Cosmopolitan Magazine Removes Itself From Some Supermarket Shelves

Kristine Solomon
Victoria Hearst is leading the censorship of her empire's own publication. (Photo: Getty)
Victoria Hearst is leading the censorship of her empire’s own publication. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cosmopolitan magazine is known for its sexually explicit content, but some groups believe the glossy is tantamount to pornography. One of those groups is the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), which is currently leading a campaign to remove the publication from the checkout lanes of 72 supermarkets in Indiana and Ohio, according to Women’s Wear Daily.

Ironically, the act is being spearheaded by Victoria Hearst, granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, founder of the Hearst Corporation, which publishes Cosmo. Hearst, a born-again Christian, “has an inheritance from her family and uses it to fund an organization that fights against her family’s publication,” says WWD. Hearst has been doing so for quite a while. In the past, she’s even launched a campaign called Cosmo Harms, in conjunction with NCOSE, which identifies as “the leading national organization addressing the public health crisis of pornography and exposing the links between all forms of sexual exploitation.”

Cosmo Harms claims that the magazine glorifies graphic, violent, and public sex acts, while targeting a demographic of minors. “We are asking that Cosmo be sold to adults only and have the cover wrapped like all other porn magazines in retail shops,” the initiative claims in its website. Hearst and the NCOSE managed to get major retailers like Walmart, Rite Aid, and Delhaize America to put the magazine behind “blinders,” which are display units that partially obscure the covers of the issues. The intention is to remove them from children’s gazes.

The most recent initiative will affect Marsh Supermarkets, though the Hearst Corporation wants to make sure the consumers know that this was its decision and not the supermarket chain’s. A Cosmo spokesperson told WWD this rumor was “yet another example of a fake news story perpetuated by a fringe special-interest group, in this instance NCOSE,” adding, “This decision was made by us — not the retailer — in August. It is not unusual for us to strategically shift where and how we display our product.”

Dawn Hawkins, executive director of NCOSE, chimed in, “Marsh executives have implemented a new policy removing Cosmopolitan magazine from their checkout lane magazine stands. Further, within the magazine section of Marsh Supermarkets, Cosmo has been placed behind other magazines that act as blinders so that children and adults alike will not be unintentionally exposed to this sexually toxic magazine. By doing this, Marsh Supermarkets has displayed exemplary corporate responsibility and commitment to the dignity and well-being of its customers,” according to WWD.

The NCOSE was formerly called Morality in Media and was founded in 1962 to “address the connections between pornography and sex trafficking, violence against women and children, harm to children, addiction, the breakdown of the family and more.” It has a legal arm as well and does not target just publishing. The group also combats sex trafficking, sexual addictions, child sexual abuse, and more.

Joanna Coles, recently promoted chief content officer at Hearst and former editor-in-chief of Cosmo, is a staunch defender of its sexual content. She spoke out about the censorship of the publication in August 2015, when issues were first being hidden behind binders in stores. Coles called the Cosmo Harms campaign “sexist” and a “double standard,” as men’s magazine equivalents — namely GQ and Men’s Health — “routinely run stories on sex, with accompanying cover lines,” according to the New York Post.

Coles thinks that putting blinders on Cosmo “sends a signal to young women that their sexuality is shameful,” says Breitbart News. “We’re not just about sex; we’re about empowering women in all aspects of their lives,” Coles said, adding that “to assume that everyone has a vanilla sex life is absurd.”

Victoria Hearst, on the other hand, takes a hard line against her own company’s publication. She’s called Cosmo “anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-marriage” and claims the magazine “promotes a deviant lifestyle centered on sex. It promotes promiscuity — with its risks of getting STDs, being raped or murdered, and its promise of emotional and psychological damage, including suicide.”

Hearst has tried to persuade her family and board members of the Hearst Corporation to adopt her beliefs but has been unsuccessful, likely because Cosmo is a cash cow for the Hearst empire. She’s even challenged Coles to a debate on the topic, according to Breitbart News. To this, Coles reportedly replied, “I have no time for a debate. I am too busy putting out a magazine and encouraging American women to have more and better orgasms.”

Cosmo has been battling censorship from inside and outside its organization for years. As far back as 2011, an issue featuring actress Lea Michele in an outfit with a dramatically plunging neckline was banned from a store in Texas. At the time, Michele was playing a high school student on the TV show Glee, which parents and consumers believed added insult to injury.

Opponents hope other retailers will follow in the footsteps on the most recent move by Marsh Supermarkets. “No child, or adult for that matter, should be forced to view this material while shopping for groceries,” Hawkins said to WWD. “While it may not have many nude pictures, this publication has steadily declined from a somewhat inspirational women’s magazine to a verbally pornographic ‘how-to sex guide.’ It routinely encourages and instructs its young readership to engage in group, risky, and violent sex and to actively seek out pornography,” she added. “It’s time for other supermarkets to adopt Marsh’s Cosmo-free checkout.”

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