By David Gordon Smith
At first glance the new issue of Germany's Brigitte looks just like a normal fashion magazine. Attractive, perfectly made-up young women show off stylish clothes from labels like French Connection, Escada and H&M, glancing flirtatiously over their shoulders, pouting their lips or staring pensively into the distance.
But something about the photos looks different. A prominent tummy here and noticeable wrinkles there reveal that these are not size-zero Amazons straight from the catwalk, but real women. As of the January issue, which hit the newsstands Saturday, Brigitte will use only amateur models in its fashion shoots.
"Women have changed. They no longer want to see interchangeable, faceless models on the pages of their magazines," Brigitte's editor-in-chief Brigitte Huber told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "They want to see real women. We want to respond to that by showing real women, women who have a profession and who are prepared to give their ages."
Indeed, the amateur models in the January issue reflect the diversity that Huber says the magazine is trying to show. They range in ages from 20 to 45 and work as artists, receptionists, teachers and restaurateurs. "Beauty has many faces," says Huber.
The initiative, which made headlines around the world when it was announced in October 2009, is partly a reaction to concerns that overly thin models promote anorexia among women. "Brigitte has always had the interests of real women at heart," Huber says. "Our magazine encourages them to be self-confident and promotes a healthy self-image." Brigitte is one of Germany's top-selling women's magazines and belongs to the Gruner+Jahr media group, which is also part-owner of SPIEGEL.
The magazine's staff has been "overwhelmed" by the reaction from readers, Huber says. More than 20,000 women have so far applied online to be potential models, submitting photographs of themselves with a short profile. Visitors to Brigitte's Web site (German only) can vote for who they want to see in future issues of the magazine.
Huber says the reaction from the fashion industry has been generally very positive. "Even people from modeling agencies have congratulated us, saying they think the idea is great even if it's bad for their own business." There have been a few voices who say that the magazine will never succeed in putting together an issue month after month without using professional models, Huber admits. "But we will do it."
'Not Ugly or Fat'
However the German press reaction to the first Brigitte without professional models has so far been largely skeptical. Many observers expressed disappointment that the women on view in the January issue generally correspond to conventional ideas of beauty. "They may be women from real life, but they are not ugly or fat," writes the fashion critic for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. "Some of them would certainly have been able to become models, but chose other careers instead."
Observers also point out that claims to be fighting anorexia are undermined by the fact that the January issue also features the latest version of the "Brigitte Diet." The message, according to Die Tageszeitung, is: "You look really great just as you are -- but you'd look even better if you only lost a few kilos."
Some observers write that the initiative is effectively a PR campaign aimed at boosting the magazine's flagging sales. The magazine's circulation in the third quarter of 2009 was around 691,000, down almost 8 percent from the same period of the previous year. "It's a way for Brigitte to stand out at the newsstand," writes Berlin's Tagesspiegel, while Die Welt describes it as a "rescue campaign for its own brand." Critics also point out that the campaign will not change the fashion industry, despite Brigitte's claim to be launching a "revolution" -- after all, the publication is regarded as a "women's" magazine rather than a fashion magazine along the lines of Vogue.
Not Going the Whole Way
There has even been criticism of the initiative from one of the women featured in the new photo shoots. Pheline Roggan is one of six young German actors appearing in a fashion shoot in the new issue. Until a couple of years ago, however, she was a professional model and appeared on the cover of the Italian Vogue, among other publications.
"If Brigitte is going to not use professional models and move away from the usual image of women that you see in fashion magazines, then they should be courageous and go the whole way," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "They should use real women that reflect their readers."
Roggan is skeptical about why she was asked to participate. "I only had a small part in the film but they really wanted me to take part in the photo shoot. They probably wanted someone who could fit into the clothes."
Huber said she was unaware of Roggan's past as a professional model but said it was of no significance. "She is in there because she is an actor -- it makes no difference what she did in the past," she said. "Actors fit in well in the diverse mix and broad spectrum of women that we want to have in the magazine. There is no contradiction there."
Roggan is basically supportive of the initiative, however. "As a former professional model and as a regular woman I generally like the approach Brigitte is aiming at by not using models any more," she says. "There is a need for a magazine that shows another view of women than the typical 'Photoshopped' model. They just have to be brave enough to really pull it off."
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