A controversial magazine cover is already an old concept. Back in 1939, Time Magazine released an issue with its cover depicting Adolf Hitler in a cathedral, playing the piano. This issue sparked reactions worldwide because the photo included bodies hanging around him while Nazi officers were just looking on. The magazine had to explain itself for decades, even up to now, for this 1939 cover.
Fast forward almost thirty years after and another magazine cover became the subject of criticism, outrage, and controversy. A lot of other covers followed suit. So if you want to know what these magazines are and what they did to elicit this kind of reaction from the public, you should read this list of ten of the most controversial magazine covers ever.
10. Playboy, October 1971 Issue – The First African American Playboy Bunny
In October of 1971, Playboy Magazine became a subject of outrage and controversy. Featured in this issue was Darine Stern, the first ever African American Playboy Bunny. She was naked with her left leg propped up on a chair. The only thing that was covering her was the back of the chair, which was designed to look like the logo of Playboy. 1971 was a time when this was considered to be extremely outrageous. The photo has been replicated in October of 2009, but this time, with Marge Simpson being the cover.
9. Esquire, April 1968 Issue – The Passion of Muhammad Ali
The April 1986 Esquire issue featured boxer Muhammad Ali in a pose that was taken from ‘The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian’. The magazine faced controversies and issues because during this time, Ali’s heavyweight boxing title was stripped off of him due to his refusal to enlist in the United States military service for religious reasons. This kind of refusal was considered as a felony during that time. In addition to this, his boxing license was also suspended and he was faced with a sentence of five years in prison.
8. Vibe, 1995 Issue – TLC Fires it Up
If you have seen the cover of the 1995 issue of Vibe magazine, then it might have come as a surprise to you seeing that it is included in this list. Yes, the cover is definitely a lot more demure when you compare it with the others in this list. However, the reason why the magazine cover became controversial is because at the time the issue was published, Lisa Lopes (known as Left Eye), was actually under investigation. She was suspected of burning down the home where she and her boyfriend lived while under the influence of alcohol. Vibe was criticized for making light of Lisa’s alcohol abuse and for glamorizing the act she committed.
7. Vogue, April 2008 Issue – LeBron James and Gisele Bündchen Racism
When Vogue published their April 2008 Shape issue, the magazine quickly became a subject of numerous controversies as well as reader outrage. In this issue, prominent basketball player LeBron James was depicted holding Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen with a menacing look on his face. Critics said that this portrayal was a form of racism. In its defense, the magazine claimed that the two were chosen specifically for the cover, given that they had the best physique in their industries.
6. Dazed & Confused, September 2012 Issue – Azealia Banks Blows up a Condom
The September 2012 issue of Dazed & Confused was banned in seven different countries even before it was released. The cover of the issue featured Azealia Banks, a rapper, blowing up and into a pink condom. The headline, which was ‘Azealia Banks Blows Up’ surrounded her photo.
5. Fangoria (Unknown Issue) – Pig Headed, Chainsaw-Sporting Killer
Fangoria is a magazine devoted to horror films. Despite being not-so-popular, the magazine became the subject of controversy when its issue featuring the pig-headed, chainsaw-sporting killer from the movie Motel Hell was published. Since people considered it to be extremely disturbing, the issue had to be pulled out.
4. Dossier, May 2011 Issue – Shirtless Andrej Pejic
In the May 2011 issue of the Dossier magazine, the cover featured Andrej Pejic removing his shirt. For those of you who do not know this model, he was actually famous not only due to his androgynous looks, but also for his modeling career and being a part of women’s fashion runways. The issue was required to be censored or pulled out because critics said the photo looked too much like a half-naked preteen girl.
3. Q Magazine, April 2010 Issue – Lady Gaga in Padded Pants
A lot of magazine covers became controversial for women being featured with their breasts all bare. However, this was not the case for the controversies that surrounded the April 2010 Q Magazine issue. This issue featured Lady Gaga on its cover, with her bare breasts only being covered by a single gloved hand. This was not the focal point of the outrage though; it was the padded pants that she was wearing that made it seem she had a penis.
2. Time, May 2012 Issue – Jami Lynne Grumet Breastfeeding
While the concept behind breastfeeding has long since been present since time immemorial, the cover of the May 2012 Time issue featuring Jami Lynne Grumet and covering the subject ‘attachment parenting’ resulted in a massive number of controversies. Why? The cover featured then-26 year old Grumet breastfeeding (albeit, fully clothed) her then-3 year old son. A lot of people became outraged not only because of her bare breast, but also because a child of that age was still being breastfed.
1. Vanity Fair, August 1991 Issue – Naked and Pregnant Demi Moore
When it comes to talk about controversial magazine covers, the first thing that may definitely come into mind is the August 1991 Vanity Air issue that featured Demi Moore. This is one of the most iconic shots of Annie Leibovits, because Demi Moore was not only naked on the cover, she was also seven months pregnant. The actress was carrying her second daughter with prominent actor Bruce Willis when the shoot was performed. At the time, this cover was described as disgusting and shameful. However, today, the image has been parodied and replicated numerous times.
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