For two nights in February 2014 as part of COVEN BERLIN’s art exhibition, I was a Cosmogirl. In that time, I must have gone on 40 micro dates. I schmoozed, I flirted, I tittered, I pried, I bragged, and I gave out my phone number. All in all, activities I’ve done before on first dates. But on these dates/performances, I only spoke lines from Cosmogirl UK’s March 2014 issue. Before that was possible, I had to learn Cosmo by heart.
I spent a month preparing. I studied every article in my Cosmo magazine, taking notes and memorizing lines. Often in public, I would be hesitant to dive into the pages – I didn’t want people to think I was a shallow woman. I wished I could hang a sign over my magazine saying, ‘this is for a feminist art project’. Maybe my embarrassment stemmed from my own desires to “feel 100% confident, love the woman I am, and rule every situation”. I was definitely ashamed of the price listed on the front (my Cosmo was from KaDaWe, after all!). But when I started reading the Cosmo, I could hardly put it down.
This feeling of half-shame, half-rapture also manifested in my performances. During my performances as a Cosmogirl, I was flirty, pushy, overbearing, silly, absurd, giggly, vapid, confident, anxious, unfocussed, judgemental, curious, self absorbed, lustful, desiring and ambitious. The people I dated were at times confused, overwhelmed, offended, argumentative, nervous, flirty, sexy, cheeky, open, thoughtful, caring, giggly, bashful, and downright bored. On occasion, I felt a predatory, heady sense of power – this was when I was being particularly charming. This was the feeling I had expected from being a Cosmogirl. Other times, I felt anxious and stupid. This was when I didn’t know what Cosmo line to offer. Mostly, I felt a sense of playful camaraderie – not something I expected at all. I had expected more people to make fun of me, and be angered by me. I was so out of context in the feminist art exhibition. But mostly, people just loved to laugh and play with me.
Was all this laughing making fun of Cosmo? Yes. Was it meant to shame the world’s Cosmogirls? No. The desires outlined by Cosmo, and the straightforward rules given to achieve those desires, speak to me. They speak to me so uncomfortably well that all I can do is laugh at them, and in turn, laugh at myself. On the one hand, Cosmo puts women into a painfully tight box of norms and rules. On the other hand, we all mediate ourselves through some set of rules or another. I wanted to see how it was to interact with others when my filter, my set of rules, was so visible and strict.
The parts of me that couldn’t be expressed in trendy fashion, heteronormative love, or glamourous travel only could come out in the most indirect ways. For instance, my perversity. On one very enjoyable date after a few glasses of Prosecco, Cosmogirl kept inexplicably returning the conversation to a line in a porn addict’s exposé which references a porn star having sex with a horse. Cosmogirl just couldn’t stop bringing it up. At the end of the encounter, my dates said they’d learned Cosmogirl was kinkier than they previously thought. However delightful Cosmogirl’s deviations from her norm were for me, she still felt so small and silly in comparison to her dates – people who could say infinite things, and express themselves however they pleased.
My favourite date I had ended with me getting defensive, because of these feelings of smallness and silliness. It was with Jaques. He and Cosmogirl were not hitting it off. He didn’t like Cosmogirl’s attempts to coerce him into taking her to a chateau in Northern England, and Cosmogirl didn’t like that he wasn’t doting on her. She asked, “Whats my best feature?” He replied, “Your emptiness”. My mouth fell open. They were the most honest words I had heard all night. The sudden feeling of being exposed thrilled me. It made Cosmogirl pissed. In hindsight, I wish Cosmogirl could have kept her cool and tried using her wiles to win him over, but she was already on the attack. “You’re dull, blotchy and uneven. Your outfit has no direction – the top part is formal and the jeans are quite trashy. You have no motivation.” He smiled dismissively. The date was over. Cosmogirl was ruffled. The next person she approached to date said, “No thanks. I saw your last date, and you seemed scary.”
One evening before any of the performances, I was meticulously writing notes from my Cosmogirl on the S7. I felt a gaze on me. I looked up to see a little girl, about 3. She was sitting with her father, staring at me in that unabashed way only a kid can, and I made some funny faces at her. She smiled, but she was mainly interested in my studies. She reached out to touch the page, and I started flipping to different ones and pointing at things – £100 watches, Jamaican resorts. I felt a wave of guilt for exposing this child to Cosmo. I wondered what the father thought of me. I wondered how deeply these glossy, plastic faces could embed themselves in a young mind. Then the girl gently took the pen from my hand. She pressed it onto an image of a happy blonde woman, and began to slowly, methodically scrawl. I held the paper up for her. I smiled at her and made another face. This instantly became the best page in my entire Cosmo. I recognized in us two a mutual intention – the intention to take a Cosmogirl, and lovingly deface her, subvert her, and turn her into something new.
Words and illustration by Fran Breden
Photos by Judy Mièl