Why Are Cosmo Cover Girls Getting Younger & Younger?

We have to admit, we were a bit taken aback when we learned that Lucy Hale, the star of ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars and the third installment of A Cinderella Story (perhaps you remember the original, starring Hilary Duff and that guy from One Tree Hill?), was covering the September issue of Cosmopolitan. While we think Lucy is lovely (seriously, those doe eyes and that fringe or lashes make us do a double-take every time we see her), she feels a bit...teenybopper to be the face of the magazine that essentially defines mainstream sex appeal.
The young star is actually 23, but she plays a teen on TV and in movies, and she certainly evokes Lolita imagery, posing in the signature Cosmo stance, wearing a tied, midriff-baring button-up and low-slung jeans that feel reminiscent of a "Baby One More Time"-era Britney Spears.
So, seeing her on the magazine's most high-stakes cover of the year, we have to ask: Why are cover girls getting so young? We've seen this across a variety of adult titles, but we're particularly interested in what's going on over at Cosmo, partially because the magazine plays a major role defining what sexy looks like on a global scale; partially because this is the title that's carrying on the legacy of the late, great Helen Gurley Brown; and partially because it's the best-selling monthly mag on U.S. newsstands. Period. In fact, as the Times points out, if you rounded up all of the Cosmo readers around the world, the group would form a population the size of the 16th-largest country in the world.
It's undeniable that the magazine has serious influence, and after a bit of digging and number-crunching, we turned up some interesting facts. The average age of the Cosmo cover girl is in fact getting younger. In '10, that age was 28.4, in '11 it was 26.75, and so far this year, the average comes out to 23.8. And, the outliers are getting younger, too. In '99, the oldest cover girl was Shania Twain, at the age of 33; in '00, it was Lisa Kudrow, at 37. So far this year, the ages have ranged from Pink, at 32, to Dakota Fanning, 17. (This year, 18-year-old teen stars Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato also graced the cover, while last year's youngest cover girl was Hayley Williams, at 22).
What does all of this mean? That part is up for debate, but if you ask us, it suggests that the mainstream definition of womanly and sexy is changing, and increasingly, older women are being told, at least subliminally, that they aren't it. Instead, we're being told that since we are literally losing value as we age, the way to feel sexy is to channel our inner teen (or take advice from a teen girl). That said, we're not blind to the fact that sales obviously factor in here as well. Young stars bring with them young readers with disposable income — a demographic that's very attractive to advertisers.
But does that make it okay? After revisiting these inspiring old-school Cosmo covers, featuring cover lines tackling hot-button issues like the introduction of the pill and insights into the mind of a rapist, we have to say no. But you tell us: How does seeing a Lucy or a Demi or Selena on the cover of a women's mag make you feel? Take to the comments and let us know if we're getting bent out of shape for no reason, or if there's real cause for concern here.

Photo: Courtesy of Cosmopolitan

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