Dear Editor of Bella
One of my absolute favourite magazines was Bella. I first started buying it when I was twelve, back in the 1990s (yes, twelve) although I would always pretend it was for my mum so that I didn’t get a ribbing from my mates. The truth was Mum was lucky if she even got to see the front cover. It was on sale every Thursday, and I have fond memories of popping over to the paper shop that was across the road from the school at the end of the school day and buy a copy. I couldn’t wait to get home and read it from cover to cover. I can’t quite explain what the appeal was. There was something quite grown up about buying a magazine aimed at women at such a young age – and let’s face it – we all want to be grown up when we’re in our early teens! The crafts and cookery pages appealed to the creative side of me, and I loved collecting the recipe ‘cards’ – a page which contained cut out and keep recipes.
There were certain features I would read religiously. Precious Moments, where readers wrote in describing touching moments in their lives; Talking Point always raised interesting topics such as remaining a virgin until you were married or not being hired because you were too attractive (hmmm… come to think of it, the lady in that feature did look a lot like a young Samantha Brick…) My Own Story, which was a double page feature detailing a heart-rending moment in a reader’s life. I liked reading about different issues relating to friendships and romantic relationships on the Relationships page. I collected all the top tips and the Overheard part of the letters page – where readers would write in with things they had overheard while they were out and about – always made me laugh.
The Secret I Must Share was an absolute drop-everything-and-read feature where people talked about secrets they probably wouldn’t even tell their best friend. The very first one I read was about a mother who had encouraged her young son to steal before he could even walk – at eight he had become a real handful. Then there was the woman who had been having an affair with her American colleague for twelve years. People often used to say that the stories in the ‘Secret’ pages were made up. I don’t know if they were or not but I do know that they made very entertaining reading.
And oh my goodness, I LOVED THE FICTION PAGES! There would always be two stories each week. One would be a longer length romantic story and the other was my ultimate favourite, Mini Mystery which always featured the silhouette of a man with a magnifying glass as part of it’s logo and was typically a tale with a twist – which is my favourite type of tale. When I was fifteen, my English teacher read a short story I wrote and said that that was exactly the kind of ‘tale with a twist’ that she was trying to get out of her sixth formers. Well, perhaps they should have started reading Bella at twelve too!
I loved Bella‘s ‘realness’. It didn’t overdo the celebrity phenomenon and contained just the right amount of celebrity news. Bella was primarily about real people with real stories. Another plus point was that the cover star was always an unknown model rather than a famous face, which indicated that this was a magazine for ‘every woman.’ When I first started reading Bella, it was very much a non-colour magazine, with many of it’s features in black and white but nonetheless the magazine was far from bland or dated, although the introduction of colour photos was a welcome addition and for years very little about the magazine changed. Bella stuck to the format that readers knew and loved.
I can’t remember when I stopped buying Bella. It was definitely more than a decade ago. I know I remember thinking that it just wasn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong – I know that change can be necessary in order to keep things fresh and exciting rather than to stick to the same old format and allow things to go stale. But when the old format is a winning one, are so many changes really necessary?
Nostalgia took over last week when I decided to buy the latest copy of Bella. The first thing I noticed was that there were photos of five – that’s right, FIVE – celebrities on the cover alone. This proved to be telling. The first thirteen pages were dedicated to famous faces. This was then followed by several more pages of celebrity related features. True there were some real life stories but not nearly enough. All of my favourite features were long gone and worst of all, so were the fiction pages. In the ‘old days,’ I’d spend a good proportion of time reading Bella cover to cover. Now I could read it in well under an hour. The glossy, revamped version is definitely a far cry from what it used to be. Even the paper it’s printed on is different and there are way too many advertisements. I suspect that the main aim is to appeal to a more younger audience rather than those who have faithfully read Bella for years. But remember, I started buying the old-school Bella when I was twelve years old. How much younger would you like your audience to be?
The Bella I used to know was from 20 years ago so I understand that magazines have to reinvent themselves a little according to demand and changing times. However, Bella is now almost unrecognisable: it has gone from having varied content containing a bit of everything, recipes; readers stories; fiction; crafts; health; beauty; home design and more, to -and I’m really sorry to say it – a bland, uninteresting, watered down version of a celeb magazine. In fact it is now like every other women’s magazine out there and no longer stands out from the crowd. It’s lost it’s unique charm and appeal and has nothing different to offer.
I’ve read reviews concerning the ‘new’ Bella and it seems as though a lot of ex-readers are echoing my sentiments. It would be fantastic if you could bring back at least a few of the old faves and I would definitely love to see the fiction pages back where they belong. This may seem hard to believe but not everyone is interested in what celebs are getting up to or what they’re wearing. Most of us are actually bored with celeb news. Don’t believe me? Just check out the reviews. The irony is that magazine sales must be good otherwise the magazine would have folded a long time ago. But I’m pretty sure that many of those purchasing Bella are not the older readership. Anyone who has read Bella in the past and compared it to the more modern version will definitely see the difference in quality.
I was inspired to write this letter after a reader urged fellow (or former) readers to write to the editor and complain in a bid to bring back the old look Bella which we miss dearly. However, as much as we want that, I can’t see it happening which is very sad. Publishers seem to think that fashion and celebrity sell and maybe it does… but it’s not for everyone. I’m so glad I grew up in an era where we weren’t all so celeb-mad and our every move wasn’t dictated by what famous people we were never likely to meet were doing. I’m from the school of if ‘it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ so the total revamp, in my opinion, was unnecessary but clearly not everyone feels the same way. This letter is just my way of letting you know how much your old readership miss the old Bella… and how we have treasured memories of our once favourite read!