In a September of Skinnies, Redbook Highlights Body Diversity
A conversation with EIC Meredith Rollins on how the brand leans into imperfection.
As September persists, and the shelf weight of the famed fall fashion issues eases, it’s time to ask not how much magazine we were given, but how well it was given to us.
While newsstand sales and ad revenue might tell us about the business of magazines, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has its own standard of success: how does it make the reader feel?
With that question in mind, NEDA has awarded Redbook’s September issue the NEDA Inspires Seal of Approval, which honors content that challenges the "thin ideal" and promotes diverse representations.
Given a ratebase of 2,200,000, and last September's print and digital single copy sales of 88,629 — according to its AAM reports — such editorial decisions can have a lot of reach.
Folio: caught up with editor-in-chief Meredith Rollins to find out what body-positivity means for a contemporary women’s magazine, and how Redbook balances curation with accessible content.
Folio: NEDA honored Redbook’s September 2016 issue for celebrating body diversity. What was the inspiration behind the issue?
Meredith Rollins: First, it was a huge thrill to get the NEDA award; this is an organization that has been doing incredible work around eating disorders and body image. But to answer the question, the inspiration behind the issue is to show that style doesn't come in just one model-thin package. September marks our third year of the Real Women Style Awards, and our second time putting our winners on the cover. This year, as last year, they are a totally stunning group of six women, and they encompass a range of body types. In September, when we all get excited about fall fashion, it's super-important to me to underline the fact that being chic doesn't depend on fitting into a sample size. All types of bodies are beautiful.
Folio: Women’s magazines are often criticized for showing a narrow or shallow version of womanhood. What responsibility do you feel Redbook has to address or challenge these criticisms?
Rollins: Showing diversity — in all its forms — is incredibly important, and I think our commitment to it at Redbook is part of why we've attracted so many new readers. There’s such gorgeous diversity in America, and my point of view is that we should constantly celebrate it and reflect it back to our readers. I don't want anyone to open the magazine or visit the website or interact with us on social and not feel like they are part of the conversation.
Rollins: We photograph non-models and non-celebrities for our fashion and beauty pages constantly. We shoot models too — we feature an amazing Broadway dancer in the fashion story in our upcoming October issue — but I do think that most women are more apt to believe that an outfit or beauty trick will work on them if they see it on a person who isn't professionally beautiful. They can relate to it more. And relatability is key.
Folio: How is body positivity expressed in Redbook’s normal editorial cycle?
Rollins: We think about it a lot. We emphasize health and strength over getting thin; we give nutrition advice but never tell anyone to go on a diet; we talk constantly about confidence and finding pride in who you are. Body positivity isn't just about finding your perfect-fitting pair of jeans (though that helps!). It's about remembering to value yourself every day.
Folio: Who are your readers? What are they like?
Rollins: Redbook readers love style and want to live a gorgeous, well-curated life, but they're also being pulled in a million different directions. Since their free time is in such short supply, we give them the tools to do everything faster and more easily: find a cute outfit, get a great beauty routine, design a lovely home, put something delicious on the table. Plus, we focus on helping them build confidence, advocate for themselves, and have the courage to get the job and salary they deserve. We're a one-stop shop for women who simply don't have the energy to read a bunch of different magazines, and we hear all the time that readers love us for that. Plus, we know that our readers want content that's funny and voicey and celebrates how imperfect life is, so we laugh at ourselves a lot too.
Folio: Tell me about Redbook’s digital presence. What formats do most of your readers use?
Rollins: Well, our readers are overwhelmingly moms, so they're all over mobile. If you want to see women on their phones, go stand at the sidelines of a kid’s soccer game: Everyone is doing everything at once — shopping, social media, planning their schedules, texting, reading a magazine. So Redbook is huge on mobile. And our readers are all over Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest too.
Folio: What can we expect from Redbook moving forward?
Rollins: What we're doing is clearly resonating with readers and the marketplace, so we'll continue to deliver smart, beautiful content to women whose lives are time-crunched and crazy-busy. They deserve the reminder that life doesn't need to be perfect. It needs to be simpler, and prettier, and happier — that's what's most important.