10 Most Controversial Magazine Covers in Recent Memory

Whether or not putting Kimye on the cover of Vogue crosses the proverbial line, these images — fashion and otherwise — were the hotly contested covers of their day. They may offer some perspective…

April 1968
This rendering of Muhammad Ali — by the magazine’s famed art director, George Lois — portrays the boxer as a martyr after he refused to join the military due to religious objections. He was thus arrested, found guilty of draft evasion, and stripped of his heavyweight title. 

October 1971
This issue was Playboy’s first to feature an African-American woman, model Darine Stern, on its cover. It was seen by some as a step forward for civil rights and by others as a step back.

Rolling Stone
January 22, 1981
Annie Leibovitz photographed this iconic image just hours before John Lennon was killed. The American Society of Magazine Publishers calls it the most popular magazine cover of the past 40 years.

November 1988
Anna Wintour’s debut cover as editor-in-chief caused a furor among the style set for showing denim jeans — Guess, to be exact — in a prominent spot considered too sacred for such a downscale item.

Vanity Fair
August 1991
This Annie Leibovitz cover was deemed distasteful by the public, but has since gone on to launch countless imitators.

Vanity Fair
August 1993
The image of K.D. Lang and Cindy Crawford was intended to be provocative for its lesbian suggestions, but the country singer reportedly got more flak from the country music industry over joining PETA than for coming out.

April 14, 1997
The controversy with this cover is spelled out right on the front. Nearly 20 years ago, coming out in such a high-profile way could end a star’s career, even that of a trailblazer like Ellen Degeneres. This time, thankfully, it didn’t.

October 1998
Anna Wintour struck again by telling Oprah Winfrey she might feel “more comfortable” by shedding 20 pounds for her Vogue cover shoot. Oprah obliged and promptly checked into a weight loss boot camp in Colorado. But to many she appeared too thin.

Entertainment Weekly
May 2, 2003
The Dixie Chicks caused a major brouhaha among fans and non-fans alike, particularly those in red states, when they regaled George W. Bush for invading Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction. This cover reflects the polarized debate that ensued.

April 2008
Instead of portraying two public figures in excellent physical fitness, in keeping with the shape theme of the issue, many readers considered the image of Gisele Bundchen swinging off a roaring Lebron James a portrayal of King Kong — therefor racist for perpetuating the stereotype of the ‘angry black man.’

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