by Megan Hershey
The first time I saw a Brio magazine was during a sleep-over at my friend Jolynn’s house. I was 12 and the magazine felt almost forbidden – yes, it was published by Focus on the Family and therefore both wholesome and Christian, but it was also the closest thing to a Seventeen or Cosmopolitan that I could get my hands on. It was an icon of the teenage world I was so eager to join. Jolynn was remarkably nonchalant about the stack of slim, glossy magazines on her living room floor, but I was mesmerized and spent the rest of the evening reading the beauty tips (how to apply eyeliner!), the advice column (Dear Susie: what is French kissing?), and the feature articles about real girls doing good deeds (a missions trip changed my life!).
Soon after, I convinced my mom to purchase a subscription for me. She was supportive, but asked each year if I wanted to continue receiving the magazine – I’m sure she could have made good use of the $25 fee in the household budget. I read every issue cover-to-cover (it would have been an affront to my Type A personality to read the articles out of order) and soaked up the lessons about adolescence.
Over time, Brio changed. The magazine updated its font and layout. It split into two publications to better minister to both the tween and conventional teen audience. Since I was in the older category my copies now contained edgier articles about eating disorders and herpes (you can get it *just* from messing around, a young woman wrote in a fictionalized letter to her younger sister).
I was changing, too. The first time I disagreed with Brio was over a review of the most recent Boyz II Men album. My best friend and I – as well as the two coolest boys in youth group – were obsessed with Boyz II Men. The longing in “End of the Road” summed up my suburban teenage angst, yet I wasn’t about to abandon my morals. Just because the group sang about throwing your clothes on the floor didn’t mean I was about to, and Brio’s suggestion that I might succumb to the Boyz’ vocal wizardry in this way was offensive.
By 16 I felt I’d outgrown the magazine, or at least enough to feel guilty about the subscription cost, yet I kept the back issues stacked in my closet through college. Brio is no longer in print, though the editor, Susie Shellenberger, is still active in various evangelical ministries. Susie, it turns out, is an ordained minister (Nazarene), something that was never revealed to Brio readers. As I reflect on how Brio helped me through the challenges of adolescence I wonder how much more the publication could have done if I had known that Susie was not just an editor and advice columnist, but a pastor as well, someone who held spiritual authority.
Megan Hershey is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Whitworth University. During the week, she can be found standing at her desk reading one of her other favorite blogs, Africa is a Country. Her fondness for sensible, secondhand shoes makes it obvious that she no longer reads fashion magazines of any kind.