Friday, January 14, 2000

Kroger cover-up puzzles one 'Cosmo' woman

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I'd never met a Cosmo girl. Until Thursday morning. There she stood in the bakery aisle at the Madeira Kroger. Blonde and petite. Between the loaves of bread and boxes of donuts.

        Michelle Roberts was bundled in a coat because of the chilly winds, gray skies and snow flurries. We met to go Krogering after I put out an all-points-bulletin looking for a woman who reads Cosmopolitan magazine.

        “I read it every month, cover to cover,” she told me. “Usually at night, in bed, after 10 p.m., when I want to unwind.”

        Michelle defies the simple stereotype of a Cosmo reader. She's not a 22-year-old airhead, spacey from inhaling the fumes of hair spray and fingernail polish.

        As we walked up and down the grocery store's aisles, I discovered this Cosmo reader is 36 and bright. Divorced with three children — a 10-year-old daughter and two sons, ages 7 and 13 — she lives in Madeira with her “significant other” and runs her own accounting firm.

        Michelle started reading Cosmo five years ago. She said she was a Cosmo girl then.

        “I'm older now,” she said. “So, I'm a Cosmo woman.”

        Michelle defined a Cosmo woman as someone who is “her own woman. She's not afraid to ask or seek information. She's a woman who makes her own choices, who is not ashamed of or embarrassed by sexuality or afraid to pursue her own career.”

        This Cosmo woman has a beef with Kroger. The nation's largest grocery chain announced this week that its 2,200 stores are putting blinders on her favorite magazine when it is displayed at checkout counters. Complaints about the sexually suggestive headlines on Cosmo's covers led to this decision.

        We walked to the checkout counters to see the Cosmo cover-up. Michelle registered a complaint.

        “That's the most ridiculous thing I ever saw.”

        A stiff black sheet of plastic, bound by two metal rings hooked to the wire rack, hid just about everything on the magazine cover. All that showed above the modesty fence were the magazine's title, the word “Bedside” and actress Cameron Diaz' peekaboo eyes. Among the headlines covered up was: “Sex Tricks Only Cosmo Would Know.”

        Michelle yanked on the binder to see how firmly it was attached to the rack. The binder did not budge.

        “Look what Cosmo is next to.”

        Cosmo's neighbors were the Star and the Globe.

        “They should put blinders on that tabloid trash,” she muttered. “None of that junk they write about — "Aliens stole my baby' — is true.”

        Michelle's kids don't believe the tabloids' headlines. “They tell me, "Mom, that stuff isn't for real.' They always read those headlines as we wait to check out.”

        But they never check out Cosmo. As her children fidget next to a cart piled high with what she calls “kids' food,” frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, French fries and frozen pretzels, Michelle said her boys and girl “never bother with Cosmo. They never ask me about the headlines.”

Bad cover-up
        The blinder covering Cosmo's headlines bothers Michelle. “It won't stop me from buying the magazine,” she said. “But that black blinder creates the impression you should be ashamed to pick it up and look at it, and embarrassed to buy it.”

        If her impression is correct, there will be lots of shame to share. Cosmo sells half of its 2 million monthly copies at newsstands and checkout counters.

        Away from the checkouts, we walked along the snack-food aisle.

        Michelle told me how she lets her children have only one bag of chips per visit to the grocery.

        “I'm trying to teach them that life is a series of choices,” she said. “You can't have everything. So, you must choose.

        “If there's something you don't like, that doesn't mean it's bad or should be taken off the shelf. You just don't have to buy it. You go on. You ignore it. You make other choices.”

        She learned that, she said, from reading the articles inside Cosmo. She wishes the magazine's critics could get beyond the cover. They might learn something, too.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.