Curly-wurly Gurley-Brown

I passed some time at the Sydney airport newsagent yesterday, something which I've not done since Husband finally moved to Sydney three months ago. Given there are no new Aussie women's glossies out this week (as far as I know – they like to go head-to-head at the beginning of the month), I turned my attention to the international titles and (gasp!) other genres of mag, including Vanity Fair, which is really just a high-brow version of a fashion mag with a dash of politics and a male editor.

The last page of V Fair (since 1993, in fact) is The Proust Questionnaire, which is intended to give us insight into the minds of the world's most famous. This month's interview subject is 85-year-old Helen Gurley Brown, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmo (she is still involved in overseeing all 59 international editions of the mag), who is attributed with liberating female sexuality, empowering women to man-hunt and pioneering the "women can have it all" mentality.

Brown started her career as a highly successful copywriter before authoring the best-selling Sex and the Single Girl in 1962 (aged 40... and married) and becoming editor-in-chief of Cosmo in 1965. She took the magazine from a thinking woman's title to the sexed-up read it is today. She also created the female editor ideal (Aussie Cosmo editors Pat Ingram, Mia Freedman and Sarah Wilson arguably fit the mould... who will do it next, we wonder?). The Cosmo editor is sexy, ambitious, ball-breaking, hard working, witty, competitive, controlling, hard on herself, a little distant, not afraid of the spotlight and a perfectionist – she must also live and breathe the magazine.

Brown is a woman who didn't have children because they require too much attention, got breast implants at 73, identifies with Cleopatra ("She was a good boss and had a good love life"), believes being a bad girl will get you everywhere, won't admit to anything deplorable about herself, calls people "pussycat", lies ("Telling people they look great in a new outfit when they don't"), thinks worrying about someone you love is the "lowest depth of misery", likes men to think she's attractive, restricts her calorie intake (see bobble-head pic above for evidence) and exercises twice a day. And, at 85, still she's obsessed with her tummy fat (if she could change one thing about herself it would be to "get my tummy to be flat again"). And she hates being old. Her motto? "Get up and do it if it needs to be done, even if you hate it!". Like exercise, right? Read the interview here. Perhaps I'm being too tough on the old duck?

An editor creates the world inside her magazine. If, in 2007, the Cosmo editor is still about snagging men, sexual empowerment, weight loss and looking sexy, then I think the mag's headed in the wrong direction. I mean, you've got to wonder – are the empowered women that Brown has helped to shape over all these years any happier for her advice? Oh, that's right, Brown doesn't believe we have any control over our happiness.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

God bless you, Belinda

My sister and I wept our way through last night's edition of Australian Story (Mondays, ABC, 8pm) featuring the beautiful, late Belinda Emmett. I'm not sure what got to me more – her personal video diaries, which showed her to be good humoured, caring, positive and strong in spite of her cancer and the clumps of hair washing down the drain in the shower; her performance at Carols in the Domain – singing was her passion and Christmas was her favourite time of year; the out-takes of her goofing around on the set of The Nugget despite hearing of her bone cancer diagnosis just a week earlier; the video of her and Rove dancing to Ben Folds' "The Luckiest" at their wedding (he sang the words to her as they gazed into each other's eyes); images of her at play at family barbecues and on the beach; the way her dad retold the story of her last two weeks and the last words she said to her sister, "Are you alright?"; or the fact that her spirit, in so many ways, encapsulates what I believe is the true Aussie girl spirit – fight against adversity and keep your chin up, love.

Or perhaps it's because she's so much like my gorgeous aunt, who's fighting her own cancer battle right now. Cancer is a bugger of a disease – in its many and varied forms – and you're a lucky person if you've not known anyone who's been affected.

I'm not sure why God takes beautiful people like Belinda away from us, or why so many young, healthy people are being diagnosed with cancer, but I do know there's something positive we can take away from their experiences – like not sweating the little stuff quite so much, spending more time with people you genuinely love and adore (and who love and adore you), and less with those who drain your spirit, finding your passion and running with it, and letting love, not money/success/ambition, rule your life.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

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