Brigitte, Germany’s most popular women’s magazine, hasn’t featured a single professional model in three years. Their 2009 decision to use only “real women” in their photos made international headlines; many deemed the move inspirational and groundbreaking in an industry ruled by waif-thin models, airbrushing and Photoshop. But now, as part of a top-to-bottom overhaul being planned by a new editor in chief, the magazine’s publishing house says it may be reconsidering that decision.
Why would Brigitte consider going back on what seemed like such a forward-thinking, self-esteem-friendly promise? According to German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, there may be a few reasons. The first is that “real women” with no modeling experience are harder for photographers and stylists to work with, and the process of doing so costs considerably more than simply contracting with a model’s agent. The second issue is that the change simply didn’t boost sales, and that fact has led many to question whether what seemed like an empowering policy was really nothing more than a publicity stunt.
Did seeing “real women” instead of models actually help reduce body image anxieties among Brigitte readers? Interestingly, the answer is no.
In fact, readers frequently complained that the “real women” weren’t much different from models at all; they were just as unattainably thin and conventionally beautiful as the professionals, and they were still plastered next to articles touting weight loss tips.
The fact that Brigitte’s “real women” policy didn’t boost sales or help readers feel more confident should be a major lesson for other magazines making similar promises (think People‘s makeup-free spread and Seventeen‘s no Photoshop policy). They shouldn’t be deterred from taking that path, but they should note that Brigitte simply didn’t go far enough. It would seem that this sort of commitment cannot be accomplished with half-measures.
We find the fact that Brigitte would consider nixing the policy altogether rather than enhancing it by using real women who actually reflect the looks of its average reader disheartening. Still, the incident can at least serve as an illuminating beta test. In that sense, Brigitte‘s foray into the “real” world has not been a total loss–even if it is declared a financial and public relations failure.