When my family moved to a small town in Illinois, I'd been having mixed feelings for about a year. All I could think about was who did I like — boys or girls? One day at my new school, I was in the locker room …
The above may sound a little bit like Penthouse Forum, with its naïve, sexually confused narrator and girls' locker room setting, but it is actually the beginning of a short, real-life “love story” featured in the August 2006 issue of CosmoGirl!, a magazine aimed at teens and pre-teens ages 12-17. Over the past few years, CosmoGirl! has subtly but steadily included stories from and about lesbian, bisexual and questioning girls, as well as coverage of LGBT issues amid the more traditional teen magazine fare of quizzes and heartthrob interviews. Within the pages of CosmoGirl!, and thus in the minds of their young readers, queer girls are a small but visible minority.
The cover of CosmoGirl! offers nothing to suggest the subtle subversion of heterosexist norms going on inside. On the cover of the August 2006 issue, Pirates of the Caribbean star Keira Knightley gazes out at the viewer, her flawless skin enhanced by noticeable makeup, the aspiration and envy of awkward girls everywhere. Below the picture, a headline promises that Knightley will dish about “her body, her boyfriends, and her steamy Pirates co-stars!”
Indeed, most of the words on the cover reference bodies or boys in one way or another, suggesting the magazine holds the secret of a “hot back-to-school body,” as well as “4 ways to get him to fall for you.” It all appears to be a PG-rated version of the image-obsessed salaciousness that characterizes big-sister magazine Cosmopolitan.
But a survey of CosmoGirl!'s past issues reveals a real effort to present young women with a picture of themselves that is emotionally and physically healthier than might be expected. The models in the magazine's photo spreads aren't sickly thin; there are pages devoted to career options and the joys of volunteerism; and an interview with Deepak Chopra appears alongside those of the young male heartthrobs.
Hearst Communications, CosmoGirl!'s publisher, describes the magazine's typical reader as “a leader, a thinker, a trend setter and a role model for others.” And within the magazine's pages, the editors take seriously their charge of making sure their readers grow into leaders who not only look good, but are comfortable with themselves and are responsive to the concerns of their communities, which includes being conversant with queer issues.
All the girls were taking showers when one of them saw me looking at some of them and made mean comments about me being a “lesbo.” Everyone left in a hurry after she said it, except for this one girl. I didn't notice that she was there so I got dressed, sat on the ground and started bawling my eyes out.
CosmoGirl! executive editor Ann Shoket says that there has been no one flashpoint that led to the inclusion of queer stories, but rather a desire to “talk about the whole range of teen girls' emotions.” That range includes emotions stemming from issues of sexuality, which include homosexuality. She says straightforwardly, “Gay girls are girls too. CosmoGirl! is for all girls. So we include them.”