From 1990 to 2009, the conservative evangelical organization Focus on the Family published a magazine for teen girls called Brio. For several years in the early ‘90s, I was a Brio subscriber, thanks to a gift subscription whose origins are now lost to time. In my admittedly hazy memory, the highlights of 1990s-era Brio were a relationship advice column about not having pre-marital sex, a culture column about not listening to music about pre-marital sex, and interviews with young Christian celebrities who were not having pre-marital sex. I loved it.
Focus on the Family folded Brio and its brother magazine, Breakaway, in 2009. The closure was part of a post-crash budget readjustment at the Colorado Springs-based nonprofit, and part of a longer wave of magazine closures that saw the end of Sassy, YM, Teen, Elle Girl, and Teen People, to name a few. But now, Brio is back. “It was such a good resource in a marketplace where there aren’t too many voices committed to a Biblically based worldview for teenagers,” said Bob DeMoss, a Focus on the Family vice president who launched the original Brio and started lobbying for its revival when he returned to the organization last year. The first issue, with 19-year-old Duck Dynasty daughter Sadie Robertson on the cover, is arriving now in subscribers’ mailboxes.
Like so much of conservative Christian pop culture, the original Brio was always a sort of shadow version of a mainstream teen magazine. “Brio was the evangelical equivalent of YM Magazine when I was growing up,” the writer Laura Turner put it last week when news of the magazine’s revival began to spread online. “I snuck YM at the library but got Brio at home.” Where Sassy had advice about birth control, Brio had advice about avoiding situations where you would need birth control. Where Seventeen had then-model Ivanka Trump on the cover, Brio had yodeling champion Catherine Bowler. Brio’s cover lines included tantalizing teasers like “8 Tips for Praying for Your Friends,” “Are You a Hypocrite? Take Our Quiz!” and “Judgment Day: Are You Ready?”
The new Brio will be familiar to its old readers. There’s a guide to making DIY graduation cards, and a how-to on “fun new braids.” There are several advice columns, including one in which readers write in to ask if their favorite secular pop culture is morally acceptable to consume. Teens, beware: Bruno Mars may be catchy, but “bad language turns up pretty frequently” and “his view of women is anything but honorable, pure, lovely or commendable.” In “Ask Brio,” a reader asks if pledging allegiance to the flag is wrong because it turns the flag into an idol. (No: “We wish more people would take pride in our country and show respect for the flag.”) The “Ask the Doctor” column is written by a woman who until recently served as the head of an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center.” (The first three questions have to do with shaving, acne, and embarrassment over late-arriving puberty.) And there’s a long interview with Robertson about her new line of prom dresses, her dating life, and the importance of “setting boundaries” with guys.
If this sounds like the kind of prissiness and patriotism that’s unlikely to appeal to a teenage girl in 2017, there are two things to keep in mind. One is that there are plenty of teenage girls who sincerely want to know whether, say, listening to Bruno Mars will corrode their spirits. As a cynical media type, it seems odd that a 14-year-old might be interested in a magazine feature on what she should look for in a “future husband.” In my Brio reading days, I would have flipped straight to page 32 to find out.
The second thing to keep in mind is that Brio isn’t just for teenagers. It’s also for the adults who want to influence them—or to put a finer point on it, to protect them. “As a parent, grandparent or mentor of a teen girl, you know culture bombards her with messages about her body, fashion, relationships, values and faith,” the promo text on one of the magazine’s new subscription pages reads. “But you’ve taught her biblical truths about loving God, valuing others, the importance of modesty and how she is wonderfully made. Continue your influence in her life by providing Brio magazine on a regular basis!” DeMoss says pre-orders have exceeded their projections so far; Focus on the Family has logged 41,000 annual subscriptions so far in North America. There are fewer young girls these days who have to sneak into the magazine section of the public library to read about sex, love, and birth control. But there are still plenty of adults who worry about them.