About two years ago in the middle of my collegiate career/future post-grad plans freak-out, my favorite high school teacher and mentor posed this question to me:
What is your dream job?
What would you want to do if you knew you couldn’t fail?
Immediately, I replied,
“I want to work for Cosmo Magazine”.
And had still, up until yesterday.
Sitting pool side on vacation requires two musts for me – massive amounts of sunblock, and the current issue of Cosmo. With sunscreen applied, I grabbed the high gloss, perfectly pink and girly cover that enticed me. Headlines such as, “Turn up the heat!” and “Weird stuff guys think about during sex” beckoned me to read them. The stiff, unopened spine fully cracked, and welcomed me into a world of womanhood, sex, and supposed “Fun, Fearless Females”.
I’ve always loved Cosmo. I’ve been an avid fan since 14 when I started my eight year career as a library clerk. The lulls between shelving and patrons would be filled with raunchy reader confessions, celebrity cover stories and cosmo quizzes. I was all too happy to ingest what I at the time perceived as triumphant, bold stories of women. Helen Gurley Brown was the high priestess of the scripture I read religiously, and I never questioned it.
After figuring out that the cut-throat world of magazine publishing was where I had previously thought I wanted to be, I went into hustle mode. Within a year, I had interned for five different publications (including 2 nationally highly circulated magazines), grabbing by-lines, networking, and generally just working my ass off.
With each and every new internship added to my resume, I applied, applied, and applied for an internship at Cosmo – hoping that one of my past places of employment would be sure to impress them. In addition to a perfectly polished resume, I devoted hours crafting, drafting, and editing what I believed was the ideal cover letter – and alas, I repeatedly heard nothing, with the exception of one email back informing me that they have decided to move forward with other candidate. Fortunately tenacity and perseverance are strong suits of mine (hence why I kept harassing an ex of mine for a year after we broke up) and I continued on my writing grind. My junior year of college I even wrote a five page paper entitled, “OMG! The Emerging Standard Prevalent in Cosmopolitan Magazine”, devoted to outlining and exploring the targeted demographic, voice, and style of Cosmo. It was the issue with Adele wearing cheetah on the cover, and I was in heaven. I have continued to work and write, with aspirations of calling the Hearst Tower home.
As I sat by the pool, flipping through plenty of pages, my eyes stopped on page 66, on a a one page article titled, “Confessions of a freckle face”. In the top right corner of the page was a model with plenty of freckles. A girl just like me. I was elated.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve had freckles. Hundreds, if not thousands of them litter every corner of my body. From my arms, to my face, to my legs, and even dotted along my ear lobes. When I wake up and look in the mirror, there they are welcoming the morning with me. And at night when I wipe away my ephemeral makeup, they’re still there, coloring my face naturally. A permanent part of my visage.
After my initial reading, I was confused. So I reread it again. And again. And again. And again, highlighting it all over.
The deck, which is the secondary headline below the headline, reads,
“Cute, sexy, quirky: Jessica Matlin’s [author] heard it all about her freckles, and still, she wanted hers off. It took a miracle laser treatment – but 30 years of sun damage were erased in 40 minutes.”
Immediately, I was offset – she wanted her freckles off? What? I continued to read and find out why she wanted her freckles to be gone.
Article summary: Author Jessica Maitlin in the first four paragraphs recounts her childhood and adolescence growing up with a “sprinkling” of freckles. She recalls as a child feeling like, “a total weirdo” and referring to summers at the beach as “torturous” because after laying in the sun for hours, her friends, “emerged as bronze goddesses” while Matlin, “remained a Casper-white redhead with spots”. When she was an adult, she touched upon how it felt to partake in the dating scene with loads of extra pigment, “I didn’t exactly feel sexy on the dating scene either. Ever heard a guy say, ‘I went out with the hottest girl last night – mad freckles’?” The fourth paragraph concluded with Matlin “fine-tuning” her makeup routine in order to, “manage my flaw”.
The article continues to delve into the process of the Q-Switch YAG laser treatment. The treatment is to lessen the appearance of freckles, “Heat injures the pigment cells’ walls, causing them to rupture and die.” Ouch. Matlin’s doctor explained that the procedure – which runs between $800 – $1200 dollars a session, and requires multiple sessions, would be “uncomfortable”. After her 600-plus spots were laser, they’d, “turn red, scab, and flake off.” After two sessions, (and potentially anywhere from $1600 – $2400) Matlin’s face, “still had spots” but her face was, “brighter, clearer…dare I say radiant?”
The article touched upon the fact that the treatment did not produce permanent results, and that there was a chance freckles would return. The article concluded with one of Matlin’s friends confirming that there was no way she would do it again, right? Matlin replied, “Are you kidding? ‘In a heartbeat,’ I said.” Listed underneath were over-the-counter less costly topical products to “create a more even complexion” with a price range of $39 – $85.
And with that, I no longer wanted to look, read, engage, or work for princess of the print world, Cosmo Magazine. It took one short article to change my dreams and realize print demons.
Cosmo promotes the ideals of a “fun, fearless female”, and this article was posted under the “Fun, Fearless Beauty” feature of the magazine. Which, quite frankly, is absolute bullshit.
After a quick google and Cosmo website search, I could not find an official definition for a “fun, fearless female”. Although I highly doubt any “fun, fearless female”) would care if small skin pigmentations that she was predisposed since birth to have were “chic” or considered by any male to be, “sexy” or hot.
The entire tone and connotation of the article dripped with self-resentment and was drenched in self-loathing. Matlin referred to her freckles darkly as her, “flaw”. This laser treatment that caused cells to breakdown and die and that scabbed the skin was a “miracle treatment”? I’d say it was at least one of Dante’s seven layers of hell – but that’s just me.
Multiple times throughout the article, the term “freckles” was freely interchanged with “sun damage”. Matlin attempted to give the impression that the article was in some regards health-related– which it was not. There were no health benefits stated in the article from the laser treatment, no mention of sunblock or SPF, and Matlin never once said she was doing it for the sake of her skin health. Instead, it was all due to vanity.
The author, Matlin, is the Deputy Beauty Editor at Cosmo. As a past beauty editorial intern, one of my duties involved shelving and organizing free beauty products that companies sent to the magazine. Therefore, all those treatments that Matlin cites at the bottom? She can get those for free, no problem. In fact, the first topical product listed is a product that her doctor she cites throughout the article, Dr. Dennis Gross, produces. Talk about product placement. In fact, with a quick twitter snoop, Matlin twitpic’d her in Dr. Gross office on May 31st, next to what appears to be a laser. The treatments are listed as between $800 – $1200 dollars each session could possibly have cost Matlin little to nothing. Even if she did pay for it, how can you advise others to throw such an obscene amount of money down with no guaranteed permanent results?
Matlin’s article promotes the idea of bending, twisting, and shaping yourself to meet certain beauty standards. In an already plastic-surgery plentiful, overly-botoxed idea of beauty, skin pigmentation is the next imperfection to affect us? Magazines and medias set ideals. Girls follow these ideals. The promotion of perfection in women is absolutely appalling. What’s next, asking Asian women to get some sort of treatment to change their beautiful almond-shaped eyes? Or ask African American women to bleach their gorgeous skin? It falls within the same realm – and having girls question if they fit what is deemed “beautiful” is no way to positively influence a life.
For the remainder of my vacation as I sat poolside with the sun beating down against my usual pale, pasty skin, I was so acutely aware of how I looked against my friends who’s sun-kissed skin bronzed perfectly next to mine. I’ve never once felt bad about my freckles, they’ve always been something I’ve embraced and loved. But one article. One page in a magazine, made me feel bad about myself.
And that’s why I will not work for Cosmo. I am not saint, nor the best person to walk the Earth. But I do know that with my limited time on this planet, I want it to help people. I in no way want to be part of a reason that a girl with maybe a handful of freckles cries at night in her bed because of some natural skin pigmentation that doesn’t align with one narrow-minded, glib publication. I want women, of all over the world to embrace what makes them so unique, and so special. Daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts, friends are the readers of this magazine - they aren’t just faceless circulation numbers. I want women to be empowered. I want women to know that hard work and determination are the key to happiness and success, not just the ring around your finger and the level of attractiveness of the man that gave it to you.
And finally, Cosmo. I’d never want a man who bases his attraction to me solely on the color or appearance of my skin. Because a person’s beauty should NEVER be strictly judged by their outward appearance. I know that I not once based any of my friendships on the outer appearance of my friends – it was their kindness, humility, empathy, generosity, hilarity, and fun that drew me to them, and still does. Same goes for the men I date.
So Ms. Matlin. Please enjoy your “radiant” skin. I’m going to continue living my spotted, “flaw”-ful, “so not chic” life, freckles and all. And please excuse me, I have to go write some new cover letters and tear up some old ones.
The Confessions of a Fantastic, Forever Freckled Face