The Most Controversial Celebrity Magazine Photo Shoots

In a photo shoot with her husband behind the lens, Angelina Jolie showed the world a softer side. She and Brad Pitt let the public have a glimpse into their life with their six children in 2008 for W magazine. Brad’s photos accompanied a very candid interview from the two about children, marriage and family. Angie admitted she “genuinely [feels] even sexier” thanks to being with someone who appreciates how her body has grown and developed over her pregnancies. The actor even caught her smiling as she breastfed one of her twins, a revealing photo that ended up on the cover.

That cover definitely generated a lot of buzz, but many agreed that it was beautifully done. It exposed just enough to remain tasteful, with the tiny baby hand only adding to the emotion of the photo. While this cover stirred up a lot of positive publicity, there have been plenty others that have been by clouded in controversy. Here’s a look at eight different types of controversial photo shoots and the celebs who found themselves caught up in it all.

8 No. 8 – Young and Sexualized: Britney Spears, Rolling Stone

We wouldn’t know it just yet, but Britney Spears’ debut album would become the best selling album ever by a teenager. Back in 1999, ... Baby One More Time went two-times platinum in only a month. Britney’s success was skyrocketing thanks in part to her catchy pop songs and her marketable image. At just 17, she was American’s teen dream and Rolling Stone capitalized on that when they had her appear wearing very little on their cover in 1999.

The American Family Association labelled her cover “a disturbing mix of childhood innocence and adult sexuality”, calling for a boycott of the album. Britney didn’t seem to mind; she was ready to shed her “Debbie Gibson (...) bubblegum” image. Photographer David LaChappelle said that originally Britney told her manager she didn’t feel right doing the cover, but once he left the room, “Britney said ‘Lock the door’ and unbuttoned her shirt wide open”. The cover was the first scandal to her name for what would be a long up and down career for the pop princess.

Britney wasn’t the only teen starlet to stir the pot, though.

Miley Cyrus also caused an outrage for her appearance in Vanity Fair in 2008. Back before her short hair, foam thumb, twerking days, Miley was photographed by Annie Leibovitz wrapped in only a bed sheet that exposed her naked back. Disney, who Miley still worked for as Hannah Montana at the time, called the shoot a “a situation [that] was created to deliberately manipulate a 15-year-old in order to sell magazines”. While Leibovitz called the photo “beautiful”, Miley issued an apology while her father Billy Ray found himself on the hot seat.

The stars of Glee, the late Cory Monteith, Lea Michele and Diana Agron, also angered The Parents Television Council when they appeared on the cover of GQ. The naughty school girl look upset the council who called it “pedophilia” since these adult actors played high school students on television.

7 No. 7 – Pregnant and Nude: Demi Moore, Vanity Fair

Cindy Crawford did it. Britney Spears did it. Even Claudia Schiffer, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Miranda Kerr and Jessica Simpson did it. They all bared their pregnant bodies in photo shoots for the world to see. But what’s now common place, something we don’t even blink at, was once controversial and it all began with Demi Moore. In 1991, Demi stripped down for Annie Leibovitz on the cover of Vanity Fair; it was so risqué for the time that the magazine was sealed in a white envelop, only Demi’s eyes peaked over the top. While many critics viewed the cover as “high art” that made a strong statement about celebrity, pregnancy and beauty, others were less than impressed. Many stores flat out refused to sell the issue; others sold it with a wrapper similar to those found on adult magazines.

Demi later shared that this wasn’t intended to be a magazine spread, but a personal session. However, she has said that she felt “glamorous, beautiful and more free about [her] body”.

Since then, the iconic pose has also been used for shock value. New York Magazine used a 63-year-old model, and thanks to photoshop, she was able to appear pregnant for the sake of their article, which asked the question how old is too old to be pregnant.

Going back to Demi, a year later, she took to the cover again of Vanity Fair again - but this time in nothing more than body paint. This cover sold over 540,000 copies, which was nearly 210,000 more copies than the other 11 issues combined.

6 No. 6 – Skin Lightening: Lupita Nyong’o, Vanity Fair

Prior to the Kenyan actress delivering a moving and beautiful speech for her award-winning performance in 12 Years A Slave, Lupita Nyong’o was the subject of controversy. After her appearance in the magazine, critics slammed Vanity Fair for digitally altering her skin to look lighter. While some argued that her skin was merely reflecting the hyper-white background (including lights, clothes and balloons), others were in an uproar.

Gabourey Sidibe found herself amidst a similar argument back in 2010.

For their 25th anniversary issue, ELLE magazine featured four female celebrities who were “changing the world” – Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried and Lauren Conrad in addition to Sidibe. The magazine received a backlash, with critics arguing that not only was Sidibe’s skin lightened, but that they discriminated her based on size by featuring a head shot of the Precious star rather than a full body shot like the other celebs. ELLE responded that “nothing out of the ordinary” had been done to Sidibe’s photo.

5 No. 7 – Racial Insensitivity: LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen, Vogue

King James was the first black man to appear on the cover of Vogue, making fans of the NBA and the magazine quite happy back in 2008. But as soon as it hit stands, it had critics crying out. The magazine was felt to be employing racial stereotypes. LeBron was argued to be displaying a “gorilla-like pose, baring his teeth”, according to USA Today. That, combined with a very awkwardly posed and somewhat frail looking Gisele, made fans suggest the photo was “likened to King Kong and Fay Wray". Annie Leibovitz, who shot Miley’s suggestive spread for Vanity Fair in 2008, also snapped LeBron and Gisele.

LeBron commented on the controversy: “everything my name is on is going to be criticized in a good way or bad way. Who cares what anyone says?”

4 No. 4 - #WorldsMostTalkedAboutCouple – Kim and Kanye, Vogue

Kim’s desire to see herself on the cover of Vogue finally became a reality. In the latest April issue, Kimye graced the cover as not only the first reality television star and rapper, but also first interracial couple to do so. Kim kept any diva antics in-check, as she was on her best behavior. (Though baby North did what she pleased; she apparently peed on her dad during the shoot.). Despite having her wish fulfilled (exclaiming she’s “honored” by it all), celebs’ and the public’s reaction to the decision by the glamorous magazine has been brutal to say the least.

Actress Sarah Michelle Gellar took to Twitter: “Well.... I guess I’m cancelling my Vogue subscription.” Others were simply surprised that Vogue Editor Anna Wintour finally relented. She previously said Kim would only be in the magazine “over her dead body” going as far as to cut Kim out of photos that included Kanye. Several spoofs, including one from Seth Rogen (with his head on Kim’s body) and James Franco (with his head on Kanye’s body) have since surfaced.

Reports are now surfacing though that other magazines – Harpers Bazaar and Vanity Fair – were in a bidding war over the couple’s cover, maybe indicating that the fashion world is ready to accept the reality royal.

This is not Kim’s first cover controversy. She posed nude for W magainze, but assumed it would be covered and tasteful in 2010. When she received the proofs and saw just how naked she’d be, her diva behavior emerged. By the time the spread was finalized, she was much happier with the outcome but still felt somewhat betrayed by the magazine.

3 No. 3 – Made to Look Thinner: Jennifer Lawrence, Flare

“If anyone even whispers the word ‘diet’, I’m like, ‘You can go f*ck yourself,” shared an exasperated JLaw to Harper’s Bazaar UK in November. The 23-year-old Oscar winner has been wonderfully candid about her weight with the media, so that’s why it was all the more shocking when untouched photos of the blonde beauty began circulating this past winter. Seems there was quite a lot of digital alteration to her 2011 Flare cover, including inches off her waist and hips and darkening of her eyebrows and hair. The media were in a frenzy, noting that the changes were definitely unnecessary. Jennifer didn’t comment on the controversy but we’re sure she’d be less than impressed.

Adele’s 2012 Vogue photo shoot also came under scrutiny for being airbrushed.

While Adele spoke out about not wanting to be “some Skinny Minnie” in an interview to Anderson Cooper, neither her nor Vogue commented on the cover itself. Fans were upset that the Grammy winner looked visibly thinner in her arms, waist and cheekbones, not to mention a general enhancement of her facial features.

Mindy Kaling and Melissa McCarthy also were under fire for their ELLE magazine covers. Similar to Gabby Sidibe’s cover for the mag, critics weren’t impressed that these curvaceous actresses were cropped and covered up. Kaling’s cover showed a headshot while McCarthy’s had her masked in a large trench coat.

Both funny ladies spoke out on the issue. Kaling said: “I didn’t expect the reaction (...) which was, ‘Does ELLE magazine think Mindy’s not skinny enough to show her whole body, standing up from head to toe?” She went on to say she felt “glamorous & cool”. McCarthy’s “jack gate” was a “big to-do” over nothing. She joked, “How dare someone put me in a $3,000 coat? That’s terrible.”

2 No. 2 – Posing as Jesus: Kanye West, Rolling Stone

Shortly after winning a Grammy for “Jesus Walks”, the rapper appeared on the cover as the Son of God himself. “You want me to be great, but you don’t ever want me to say I’m great?”, Kanye told the magazine. Kanye’s no stranger to controversy (from stealing the spotlight from Taylor Swift to some politically insensitive remarks about Hurricane Katrina), but this still generated a huge backlash.

Since then, Kanye’s upped his game, even bringing a “White Jesus” on stage with him on his latest tour. The rapper consulted a pastor for advice, who confirmed for him that “people [can] play Jesus” and “that’s what’s really awesome about Christianity”. In the eyes of Kanye, none of this is blasphemy and he’s merely trying to let his fans know how to develop a relationship with God.

Another controversial figure in her own right, Lindsay Lohan also dressed as Jesus for a photo shoot. Terry Richardson captured the troubled starlet back in 2010 (just in time for Lent) for the cover of Purple magazine. Among the many she upset, the Catholic League spoke out, calling for Lindsay to apologize. (They’d be just one of many in a long line who’s probably still waiting on that apology!)

1 No. 1 – Dead Celebrities and Bad Decisions: Drake, Rolling Stone

Drake got himself into hot water earlier this year for some inappropriate comments. Seems the Canadian rapper worked himself into a frenzy after the magazine substituted his cover story for one about the recently departed Philip Seymour Hoffman, though still running the spread about Drake within the issue. He tweeted, “I’m disgusted with that. RIP to Phillip [sic] Seymour Hoffman. All respect due. But the press is evil.”

On top of the fans and media, it seems Drake’s PR team wasn’t too happy either. They parted ways with him just weeks after this incident. While Drake hasn’t necessarily changed his tune, he has cleared the air on the issue. He apologized to the Hoffman family, noting that it was “completely justifiable” for the mag to run the cover, and that he’s disappointed in how he handled and expressed himself. He stands by the fact that Rolling Stone shouldn’t have continued to run his spread though. Drake also deleted the tweets.

Also in trouble for its sensationalist cover was Newsweek, in 2011. They ran a shocking story speculating how Princess Diana would’ve been at 50. The cover has her walking side by side with her daughter-in-law Kate while the article even included a fake Facebook page (with over 100,000 friends listed). The backlash was significant: the LA Times described the image as “shocking” while the New York Magazine said it was “beyond tacky.”

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