Long before there was “Sex and the City,” there was Helen Gurly Brown. As the editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine for three decades, Ms. Brown changed the life of women forever. She told us it was okay to be single past 30, have sex, and taught us how to be fabulous. The New York Times said,
Ms. Brown tossed the children and the Jell-O, though she kept the diet advice with a vengeance. Yes, readers would need to land Mr. Right someday — the magazine left little doubt that he was still every woman’s grail. But in an era in which an unmarried woman was called an old maid at 23, the new Cosmopolitan gave readers license not to settle for settling down with just anyone, and to enjoy the search with blissful abandon for however long it took. Sex as an end in itself was perfectly fine, the magazine assured them. As a means to an end — the right husband, the right career, the right designer labels — it was better still.
Her best-selling book, “Sex and Single Girl,” was published in 1962, a full year before the women’s movement took off. It took unmarried women from an endless search for a husband into a fantastic, fun life of parties, sex, and fashion. She was a woman on the cutting edge, way ahead of her time and was dead set on taking the rest of world along with her for the ride.
Ms. Brown grew up in a family of very modest means. At 19, she worked for a very short time as an escort. “She needed to support her mother and sister: What could be simpler, she reasoned, than earning $5 for going on a date? On her first outing, she and her gentleman caller parked and kissed a bit before the full extent of her responsibilities dawned on her. She fled with her $5 and her virtue,” reported the NY Times. An exciting life for an exciting woman.
She held various secretarial jobs before becoming an advertising copywriter. She wrote her book, “Sex and the Single Girl” in 1962, which was soon made into a movie with Natalie Wood. She took over Cosmo in 1965. At that time, it was a small magazine with a readership of about 800,000. With Ms. Brown at the helm, at its height in the 80s, its circulations topped three million.
Ms. Brown paved the road for women of today. Where would we be without Cosmo Magazine? Without her invaluable advice? She was a pioneer, a woman well before her time. She made it okay to talk about sex, to be sexy, to be beautiful, to be fabulous.
Thank you, Helen Gurly Brown. You will be missed. I cried when I heard you died and I’m still crying today. You were an amazing woman. Rest in peace knowing the incredible legacy you leave behind.