The Revived Legacy Of Helen Gurley Brown

The Revived Legacy Of Helen Gurley Brown

A review of two biographies and why they fall short

Underdog stories, while ingratiatingly clichéd, are universally beloved. Didn't we all shed a tear when Rudy was carried off of the field, and nod drowsily in church when David defeated Goliath? But while an underdog can elicit universal cheers (or, at worst, mild applause), some shine dazzlingly, stun the world, and are summarily relegated to obscurity. Helen Gurley Brown is one such figure.

Brown, the author of 1962's highly controversial, "Sex and the Single Girl" (in which she dismantled the stigmatization of women having premarital sex), became the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan in 1965, a position she would hold for over three decades. Proudly waving the banner of sex, Brown revitalized the failing magazine and drew the ire of feminists everywhere due to what they felt was her tendency to objectify women through her invention of the "Cosmo Girl," the female counterpart to the consummate bachelor for which Playboy was written.

To those in literary, feminist, feminist literary and literary feminist circles, the legacy of Helen Gurley Brown is almost exaggeratedly divisive. One on hand, she was a woman who encouraged women to rise in the workplace, to play the patriarchal system to their advantage by using sex as a weapon, of course, and establish their financial and personal independence. On the other, her focus on sex was viewed in the eyes of feminists, such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, as a means to subjugate women and reinforce oppressive standards of beauty and femininity. The only thing that can be agreed upon by her admirers and detractors is that Helen Gurley Brown, the self-proclaimed "mouseburger" from Little Rock, was an unendingly contradictory and complex persona.

In the four years since her death, Brown and her impressive résumé have been all but buried by a cruel combination of the onslaught of time and the public's increasingly short attention span. This year, however, authors Gerri Hirshey and Brooke Hauser have dredged the fascinating story of Brown and her pioneering efforts in sexual advocacy up from antiquity and presented it in two vastly different biographies; "Not Pretty Enough: The Unlikely Triumph of Helen Gurley Brown" and "Enter Helen: The Invention of Helen Gurley Brown and the Rise of the Modern Single Woman," respectively. The books both tell of the fascinating victory of a driven woman against insurmountable odds and her monumental impact on American society through, what else, the sexual revolution and Cosmopolitan's role in it.

Hauser's biography is tantalizingly colorful and deceptively thick. While she presents the full story of Brown's ascendency to power and pop-culture iconography, it is done so in an overly-palatable format that makes for an all-too-breezy summer read. With chapters rarely exceeding five pages in length and an uneven chronology which, while easy to follow, seems jumbled and awkwardly situated, "Enter Helen" verges on reductive.

Hirshey, to an extent, picks up where Hauser leaves off, going into almost excessive detail while tracing Brown's family history and offering greater insight into the tragic childhood which shaped and scarred HGB and the misogynistic workplace slights which propelled her toward unprecedented success. While by no means an arduous read (aside from a few bits and pieces which should have been omitted), it still approaches the subject with vastly more vivid detail.

Unfortunately, both books -- despite the rich story found within -- fail to answer the glaringly obvious question of why four years after Brown's death and roughly 40 years after her heyday, these two biographies are worth writing, much less reading. While her interactions with powerful, society-altering women such as Nora Ephron, Betty Friedan, Joan Rivers, Gloria Steinem, Jacqueline Susann, and Joan Didion are detailed across both tomes, Brown's influence on modern feminism, while palpable and even hinted at, is very obviously absent. This omission is, in a sense, vastly more telling than anything written; Brown's heavy-handed, bold and aggressive -- yet stereotypically feminine -- imprint on the worlds of publishing, activism and feminism is perhaps too antithetical to explain; perhaps Brown -- who refused to let her carefully curated defenses down and reveal her true self to the public, motivations, regrets, and all -- would prefer it that way. Then again, she might have refuted the idea of this unanswerable question regarding her life's work with her signature dismissal, "Aw, pippy poo."

The two biographies read best in tandem, with both sharing a sapid style of writing that demands little of the reader. And while those interested in this fascinating-in-the-extreme figure should begin with Hauser's "Enter Helen" and end with Hirshey's "Not Pretty Enough," a clear, discerning portrait of the enigmatic Helen Gurley Brown should not be expected.

For an informative, untaxing read, "Enter Helen" both educates and entertains. For a more insightful piece, "Not Pretty Enough" is superior, though mired in minutiae. Whether you choose one or the other, or both, be sure to pay careful attention as anyone -- male or female -- can glean useful lessons from HGB, especially in the way of her most dreaded pitfall, "Not sexy enough!"

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I'm A Woman And You Can't Convince Me Breastfeeding In Public Is OK In 2019

Sorry, not sorry.


Lately, I have seen so many people going off on social media about how people shouldn't be upset with mothers breastfeeding in public. You know what? I disagree.

There's a huge difference between being modest while breastfeeding and just being straight up careless, trashy and disrespectful to those around you. Why don't you try popping out a boob without a baby attached to it and see how long it takes for you to get arrested for public indecency? Strange how that works, right?

So many people talking about it bring up the point of how we shouldn't "sexualize" breastfeeding and seeing a woman's breasts while doing so. Actually, all of these people are missing the point. It's not sexual, it's just purely immodest and disrespectful.

If you see a girl in a shirt cut too low, you call her a slut. If you see a celebrity post a nude photo, you call them immodest and a terrible role model. What makes you think that pulling out a breast in the middle of public is different, regardless of what you're doing with it?

If I'm eating in a restaurant, I would be disgusted if the person at the table next to me had their bare feet out while they were eating. It's just not appropriate. Neither is pulling out your breast for the entire general public to see.

Nobody asked you to put a blanket over your kid's head to feed them. Nobody asked you to go feed them in a dirty bathroom. But you don't need to basically be topless to feed your kid. Growing up, I watched my mom feed my younger siblings in public. She never shied away from it, but the way she did it was always tasteful and never drew attention. She would cover herself up while doing it. She would make sure that nothing inappropriate could be seen. She was lowkey about it.

Mindblowing, right? Wait, you can actually breastfeed in public and not have to show everyone what you're doing? What a revolutionary idea!

There is nothing wrong with feeding your baby. It's something you need to do, it's a part of life. But there is definitely something wrong with thinking it's fine to expose yourself to the entire world while doing it. Nobody wants to see it. Nobody cares if you're feeding your kid. Nobody cares if you're trying to make some sort of weird "feminist" statement by showing them your boobs.

Cover up. Be modest. Be mindful. Be respectful. Don't want to see my boobs? Good, I don't want to see yours either. Hard to believe, I know.

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13 Quotes For All Of Us Empowered Female-Identifying People Out There

For the days when you need to be reminded that you are really doing the dang thing and doing it well.


For the days when you need to be reminded that you are really doing the dang thing and doing it well.

1. Do you really need someone else's permission, acceptance, wink, or nod, or are you ready to give these to yourself? -The Universe

I get notes from the Universe everyday and all of them are so amazing and inspiring. There might be a few of them on this list. You can sign up for your own notes from the universe here.

2. The princess saves herself in this one. -Amanda Lovelace

The quote is based off a book called The Princess Saves Herself In This One, which is a collection of poetry about resilience, you can get the book here.

3. I'm made of more than you think. -Snow White, Mirror, Mirror

4. Other people's perception of you ain't none of your business. -Lisa Nichols


5. Do you realize how many events and choices that had to occur since the birth of the universe leading to the making of just exactly the way you are? -Mrs. Which, A Wrinkle In Time

I love this because it really hits home how so many right and wrong decisions led to the creation of you and how you should appreciate the good and the bad because without either of them you wouldn't be exactly who you were supposed to be.

6. You can't stop what's done to you. You can only survive it. -Rachel, Georgia Rule 

This brings up an important theme of my life that I'm still trying to figure out. The only thing you can control in your life is how you react to what happens to you.

7. Don't let anyone ever make you feel like you don't deserve what you want. -Patrick Verona, 10 Things I Hate About You

8. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. -Queen Clarisse, The Princess Diaries

9. No trifling of the past, no matter how great, can tarnish the brilliance of eternity. -The Universe

10. People who are insignificant to your future shouldn't have an impact on your present.

Someone once told me this, and although I can't remember the person, this quote has always stuck with me.

11. Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show stopping, spectacular, never the same, totally unique, completely not ever been done before. -Lady Gaga

You know what... I think she was talking about you.

12. Tell yourself it's easy. Tell yourself often. Make it an affirmation. Eat, sleep, breathe it, and you life shall be transformed. -The Universe

13. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. -Mark Twain 

Go on then, be empowered and trust your instincts, you've got big things coming... I can tell.

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