A lot of teenage girls grow up looking to magazines like Seventeen or Teen Vogue for tips on fashion and dating. But for some conservative Christian girls and their parents, those magazines can seem a bit risqué. For about two decades starting in 1990, the evangelical Christian group Focus on the Family offered an alternative: Brio magazine, which is making a comeback in May.
In some ways, Brio was a lot like other teen magazines in the 1990s. Debbie Fischer remembers “devouring” articles on issues like clothing and DIY manicures — things she definitely wasn’t learning from her older brothers.
“I was in middle school and I didn’t really know — I wanted to take care of myself and look more like a grownup girl. I just didn’t really know how to do it,” Fischer says.
But other sections were different — like music reviews. Fischer is now 34 and living in Madison, Wis., where she works in market research for an insurance company. She remembers a review of a popular Boyz II Men album from the mid-1990s that praised portions of the album while warning readers about the hit song “I’ll Make Love to You.”
“That was about premarital sex and not OK,” Fischer says with a laugh.
Fischer, who grew up Methodist and attended a public school, says she also laughed off much of the advice and kept listening to the music she liked.
For girls like Hayley DeRoche, now 30 and a librarian in Richmond, Va., that conservative point of view made Brio safe to read in front of her homeschooling evangelical parents.
“It was like the wholesome answer to Seventeen or something like that, so me reading it was never a concern,” she says.
Laura Turner, now a 31-year-old writer in San Francisco, grew up with two parents who were pastors at the Willow Creek megachurch near Chicago. Each month, she says she’d turn first to the “Dear Susie” advice column, written by former editor Susie Shellenberger.
“I would always turn to see what kind of advice she was giving to Christian girls who wanted to date boys who weren’t also Christians, or wanted to wear a two-piece bathing suit at summer camp but they weren’t sure if they would get in trouble. I remember reading those with so much curiosity,” Turner says.
At the time, she says, Brio helped her navigate a world that didn’t always align with her evangelical subculture.
“It also did speak a lot to me as a young teenage girl trying to figure out how to make sense of and apply my faith in a world where not everyone shared that faith,” Turner says. “And although I probably now would look back and disagree with or have questions about what I read, I also did really enjoy reading it. And I felt like there were ways that I was seeing a version of myself or seeing who I could become.”
Even Brio seemed like too much for Alissa Wilkinson‘s parents, who also homeschooled her as a teenager in upstate New York.
“I felt left out of it, and I used to sneak issues home from the church library,” she says and laughs. “And that was, like, my rebellion.”
Now 33 and living in Brooklyn, Wilkinson writes about film and culture for Vox. She says Brio was a conduit to the larger culture.
“I felt like I was kind of getting away with something and learning something about what my peers were experiencing. So Brio was sort of my bridge into what I thought teenagers were like,” Wilkinson says.
Brio was canceled in 2009 because of budget troubles. Focus on the Family is now reviving it, with much the same mission as before.
The first issue of the revamped magazine will feature Sadie Robertson, granddaughter of Phil Robertson of the Duck Dynasty reality TV series. The elder Robertson, who is popular among some conservatives, has been criticized for his public statements about homosexuality.
Bob DeMoss, vice president of content development for Focus on the Family, says the new Brio won’t often be overtly political, but will put forward what he describes as a “biblical” worldview — including opposition to LGBT relationships, abortion and premarital sex.
“The heart and soul of the advice does have its roots in what the Bible says about various things from peer pressure and proper dress to sexual purity,” DeMoss says.
He says Brio wants to offer an alternative to articles like a recent controversial piece in Teen Vogue called “What to Get a Friend Post-Abortion,” which suggested items like heating pads and a coloring book honoring feminist icon and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“I would say that that’s an example of, I think, a magazine that has lost its way,” DeMoss says. “I mean, the treatment of the topic the way they approached it strikes me as being both inappropriate and insensitive.”
Sorcha Brophy, a postdoctoral fellow in sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, also read Brio as a teenager, and later researched Christian teen magazines as part of her master’s thesis.
Brophy says she wonders how the new Brio will navigate the culture of 2017.
“I think it will be interesting to see these things play out in a moment where these teenagers are probably less sheltered than possibly the teenagers who were reading the magazine in the early ’90s,” she says. “Because I think it was possible in the early ’90s to live a life where you didn’t necessarily have to engage these issues as much.”
Officials at Focus on the Family acknowledge it may seem like a strange time to bring back a print publication, but they think there’s a market for it among conservative Christian teenage girls.