- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

When Glamour's May issue hit the stands featuring women with average bodies, Executive Editor Kristin van Ogtrap started receiving letters from tearful readers saying they had "never seen women who look like me" in a such a trendy magazine.

"Readers just went bananas," Ms. van Ogtrap said.

Successful women's magazines are discovering that today's reader wants more than sex advice or fad-diet plans. Instead of thin twentysomethings, they want to read about average-sized 30- or 40-year-olds who have led real lives.

Amy Gross, editor in chief of O magazine, which after two years in publication circulates at 2 million, says the secret is making an emotional connection with the reader.

The name association with talk show host Oprah Winfrey did not hurt.

"We are really talking across the board to a part of a woman's spirit, of being interested in living her best life," says Ms. Gross. "The magazine is about self-discovery, not self-improvement.

"We started going from zero to 60 in no time flat because we had instant name recognition. We began with a woman whose name had instant significance. People had an idea of what she was and what she represents."

O, which features a photo of Miss Winfrey on every cover, publishes a "mission calendar" with "31 ways to shake up the month," along with book discussions and relationship advice. Missing are some of the past staples of women's magazines such as the "must haves" for fall and the "50 ways to nab your man."

The market for women's magazines is volatile; industry leaders such as Mademoiselle and Working Woman went out of print last year.

O uses focus groups who say they feel "empowered" after reading the publication to sustain readership.

Diane Seimetz, partner in Launch Partnerships, an advertising agency in Dallas with clients who advertise to women, labels O and publications such as Real Simple and Lucky "women's friends magazines."

"We've been talking a lot about this because women are so busy and don't have the kind of time for friends that we used to," Ms. Seimetz said. "These kinds of magazines have really become that kind of 'friend.' Lucky is the kind of friend that would go shopping with you."

What women really want to read, said Ann Douglas a writer who has produced 21 books on pregnancy and parenting and has free-lanced widely for magazines is something that challenges the conventional wisdom of what it means to be happy and beautiful.

She notices more women are choosing to read magazines like O and Redbook for spiritual and self-fulfilling advice.

"I think that women are really starting to gravitate towards fun, sophisticated magazines," she says. "What they want are articles that will help them to make meaningful changes in their life. We're tired to death of the quick fix. We want lasting solutions."

O, for instance, labels itself as the "women's personal growth guide." In the July issue, the theme is adventure. Readers are encouraged to "live the life of your dreams."

Ms. Gross says O appeals to members of both sexes, as men tell her they read their wives' subscriptions. The publication, she adds, speaks largely to a shift away from trying to be the skinniest, the trendiest or the hottest.

"On [Oprahs] show and in this magazine, real people are heroes," she says. "It's less about celebrities than any other magazine. We're not impressed with someone because they made a movie or are a size 4.

"We're redefining happiness. I think we're a comfort. I think women spend time with us and feel they are really doing something for themselves. It's not empty calories."

Glamour's top editor agrees the key to attracting readers is creating a more accurate representation of women.

"Women are getting bigger. We have larger readers now," Ms. van Ogtrap said. "We've really turned up the volume in the last nine months on all-inclusive body-friendly content."

Ms. Seimetz said she has noticed a shift away from fashion and sex-advice magazines like Cosmopolitan and Vogue because they use "thought-leading instead of thought-sharing."

"They tell you what the trends are as opposed to saying, 'Hey, what do you think?'" she said.

The top five circulating women's magazines Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day and Ladies' Home Journal give tips on "doing things better" rather than focusing on fashion trends, analysts say.

The magazines also incorporate tips on home design and domestic how-tos, a trend Florida author and designer Kathy Peterson says keeps growing.

"Home decorating is a big, big trend now and women tend to want to do it themselves rather than hire out the work," she said. "Seems most every woman has a hidden 'designer' in them, and they are finally finding the courage and time to do it."

Women still are looking for advice, Mrs. Douglas says, but they expect the content to provide a variety of different viewpoints.

"I think we are much more free-spirited and much more in control of our lives," she says. "We don't want an expert being bossy. We no longer tolerate bossy experts telling us how to run our lives."

Parenting advice in particular has strayed from the traditional expert-driven content toward a more anecdotal approach, she said.

"We respond much better to the sharing of women's experiences," she said. "Who are you going to trust more: a doctor who never had children or the mom next door who potty-trained four kids?"

While Mrs. Douglas predicts that "light and fluffy" content always will have a place in women's magazines, she says the values promoted by today's generation of magazines will continue to sell.

"It's the stuff," she said, "you talk to your girlfriends about."

Sean Salai contributed to this report.

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