Focus on the Family Revives Brio, a Christian Magazine for Teenage Girls
Teenage girls who dislike the frank sexuality of Cosmopolitan and the left-leaning politics of Teen Vogue but still want a magazine to give them tips on fashion and hairstyles (not to mention advice on abstinence) are in luck. This month Focus on the Family has relaunched Brio, a glossy teen magazine shut down in 2009.
The organization’s conservative Christian ethos animates Brio, which its publisher, Bob DeMoss, said has so far attracted over 56,000 subscribers through ads sent directly to Focus supporters. Its goal is to address the topics found in mainstream teen magazines from “a biblical worldview,” Mr. DeMoss said.
Focus on the Family has long been known for its opposition to abortion, sex outside of marriage and rights for transgender and gay people, who it has said can “leave” homosexuality or change their gender identity by embracing Jesus Christ. But within the evangelical community, its name is synonymous for many with parenting tips like those found in “Dare to Discipline,” the 1970 book by its founder, James Dobson.
“What would the Bible have to say about bullying or peace-making or peer pressure or sexual purity?” Mr. DeMoss said. “Focus on the Family would say and Brio would reflect: ‘Hey, sex was God’s idea so why not follow the game plan that he laid out in the Bible?’ And you’re not going to get that in the pages of ‘Seventeen,’ let’s be clear.”
Indeed, a quick flip through back issues of Brio quickly reveals how different it is from other teen magazines, with covers featuring stars like Selena Gomez and breathless updates on Kylie Jenner’s dating life.
The only celebrities to grace Brio’s cover are those who espouse the Christian worldview of Focus on the Family, like the 19-year-old “Duck Dynasty” star Sadie Robertson, who appears on its May cover and has marketed a line of “daddy-approved” prom dresses.
It has also promoted Christian musicians like Kyle Matthews and urged readers to shun singers like Eminem (a music columnist once advised readers to seek guidance from Philippians 4:8 and 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 instead). An article in the first issue focuses on Bruno Mars.
And while Teen Vogue recently published a guide to gifts you can buy a friend after an abortion, Brio has featured reader testimonials on how to avoid the temptations of premarital sex (“I began struggling to keep my thoughts godly when Satan tried to draw me out of my purity,” wrote Leah, age 16, in 2009.)
The magazine’s promotional materials are directed more at adults shopping for young people than at teenagers themselves. That’s because nostalgia is an important ingredient in the magazine’s relaunch, said Susan B. Ridgely, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Kids who grew up with Candace Cameron are now parents,” she said, referring to the “Full House” star who was the magazine’s March 1992 cover girl. “Just like Netflix is trying to get those viewers with ‘Fuller House,’ Focus on the Family may be trying to get them with the return of Brio.”
The magazine had roughly 260,000 subscribers at the end of its 19-year print run in 2009, Mr. DeMoss said, making it one of Focus on the Family’s top-selling publications. The relaunched version is one of five magazines published by the group, which also draws almost 6.3 million listeners a week on over 1,000 American radio stations.
Sorcha Brophy, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh who grew up reading Brio, said the magazine aims to “normalize being a Christian teen” by telling readers it can be cool to go to church and shun drugs and partying.
But she said its emphasis on moral uprightness can also create a lot of pressure. As an example, Ms. Brophy pointed to a feature she encountered during her research: a pop culture quiz that deducted points from a reader’s score for correctly answered questions about mainstream music videos and celebrity gossip.
“There’s no suggestion in the magazine that teenagers should completely remove themselves from pop culture and mainstream society, but at the same time there is an expectation of constant vigilance about how you engage with those things and about what you’re consuming and how you’re consuming it,” she said. “A lot of work is expected out of teenage readers.”
Ms. Ridgely said the magazine has traditionally “modeled what Focus sees as the right kind of behavior” and avoided mentioning things of which it disapproves.
It may be unlikely to mention abortion at all unless it profiled “a young woman with a young baby and everything is going swimmingly,” she said. “With homosexuality, for girls especially, lesbianism almost never comes up in any of their material. Girls aren’t depicted as people with a sex drive. Their whole job is to keep young boys’ sex drive under control.”
Mr. DeMoss, a writer and longtime “youth culture specialist” who is vice president for content development at Focus on the Family, agreed that the new incarnation of Brio was unlikely to cover gay or transgender issues, even though they have become far more socially accepted since Brio’s first issue in 1990. For example, he said, Brio probably would not have joined other magazines in profiling the reality star Caitlyn Jenner when she came out as transgender last year.
“If those topics ever come up in the pages of Brio they will be handled in a non-shaming, grace-filled, welcoming — and by welcoming I don’t mean ‘hey, we have no standards’ — way,” Mr. DeMoss said. And what are those standards? “We use the Bible as a standard,” he replied, before quickly changing the subject to topics like music reviews and human trafficking. When it was suggested that he was avoiding the topic, Mr. DeMoss laughed and said “we have more than one instrument in the band.”
He elaborated, “From what I’ve read, if you take all the transgender, all the L.G.B.T., you know, community and the gender fluid and, you know, that entire population — you’re looking at maybe 3 to 5 percent of the entire population of the United States,” a figure broadly in line with a 2012 Gallup survey. “We would rather communicate to the 95 percent or so who are not dialed into that as a regular kind of thing,” Mr. DeMoss said.
The magazine has no digital plans, Mr. DeMoss said, and costs about $20 per year for 10 print issues. The name means “vigor, full of life,” Focus on the Family explains on its site, promising a mix of entertainment and do-it-yourself features along with “exciting, vivacious, faith-based articles” and “more fuel to energize their life.” The first copies should arrive in the mail this week.