The Top 10 Most Controversial Magazine Covers

In the midst of our August issue’s controversial cover, we thought we’d look at some of the most controversial covers of all time:

Newsweek, 21 May 2012

‘America’s First Gay President’

A play on a previous New Yorker article, citing Clinton as ‘America’s first black president’, Newsweek’s provocative cover and related article referred to Obama’s political strategy that led to him declaring his support for same-sex marriage.


TIME, 21 May 2012

‘Are You Mommy Enough?’

The attachment parenting theory has been discussed ad nauseum with opposing views; particularly on breastfeeding. Jamie Lynne Grumet, the now-poster child for attachment parenting, appeared on the cover of TIME breastfeeding her three-year-old toddler. In response to the cover’s attention, parenting journalist Pamela Sitt raised the question of whether it ultimately hurt or helped the perception of breastfeeding.


US Vogue, April 2008

‘Gisele and LeBron’

Vogue’s 2008 shape issue featured Gisele, and in an historic first for the magazine, a black male. The cover caused uproar because of the racial undertones of displaying LeBron as aggressive: his expression and stance were thought to be primitive and ‘King Kong’ like.

Time, 27 June 1994

‘An American Tragedy’

Following the arrest of OJ Simpson on the double murder charge of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, Simpson’s mug shot appeared on both TIME and Newsweek’s covers. However, side-by-side, the photo manipulation employed by artist, Matt Mahurin to darken the image was evident, and an outcry ensued. Many believed the artist’s interpretation to demonize him, resulting in the issue’s recall and revised cover.

US Vanity Fair, August 1991

‘More Demi Moore’

Photographed by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, Demi’s bare baby bump received either one of two opinions when it made its debut. Was it sexual objectification, or women’s empowerment? Following a number of celebrity copycats in years gone by, the debate continues.


US Rolling Stone, January 1981

John Lennon and Yoko Ono

The January 1981 issue of Rolling Stone featured a photograph from Lennon’s last professional photo shoot: he was killed five hours later. On seeing the initial Polaroid image, he exclaimed that photographer Annie Leibovitz had captured he and Ono’s relationship exactly. Fans of The Beatles had blamed Yoko for the band’s split and his vulnerable demeanour in relation to Yoko on this cover, confirmed this as a possible reality.


US Hustler, June 1978

‘Last All Meat Issue’

Words don’t suffice here. Women have for years been sexually objectified and as the cover cites, ‘hung as meat’. This graphic cover sparked a dividing conversation for the feminist movement of the time: was pornography sexual exploitation or sexual liberation?


National Lampoon, January 1973

‘If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog’

Like any humour magazine, National Lampoon (now out of print), pushed boundaries. Beyond the concept of the cover, its production was found unsettling. Free of photo trickery, the revolver was not only pointed toward the dog, but was cocked in order to achieve the dog’s expression.


TIME, 8 April 1966

‘Is God Dead?’

Perhaps Time’s most contentious cover: the question, in reference to Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ posit, explored the ‘death of God’ movement at the time. This all text cover was a first for the magazine: with such powerful and provocative text, a cover image was superfluous.


Life, 26 November 1965

‘The Blunt Reality of War in Vietnam’

This image, one in a series of Vietnam covers Life magazine ran, served as a gruesome glimpse into the realities of war. Many had held a naïve outlook on the situation and the image shocked: no longer could one choose to be ignorant.

Nikki Horsten, CT intern