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.