Walmart has decided that Cosmopolitan is too sexy for the checkout lane. In a concession to pressure from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, an activist group, the store has exiled the women’s magazine from the impulse-buy zone to those racks in the back where the skin mags hide. But while supporters of the move argue that it is a necessary step to save children from exposure to wanton sexuality, the truth is that the decision is more about adult pearl-clutching than child well-being. A bigger threat to families remains not only in the checkout lane, but stocked right at eye level. Candy, toys, and trinkets remain a bigger problem than Cosmo — despite the risqué cover lines — ever was.
Ostensibly Cosmo was removed for its covers which, from the days of vaunted editor Helen Gurley Brown, have offered frank headlines related to sex since 1965. That move was a victory for single women looking for media representation supporting their independence and liberation. So why grocery-store concern after 65 years?
An NCOSE Facebook live announcement about Walmart’s decision offers some clues. Standing in front of a placard reading “Cosmopolitan Magazine: Harmful to Minors,” Haley Halverson, the organization’s Vice President of Advocacy and Outreach, stressed that the Cosmo covers were harmful to children. The only evidence she cites for this claim is a nationwide survey which “showed that 67 percent of the American public agrees that they don’t think Cosmopolitan covers are appropriate for children.”
Fine. But, even though Cosmo covers do feature attractive women and boldfaced cover lines touting tips for the hottest sex ever, I don’t think any children are really paying attention. Why? Because kids are too busy begging for all the crap placed within arm’s grasp specifically to tempt them. In fact, before kids hit puberty, these items are the sole focus of their lustful desires. It isn’t until around age nine that kids become cognizant of their sexuality.
The contention is that Cosmo is obscene. But is there any item meant to corrupt a kid’s morals more than peanut butter cups or Hello Kitty lip gloss placed right under their nose? The checkout lane convenience and candy display is garish and lurid, playing on the base urge of a child to take and have.
And when those urges are fired, they place parents in a far more difficult position than any Cosmopolitan headline ever could. Because in speaking to a kid about the desired trinket or candy, a parent is fighting a moral battle against wholesale, gluttonous, self-indulgent consumption. These checkout lane battles are pitched, painful, and embarrassing beyond reason, leading to tears and frustration, sometimes from kids and parents both.
Compared to candy, the cover of a Cosmo is downright virtuous. A decision to remove the magazine and not those things that actually harm family unity in the checkout lane shows that the move has little to do with children. Instead, it has everything to do with adult ideas about women’s bodies and sex lives.
Walmart can do what it wants with their checkout lane magazine racks. But let’s not pretend that it has anything to do with making things better for families. If they’re going to take away Cosmo then they should take away the gum and the fidget spinners. They should take away the candy bars and the lip gloss. They should remove all those items that tempt children into battles with their parents. That’s the morally virtuous thing to do.