Number 29 bends so low the photographer’s camera lens is centred with the crack of cleavage between her breasts – and he’s crouching on the floor nearly six inches below the makeshift stage. The blonde then sucks in her small belly and, impossibly, she’s thinner. Slow and exact, her hands rove over the tight fabric of her shameless black dress, lingering on X-spots.

Five camera flashes, 20 seconds and it’s over.

I could have been No. 45. Instead, I retreat back to the mix of media and male gawkers after seeing the photographer encourage No. 33 to inch up her shirt.

Tucked into a corner of swanky Toronto club This Is London, the softly-lit stage was originally set for celebrity guests – like wrestler Big Deal – at the mid-September launch of Canada’s newest women’s magazine, Bobbi. No one actually asked the bombshells to get on stage. Creative director Stephanie Martino says she was lucky that model applications from UMM – the Canadian men’s magazine that created Bobbi – were handy, because centre-spread hopefuls wouldn’t stop asking for them.

These impromptu photo shoots started a week earlier at the magazine’s Ottawa launch and are part ofBobbi‘s mandate to turn the lady’s world of fashion and beauty magazines upside down. But, as I see No. 37 joined by two buff men, I wonder if there’s more to Bobbi than making would-be readers into Miss UMM.

Like Masthead magazine editor Bill Shields says, if UMM is publisher Abbis Mahmoud’s Canadian G-rated Playboy – he’s known to admire Hugh Hefner – then Bobbi is his Playgirl.

Actually dubbed the “girlfriend” magazine to UMM (Urban Male Monthly) by editor Jen Hooey, Bobbi is tagged as “everything a modern girl needs.” And that’s not, Hooey says, 80 pages of advertising on fashion and beauty followed by 40 pages of editorial on the same. While Bobbi will tell its readers what Paris Hilton is wearing, she says, it will also fill in the gaps other women’s magazines ignore: electronics, video games, cars, motorcycles, poker and world issues.

And if that sounds eerily close to a men’s magazine, thats’ because it’s supposed to.

Bobbi sells itself as the magazine for young, hip women who like gadgets more than cooking and motorcycles as much as lipstick, betting there are a lot of young, hip women out there who want their own kind of women’s magazine. But it’s also the magazine for women who aspire to be “babes of the month” for UMM.

 

Managing editor Chris Tessaro says that women in their readership target – 18 to 34 year olds – still aren’t recognized as powerful consumers in what have been traditionally male markets, like trendy electronics and sleek automobiles. “Thirty years ago,” he says, “the ideal was put forth that women had to wait for marriage to think about those things, but that’s no longer the case.”

So, in its premiere issue, Bobbi offered women advice on things like how to buy a stylish hard drive and learn to ride a Harley. “I find that fascinating – almost revolutionary,” says Lisa Rundle, co-editor of Turbo Chicks, an anthology of feminist writing. “How sad is that?”

So, when the geek in me drools over Bobbi‘s review of video game Dreamfall – the lead female character’s breasts are actually smaller than my head – I have to admit they have a point. I would never find this in Canada’s feminist magazine, Herizons, or in its largest selling monthly, Chatelaine. Shields calls Bobbi a “novel” idea for that reason. The magazine will fill a market void, he says, and there really isn’t a magazine like it in English-speaking Canada.

Canadian women’s magazines today are big on puff. Flare, Fashion, Lou Lou, Elle Canada and Glow all focus on traditional female staples like home, fashion, beauty and shopping. Even Chatelaine has distanced itself from the relevancy it gained during the Doris Anderson days and moved into a world of tortes and flambés. And, as Rundle says, it’s not that women don’t like reading about trendy clothes and tasty recipes – they do – it’s that they want more. “I don’t object to what’s in there,” Rundle says, “but to what’s not in there.”

Back at the Toronto launch, there isn’t much that isn’t there. Across the room from No. 29, a poker table is crowded with men and women oblivious to the incessant beat of club music. A film of smoke covers them even though nobody’s smoking. The game is sponsored by online site fullcontactpoker.com, and users have “full contact” with poker guru Daniel Negreanu. I’ve never heard of him, but I take a free visor.

In line with the table is a live bodypiercing set-up. A brunette teeters into the leather chair and passes her drink to one of two friends. The other pulls out a camera and clicks a play-by-play of the nose piercing. Those heading to the washroom stop to watch. The inch-long needle hangs suspended in the girl’s nose before the piercer grabs the stud. One Q-Tip, two, three turn red as he blots the blood. And I was always told you shouldn’t drink before being pierced.

The delicate balance between macho men and modern women seems to have had its first blush of success. Tessaro says Bobbi‘s premiere issue had a sell-through of 18 per cent in its first week – normally premiere issues average one point less than that in a month. He says Bobbi gained its unique outlook because publisher Mahmoud went to the “grassroots” – a strange term to use for a magazine that has Matthew McConaughey plastered on its front cover. Tessaro explains his use of the term, saying that for three years prior to the launch Mahmoud asked every woman he met what Canadian magazines were missing for them. It turned out to be the basics of UMM – cars, gadgets, games and music – mixed in with women’s beauty and fashion.

And I’m not entirely against the UMM man. I did go all prickly when singer Jarvis Church brushed against me at the launch. And when Bobbi‘s male models smiled at me, I smiled back. But when Bobbi asks me to admit I sometimes trip across a guy that makes [my] tongue roll out of [my] mouth. Not because he’s smart, or funny, or thoughtful, but simply because he’s tasty, I revolt. Like Rundle, I just want something more.

Bobbi tries. Hooey says the Global Vision section of the magazine is designed to “open people’s eyes to women’s issues around the world.” While the attempt is laudable, the tone, which is designed to be conversational, is as cheesy as No. 29’s moves. For instance, a line in the opening for Bobbi’s spread on sex trafficking, female genital mutilation and female education: “As a woman living in a developed nation you are the sole decider of what does, and more importantly, does NOT happen to your body.”

Excuse me? Combined with the constant use of the phrase, “As a western woman,” the “Us vs. Them” positioning does much to bolster the middle-class white woman, but nothing to remind her that rape, abortion rights, prostitution and physical abuse are close to her in Canada. Former Homemaker’s editor Dianne Rinehart says Canada is composed of people from all over the world, and it’s naive to think that everything that is happening overseas is not happening here. “There’s a suggestion in that attitude,” she says, “that women aren’t capable of reading international issues in an intelligent way.”

I’m informed and intelligent enough to be aware of female genital mutilation in Mali. I don’t need a “Hey, this is what’s up” from Bobbi. I need a report that speaks to these women, that fills me with their helplessness, that sends the pain of having my clitoris cut off by scissors through me, and that makes me feel the sweat bloom on my forehead as metal connects to skin.

But then, Tessaro will remind me, “We’re not the Times, we’re not Maclean’s. We don’t want to be that. We’ll never, never be that.”