, and women-focused lifestyle tips but UK Cosmo has publicly released a mock-up cover design that shows just how much women’s magazines are changing focus — and just how much potential they have to be an incredibly strong vehicle for change.
The mock-up cover they released, was designed to raise awareness about violence against women, and specifically to be used as a tool in an ongoing campaign for the UK to establish a day of remembrance for victims of honor killings.
The cover, wrapped in plastic, shows an almost-blurred black and white image of a woman suffocating inside. The text on the bottom left states, “Shafilea was suffocated by her parents in front of her siblings.” An honor killing.
The image (shot by Erin Mulvehill and designed by Leo Burnett Change) was designed to honor the life of Shafilea Ahmed, a 17-yea-old British-Pakistani woman who was suffocated to death with a plastic bag in 2003 by her mother and father, in front of her siblings, when she refused to participate in an arranged marriage. The case stalled for years before her parents were charged with the murder of their daughter in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison in 2012. Forced marriage is still legal in England and Wales, and will be until this summer.
The image is a dramatic departure from what we tend to see on the covers of women’s magazines. ESPECIALLY Cosmo covers. Even while this isn’t the on sale version of the February issue (the sale version features, rather jarringly, Khloe Kardashian) the lack of glamour, of air-brushing, or sex blurbs, and blow outs shows a magazine, and perhaps an entire magazine culture, on the brink of change. This cover is bold, it’s unapologetic, it’s serious, it’s art, and it’s art with a conscience.
As stated, this mock-up image comes with the goal of raising awareness about the horrific practice of honor killings. The magazine is partnering with the UK charity Karma Nirvana to throw an inaugural event on July 14th (Ahmed’s birthday) called the Day of Memory for Britain’s Lost Women. As Karma Nirvana explains on their site:
“Over 96,000 people have called upon the Prime Minister to mark a day of remembrance for victims like Shafilea who are essentially erased from history by their families.” They’re taking matters into their own hands and have started a change.org petition.
Of course, the reason I keep saying mock-up is because this cover is NOT a real Cosmo cover. The cover is a tool to promote the magazine’s campaign with Karma Nirvana, it will not be made available to readers. As bold a move as this would be, it’s clearly not a move Cosmo is ready to make.
The consistently brilliant Amanda Hess over at Slate had some critical words with regards to this mock-up:
“It’s an alarming image, and it compelled me to learn more about Ahmed’s tragic death, which I’d never heard about before. Still, it’s a little unsettling for Cosmopolitan to symbolically package its magazine inside a murder weapon. I’d love for Cosmo to find a middle ground between a shocking fake cover and the expected Kardashian one — like a real cover that actually points readers to a story about the issue. Khloe has been mentioned on the magazine’s website more than 1,000 times; honor killings, just 14.”
Still, even while this isn’t a REAL cover and even though there may be some things to work on re: tone and execution, the image represents a powerful future for women’s magazines. Other mags should sit up and take note. When you have a platform, you have a voice, and yes, sex and fitness tips sell magazines (and we won’t lie, can be valuable), but there is SO much more that could be done. Women’s magazines have the opportunity to champion causes, raise awareness, and use their platform to help make this world a safer, kinder, better place for women. Here’s hoping that in the future we see women’s magazines use the real estate on their covers to be brave, to enlighten their readers, and to inspire them to take action. This is a bold step, and it’s pretty obvious that we women are ready for it.