Demi Moore, Vanity Fair – August 1991
Before Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears bared their naked baby bumps, Demi Moore caused America’s collective jaw to drop by posing naked, while heavily pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair. Annie Leibovitz took the picture when the actress was seven months pregnant with her second daughter, Scout.
Britney Spears, Rolling Stone – March 1999
Dressed as a sexy schoolgirl and singing “hit me baby one more time,” a teenage Britney Spears was always pushing the envelope. But for some, she went way too far by appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone in a push-up bra and polka dot panties, while clutching a Teletubby. It was only a hint of what was to come from the young pop star!
‘Boston Bomber’, Rolling Stone – August 2013
Do killers deserve the celebrity treatment? Rolling Stone faced a fierce backlash for putting accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its front cover. Despite the controversy – and even though it was banned from some outlets – it was a winner for the rock mag, selling twice as many issues at the newsstand than its average.
Kanye West, Rolling Stone – February 2006
Like Rolling Stone, Kanye West is no stranger to controversial magazine covers. In February 2006, he appeared on the cover wearing a crown of thorns like Jesus Christ, next to the tagline “The Passion of Kanye West.” Photographer David LaChapelle said: “I wanted to make it look exactly like the DVD cover of [the film] The Passion of the Christ, right down to the individual thorns.”
Miley Cyrus, Vanity Fair – April 2008
Miley Cyrus didn’t have to stick out her tongue or twerk to ignite a firestorm when posing for Vanity Fair in 2008. Instead the then 15-year-old Hannah Montana star just had to pose half naked, clutching a sheet to cover her chest, while staring seductively into a camera held by Annie Leibovitz.
Breastfeeding Mom, Time – May 2012
Seeing a woman breastfeeding in public rightly or wrongly makes some people queasy at the best of times. Seeing a mom breastfeeding her three-year-old son while he stands up on a chair to reach her, staring back at you from a Time cover, is a whole other thing. “Are you mom enough?” the magazine asked as the rest of America prepared to weigh in.
The Obamas, The New Yorker – July 2008
What do you do when a popular African-American politician, with the middle name Hussein, is leading the presidential race during an election year? If you're the editor of The New Yorker you put a cartoon of he and his wife on the cover, fist bumping in the Oval Office, while dressed like Islamic terrorists with a portrait of Osama Bin Laden hovering in the background. Barack Obama’s camp said the cover was “tasteless and offensive,” while the editor defended it as being satirical.
Princess Diana and Kate Middleton, Newsweek – July 2011
It was supposed to imagine what the late Princess Diana would look like and be doing as she hit her 50s, but instead Newsweek’s July 2011 cover was widely derided. The then-editor Tina Brown defended her decision to put a superimposed image of an aged Diana on the cover next to the daughter-in-law she never met, Kate Middleton. Discussing the relationship the two women might have had, Brown said that Prince William’s mom would “have had to adjust to a broadening of the limelight.”
OJ Mug Shot, Time – June 1994
Wherever OJ Simpson goes controversy is sure to follow…even if that’s the cover of Time. In June 1994, the magazine faced a barrage of criticism – not for putting the mug shot of the accused murderer on its cover – but because of the way it was done. They made the former footballer look darker, leading to accusations of racism and counter-accusations that, by saying that darkening Simpson’s skin made him look more sinister, is itself racist.
Sarah Palin, Newsweek – November 2009
She has been parodied in porn films and when she hit the campaign trail in 2008 was celebrated for her good looks. But former Alaska governor Sarah Palin was not pleased when she appeared on a November 2009 issue of Newsweek wearing nothing but a pair of running shorts, a sweater, her glasses and a smile. The photo was originally taken to accompany a Runner’s World profile but mom-of-five branded the Newsweek cover as being “sexist” and “unfortunate.”
Azealia Banks, Dazed and Confused – September 2012
Strangely there is something about a woman pretending to smoke a blown up, pink condom on the cover of a magazine that just makes some countries want to ban the issue entirely. In August 2012 the following message appeared on the UK magazine’s Twitter page: “Just been told our upcoming @AZEALIABANKS cover has been banned from 7 countries so far. Thank God for the Internet, huh?”
Darine Stern, Playboy – October 1971
In 1971, Darine Stern became the first African-American woman to appear on the cover of Playboy. At the time, it was considered a daring decision.
Glee, GQ – November 2010
The Parents Television Council was up in arms when GQ released their November 2010 issue, featuring a racy shot of Cory Monteith sandwiched between a scantily clad Diana Agron and Lea Michele. Members were horrified that the Glee stars appeared in the Terry Richardson photo. While GQ’s editor defended the cover, Agron took to Tumblr to apologize saying that “these photos do not represent who I am.”
Noose, Golfweek – January 2008
This cover was so controversial that the editor was fired after it created widespread outrage. In January 2008, Golfweek featured a hanging noose on its cover to publicize their article about Golf Channel host Kelly Tilghman’s use of the word “lynch” in reference to Tiger Woods. Dave Seanor, who lost his job as a result of the “racially provocative” cover, told the New York Times: “Sitting in the editor’s chair in this day and age is sort of like walking a tightrope.”
LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen, Vogue – April 2008
“I don’t think there has been this much controversy over an American Vogue cover since 2008 with their April issue featuring LeBron James and Gisele Bundchen!” With these words, Kelly Osbourne drew a line between the Kimye/Vogue cover outrage and the one that erupted after the basketball player became the first black man to appear on the magazine’s cover. Many damned the photo for being racially insensitive likening it to the image of King Kong clutching 1930s actress Fay Wray.