Brio, a Conservative Christian Magazine for Teen Girls, Is Back (And As Harmful As Ever)

If you were a Christian teen growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, then you might have had a subscription to Focus on the Family’s Brio Magazine, best described as a godly version of Seventeen. Instead of quizzes like “How to Tell if he Likes You,” you’d find content like “How to Become a Proverbs 31 Woman,” along with all the information you ever wanted on the hottest contemporary Christian bands.

And how not to have sex. That was also very important.

After a few years of hiatus due to a budget crash, it looks like Brio is back.

Slate‘s Ruth Graham writes:

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.

“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.

Even if you weren’t a Christian teen in that era, you might have had friends who were, as I did. That’s how I, a Jewish kid who wanted to be a rabbi, got my hands on a copy. A neighborhood girl was a subscriber and I would read it at her house. When I moved to a different neighborhood, I started reading it online.

Growing up in a secular home, Brio‘s content both fascinated and horrified me. It was something I loved to hate-read, really, but it quickly turned into an addiction. I wanted my own religious community, but it didn’t exist in a town where I was one of only seven Jewish kids in my class. Brio was the type of magazine I yearned for, if only it could include more than just a Christian audience.

I remember reading an advice column by Susie Shellenberger (“Ask Susie”) that delivered a particularly cold response to someone who wrote to ask if her non-Christian friends really went to hell. I remember Shellenberger’s response to this day: “I don’t understand what’s so hard to accept about this! If it’s in the Bible, then it’s true: end of story.” Pretty harsh to hear as an adult with doubts, let alone as a vulnerable sixteen-year-old.

But more damaging to my teenage psyche was the lack of emphasis on sexuality in the real world. Christian sources like Brio will emphasize purity and modesty as a girl’s most valuable assets. So what happens if a girl experiences date rape? The messages in Brio tell her that her purity is compromised, and therefore no one will want her. Or worse: it will implicitly blame her for not dressing modestly enough to prevent her Christian brothers from “stumbling.”

Those internalized messages enabled me to stay in a relationship with a guy who repeatedly assaulted me in high school. A guy who, on multiple occasions, blamed my clothes for making him unable to control himself around me.

As a Christian resource without all that pesky, shallow stuff aimed at teens in other magazines (like makeup brands I can barely afford as an adult, or how to lose weight while still going through puberty), Brio could be something special. It could stand out in a crowded field and provide value for young women. But not unless it’s changed its entire outlook on life away from that harmful conservative worldview. I doubt that’s happened, which is why I would never tell my own future teenage daughter to check it out. She doesn’t need to be shamed for being herself.

This post originally appeared on Friendly Atheist.


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14 thoughts on “Brio, a Conservative Christian Magazine for Teen Girls, Is Back (And As Harmful As Ever)

  1. Pingback: Brio, a Christian magazine for girls, is still culturally tone-deaf about dating – Sarahbeth Caplin

  2. Thank you for writing this. I was reading a bunch of discussions in a Facebook group about it the other day and feeling the “oh no” and also the nostalgia, since my parents eventually banned Brio for being “too liberal” for actually mentioning sex.


  3. In the early 00’s I listened to Focus on the Family’s teen show Life on the Edge, which Shellenberger hosted. I remember two call-ins: 1)someone called in to pray, because her friend and the friend’s boyfriend were gonna shower together(I had the “oh noes” purity culture reaction); 2)a young man called about dating a Muslim(this was pre-9/11). They told him no, because no dating non-Christians.

    I basically lost interest after turning 18(in 2003), and realizing there’s more to the world than my church bubble. (Hence my profile pic.)


    I actually used to devour this magazine.
    I remember the advice column once having to outline why it’s NOT a sin to wear jeans. I mean, at least they didn’t think it was a sin, but still, even entertaining that notion is pretty rigid.
    Their articles on why “Twilight” is bad were pretty amusing though (see: disrespecting parents and unwisely cuddling on a bed). I mean, there are plenty of legit critiques of that series, but even as a teen I was like “lol what?”


    • Interestingly, that perspective is exactly why Stephenie Meyer considers herself an anti-sexism writer. From where she’s standing, she wrote a thoroughly feminist work: Bella goes against her father’s wishes and chooses her own husband. What more could anyone want?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I never heard of it, but I’m familiar with Focus on the Family being one of Christianity’s larger propaganda arms out there. It’s a confusing enough of a world as it is; and so much has changed in such little time … I fear that magazine is a sad attempt to turn back the tide. I’m reminded of all the times I’ve heard about faith communities where there’s a lot of isolation, no rock’n’roll, no dancing, no movies – all this magazine will do will reinforce the already accepted ideas about the traditional role of women as it tries to mold young women into those ideas. It’s more about bolstering the power of such isolated groups than it is about making any real changes to outsiders who are unfamiliar with it’s precepts.
    It’s just not interested in any definition of family other than its own; it cares nothing for women who don’t fit the accepted mold, it will scold them and shame them for not being quite right according to it’s own definition. It’ll demand them to change, to lose what God made special about them so that they won’t outshine their future husbands whom they will obey without question or hesitation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I got the original version for a few years as a teenager and it didn’t do any damage that wasn’t already being done by other influences in my life… but that said, I was a purity-culture-perfect girl who thought she was asexual at the time and even *I* could see through their “relationship advice”, and that’s not a good sign. Absolutely thrilling to know it’s back just in time to screw up the next generation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Absolutely thrilling to know it’s back just in time to screw up the next generation.”

      Indeed. Even without exposure to this publication, FOTF’s pervasive influence is still the primary reason I left the church very early in life.

      Logically Dobson’s recent support for Roy Moore ought to discredit the whole enterprise, but I don’t think that it will because it is completely consistent with FOTF’s real priorities and everybody knows it. And so, new generations will continue to pay the price, just as we did.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I heard on the news about this thing returning. I’ve never seen it myself and was a teenager long before it began the first time. Considering the source organization, I can easily accept your assessment without having to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

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