Shape Redesigns to Address a “Cultural Shift” Around Fitness
Editor-in-chief Elizabeth Goodman Artis takes Folio: inside the magazine's new look.
Entering her fifth year as editor-in-chief of Shape, Meredith Corp.’s 37-year-old fitness-turned-“active lifestyle” magazine, Elizabeth Goodman Artis is no longer interested in telling women what to do.
In her editor’s letter to open Shape‘s May issue—the first since the magazine underwent a significant redesign—she writes of a cultural shift around the concept of healthy living that’s taken place since the title published its first issue in 1981, from a world of leotards and fat burning to a recognition that fitness means something more holistic.
“I wanted the magazine to reflect the modern, active, healthy woman—which is pretty much everybody these days—and I wanted to have a content mix that felt balanced, realistic, and appropriate for a magazine today,” says Goodman Artis.
Today, that means changing the way brand speaks to its readers, cultivating a more inclusive, approachable experience by expanding the variety of voices featured in the magazine and adopting a softer, less-assertive tone. For starters, every section in the book now begins with the verb “Be.” The section formerly called “Get Fit” is now “Be Fit + Healthy; “Eat Right” now “Be Food Curious.” It’s a subtle change, acknowledges Goodman Artis, but a consequential one.
“I don’t want to tell women to eat right; I want them to get excited about healthy eating,” she tells Folio:. “I want to invite readers to be part of the content, rather than having section names that feel like a command to perform. It didn’t feel like the way I wanted to talk to women anymore.”
The change is also an acknowledgement that the way women are consuming lifestyle content is changing. Amid an especially difficult newsstand environment for women’s titles in recent years, Meredith has held Shape‘s rate base steady at 2.5 million—the mark the company raised it to when it acquired the magazine and merged it with Fitness in 2015, placing Shape alongside heavyweights like Cosmopolitan and Glamour.
In and around the health and fitness sections in particular, features will shift from an emphasis on functional content to more storytelling—from news and studies to firsthand experiences. Goodman Artis notes that Shape.com is more befitting of workouts and training routines, and that the website has increased its video output from two or three videos each month to more than 50.
“I feel like the magazine arm of this brand provides a moment to get excited about healthy living, to see how other people are living this lifestyle, to learn,” says Goodman Artis. “And then on Shape.com you can get very specific information about exactly how to do a proper lunge or a 10-minute yoga workout.”
Newly appointed fashion and lifestyle director, Brooke Ely Danielson—who joined Shape in December after stops at Vogue and Glamour—has ushered in the new “Be the Style” section, which Goodman Artis describes as covering fashion in a “post-athleisure world,” encouraging readers to embrace their own unique styles.
Revamped beauty, fashion, food, health, and fitness sections aside, the most obvious change to the book is its new cover design driven by creative director Noah Dreier, who joined Shape from Condé Nast’s Glamour in August.
Perhaps unfamiliar to Shape readers who have grown accustomed to full-body shots of toned, swimwear-clad models, the May cover is a shoulders-up portrait of actress Kate Mara, accompanied by just three cover lines and featuring the all-caps headline, “Be Bold!”
Goodman Artis says the shift in Shape‘s cover design is symbolic of its overall change in tone, and that it’s something she and Dreier have pushed incrementally over several of the magazine’s most recent issues leading up to the wholesale redesign.
“I really want to bring out our cover subjects’ personalities,” she says. “I don’t want to put them in a box, and I don’t want to force them to wear bathing suits. I don’t want to reduce women to abs and body parts. That’s very much by design.”
The magazine’s covers will continue to feature fewer cover lines and maintain the same fonts, but Goodman Artis says each will be unique to its subject—a departure from the “cookie-cutter” designs of the past. Another departure for the May issue’s cover is the fact that the magazine’s logo is fully visible for the first time in several years.
“That’s always an issue. Ask any editor of a women’s magazine,” says Goodman Artis. “You don’t want to push the figure down too much, but you also don’t want to cover up the logo. I’m not sure it’s always going to go over the subject in the future, but in this case it worked well. With this being the debut issue, it’s nice to see the logo in its entirety for the first time in a while.”
While many of the changes to the book were borne out of proprietary readership studies and anecdotal evidence of changing consumption patterns, Goodman Artis points to a three-year-old weight-loss story published in the magazine’s January/February 2015 issue as a seminal moment in the magazine’s broader shift.
“I insisted on having in the article’s deck something to the effect of, ‘You are not fat. Never call yourself that.’ You have to look at it differently.”
Goodman Artis says it’s that approach to healthy living that puts readers in a different mindset and allows for a reading experience free from anxiety—the type of welcoming safe space that the magazine aims to cultivate.
“You can’t please everybody all of the time,” she adds. “It’s a huge audience. My job as editor-in-chief is to look at what’s going on culturally and make changes to the brand to reflect that.”