Cosmopolitan magazine bills itself as “a bible for fun, fearless females.” (iStock)

Walmart pulled Cosmopolitan magazine from its checkout aisles at 5,000 stores across the United States after years of pressure from an activist group that accuses the publication of being “hyper-sexualized” and “degrading.”

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a Washington-based nonprofit formerly known as Morality in Media, said it had long singled out Cosmopolitan — as opposed to, say, the National Enquirer or other provocative content available in the checkout line — because the Hearst-owned magazine was “targeting young girls with its advertisements.”

“It’s on Snapchat. It has these brightly-colored pink covers,” Haley Halverson, the center’s vice president of advocacy and outreach, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “There are Disney stars that appear on it and [articles about] the Jonas Brothers and One Direction. … But at the same time, it’s promoting that its young readership engage in sexting, group sex.”

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, founded in 1962 to combat pornography and sex trafficking, also recently pushed back on commercials and media content it has deemed sexually explicit. For years, the group’s leaders tried to persuade Walmart and other retailers to remove Cosmopolitan from its checkout displays, where they say “customers should not be forced to be exposed to this content.”

The group credited the #MeToo movement with finally persuading Walmart officials to do so.  “We would say that any magazine should not be using sexual objectification to sell its magazine, but Cosmo also really wraps itself in this faux-feminist mystique, claiming that it’s actually liberating women by talking about sex,” Halverson told The Post. “But we need to raise the dialogue a little bit. … Just because we’re talking about sex in a magazine doesn’t mean we’re talking about it in an empowering way.”

When asked to provide examples of publications that were discussing sex in a manner the group felt was appropriate, Halverson declined. However, she compared Cosmopolitan’s messages about sexuality to that of Playboy “because it reduces women to objects for males’ sexual entitlement.”

Walmart confirmed the magazine would no longer be displayed in checkout aisles but would be available elsewhere in its stores. “As with all products in our store, we continue to evaluate our assortment and make changes,” Walmart spokeswoman Meggan Kring said in an email. “While this was primarily a business decision, the concerns raised [by NCOSE] were heard.”

New York-based Hearst Communications publishes more than a dozen magazine titles, including Esquire, House Beautiful, Marie Claire, Popular Mechanics and Runner’s World. A Hearst spokesman declined to comment directly on Walmart’s decision but said the company was proud of Cosmopolitan, one of the publisher’s flagship magazines, which bills itself as “a bible for fun, fearless females.”

“Cosmopolitan is the most successful global media brand for young women, with award-winning content produced by leading female journalists,” Hearst said in a statement. “With our focus on empowerment, we are proud of all that the brand has achieved for women around the world in the areas of equality, health, relationships, career, politics and social issues.”

Walmart’s decision drew mixed reactions. Some supported the aggressive push by the nonprofit group, which celebrated the retailer’s move as an “EXCITING victory!” Others said that choosing to focus on bringing down Cosmopolitan was “blatantly distorting” the #MeToo movement, with some even threatening to boycott Walmart.

“There can and should be discussions about how Cosmopolitan helps and hurts women,” Kate Taylor wrote in a column for Business Insider. “But to blame a publication primarily aimed at and created by women for the systematic harassment and assault many women endure — often at the hands of men — is an embarrassing repurposing of the #MeToo movement.”

Many pointed out that the magazine covered topics including health, politics and relationships, as well as sex.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has for years tried to limit people’s exposure to Cosmopolitan. In 2015, Victoria Hearst — granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst — partnered with the group to start a “Cosmo Harms Minors” campaign, calling for the magazine to be sold in opaque wrappers and that minors not be allowed to buy it.

That year, the campaign succeeded in persuading RiteAid drugstore chain and Delhaize America (owner of Hannaford Stores and Food Lion) to sell the magazine behind “blinders” that partially hid the cover pages.

On Wednesday, Halverson noted that Hearst is no longer involved with their group. Hearst, who used her inheritance to found Praise Him Ministries in Colorado, praised the group’s campaign as “righteous and admirable.”

“Thank you, Walmart Corporation, for caring about the welfare of your customers’ children by no longer allowing kids in your checkout lines to stand face-to-face with the barely dressed women and sexually explicit article titles on Cosmopolitan Magazine’s covers,” Hearst wrote in an email Wednesday. “To quote our LORD JESUS CHRIST: ‘We’ll [sic] done, good and faithful servant.’ ”

Halverson said the group plans to ask Target and Walgreens “and, really, all retailers” to consider removing Cosmopolitan from their checkout displays.

“I think that this is just kind of the latest drop in a cultural change around how we talk about sexually objectifying women,” she said.


Victoria Hearst, the granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, called for Cosmopolitan Magazine to be only sold to adults and that the magazine be on sales racks in an opaque wrapper in 2015. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

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