A babe with a brand

Helen Gurley Brown her  brand was the sexy single girl  Few young women get through school without reading at least a little of Cosmopolitan. I know I didn’t. And even though I had outgrown Cosmo by the end of university, I never outgrew the woman who created the magazine as we know it. I still find Helen Gurley Brown inspirational. Besides Cosmo, she also wrote the best-selling book Sex and the Single Girl. What is most astounding is that she did both these things after the age of 40!

Helen Gurley Brown is the ultimate babe with a brand – the perpetual single girl fighting her way to the top.
Some have criticized her and Cosmopolitan for being frivolous and encouraging women to be promiscuous, overly sexy, man-crazy, and host of other things. Nothing could be further from the truth. HGB has always been a feminist, albeit of a different stamp than others of the same era such as Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem.
A must read  bio of one of the most successful lipstick feministsAs Jennifer Scanlon points out in her new book, Bad Girls Go Everywhere: The Life of Helen Gurley Brown, HGB’s undeviating message has always been that work is greatest source of fulfillment for women. Brown tells her readers to go for money and power. She advocates that women control their own sexual satisfaction and happiness. She described Cosmopolitan as a magazine for “women who loved men and children, but who wanted to do something on their own”. If that isn’t feminist, what is?
Scanlon’s book is nowhere near as racy as the title suggests. Critics who complain that it reads like a women’s studies thesis are not completely wrong. Scanlon is, and writes like, an academic – not a Kitty Kelly. But if you are a trying to build a brand or make a name for yourself in business or the arts, you should read this book.
Gurley Brown’s opinions and advice as to how to go about attaining her goals things are, and always have been, controversial. She has no problem advocating extramarital affairs, dating for fun and profit, and other questionable behaviour. Her approach to getting ahead is equal parts puritan work ethic and ruthlessness. She is an extreme pragmatist and self-proclaimed materialist.
Darlings, while I admire her accomplishments, I vehemently disagree with much of what she advocates. But so does Gurley Brown herself. HGB may advocate extramarital dalliances, but friends report her marriage was strictly monogamous. According to Scanlon, friends say her husband, David Brown, believes she would actually kill him if he cheated. Having read all her books, I think she might. And that brings me to another conflict. She declared that women should never actively look for husband, but she pursued her own like a big game hunter on a safari. She did not give up until she had him legally wed. 
None her conflicting advice takes away from her from her brilliance and what we can learn from her. She not only created one of the most successful women’s magazines ever, but she became her own brand, with bestselling books, a magazine, record albums, TV appearances, and scores of revenue-generating projects. HGB became the voice of the modern single, working woman, and remained so for almost 40 years. And darlings, she did it as a married woman. The image she created eclipsed her reality.
Author Scanlon may be too concerned with HGB’s contributions to the second wave of feminism for most readers’ tastes, but she also does is an excellent job of explaining how HGB rose so quickly to the top of publishing game. HGB herself has credited her movie-producer husband, David Brown, with her success in publishing. But like all good myth-makers she has left out useful details. In the HGB version, Brown tells her to write Sex and the Single Girl. It’s a bestseller — and she takes over Cosmo. She panics as a new editor. David comes to the rescue with husbandly reassurance. HGB learns how to edit and manage, and Cosmo is a success. The rest is history. In Scanlon’s version there are many more steps. HGB goes from bestselling writer to newspaper columnist to Cosmo.
Scanlon includes fascinating details about how hard HGB worked to rise to the top of advertising in her thirties. Scanlon also shares that David Brown had previously worked in publishing and had even briefly edited the old Cosmopolitan magazine. Helen Gurley Brown had excellent advice and connections to achieve her many successes.
These details are important. They provide a road map to success. At the start of the biography, Scanlon makes the point that HGB was a popular achiever in high school, even though she always refers to herself as poor and a misfit. There is no doubt Helen Gurley Brown was poor. Her mother was a widow and her sister was handicapped by polio. Those things were harder on families during the depression than they are now. There was no social safety net then. After reading all of HGB’s books, I have no doubt that beauty or her perceived lack of it had profound effect on HGB, as did her troubled relationship with her depressed mother.
HGB edited sexy Cosmo International into her 80's!She channeled her deep longings for success and acceptance into work and her sexuality. She found the people she needed to help her accomplish her goals. And she attained the security she craved in marriage with a powerful brainy man and a high-powered career. HGB turned her own dreams, needs, wants, frustrations and ambitions as a single working woman into a blockbuster brand. She instinctively knew what women wanted and needed. She understood that single girls never have enough money or love. From Cosmo quizzes, to articles on how to get ahead, to how to get a man, she tapped into her market.
Helen Gurley Brown wasn’t a bad girl; she was just a girl ahead of her time, with a big brain and a hungry heart. In the end she was a babe with brand that netted her all the wealth, power and glamour she ever dreamed of.