22 of the most discussed and debated magazine covers ever

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Magazines can be a lot of things. Frivolous, fun, an escape from the world. But they can also be provocative and challenging, informative and a reminder that sometimes ideals need to be questioned and explored.

Whether taking a different angle on a highly politicised topic, uncovering a shocking truth, or presenting an image that makes us think twice, magazines can capture the zeitgeist in a way many other forms of publishing cannot. And to really make an impact and get people talking, debating and thinking an arresting front cover is a must.

From Rolling Stone's cover of the Boston bomber to Ellen Degeneres coming out on the front of Time magazine we take a look at some of the most hotly discussed covers of all time.

  • Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair

    Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in June of 2015. Formerly Bruce Jenner, the first portraits of Caitlyn were taken in her Malibu home by Annie Leibovitz.

    In the interview Jenner speaks movingly about her journey, telling interview Buzz  Bissinger, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.’ 

  • Kim Kardashian West on the cover of Paper

    The internet creaked under the explosion of chatter, commentary and critique when this picture of the internet's most discussed star was released. Kim's husband Kanye West shared the images with the caption #ALLDAY which, for a man known for liking the sound of his own voice, was brilliantly succinct. 

    In the words of the team over at Paper 'We gave ourselves one assignment: Break The Internet. There is no other person that we can think of who is up to the task than one Kim Kardashian West. A pop culture fascination able to generate headlines just by leaving her house, Kim is what makes the web tick.' 

    Picture: Jean-Paul Goude/Paper 

  • New York magazine's older women giving birth

    With the cover line "Is She Just Too Old For This?", New York magazine was headed for impact when discussing the subject of women giving birth over 50 featuring a 53-year-old pregnant woman on their cover. Read the fascinating article that accompanied this controversial cover here.

  • Ellen Degeneres comes out on the cover of Time

    Even though it was only 1997, coming out was still a big deal for Ellen Degeneres, which she decided to do publicly on the cover of Time magazine.

  • Time Out's sex issue

    True, this cover was actually hidden beneath a cover-wrap (advert) but peek below it and you couldn't mistake what that week's magazine was offering, even if you hadn't seen letters spelling out sex. While it might have been risqué, that doesn't mean it was a great piece of design from Noma bar.

  • Time magazine's 'Is God Dead?' issue

    This provocative cover was published in 1966, and drew great criticism from the clergy and the broader public. While the article was an in-depth look at the increasing secular society, it was the cover that offended most people. It was also the first time in the history of the magazine that they presented text with no accompanying image on the cover.

  • Lady Gaga's machine gun bra on the cover of Rolling Stone

    Not one for keeping out of the papers, Lady Gaga once again caused raised-eyebrows, and probably, raised voices when she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone wearing a gun bra.

  • Rolling Stone's Boston Bomber cover

    After the terrible bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013, Rolling Stone decided to publish its August issue with a picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - one of the bombers. Despite the fact that many had said they were going to boycott the magazine, the sales of the magazine doubled over that period.

  • Time magazine's breastfeeding cover

    What happens when you put a picture of a 26-year-old mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son on the cover of a magazine? A media storm is what. The issue was looking at the growth of attachment parenting, but many found the idea of it offensive.

  • Time magazine's 'Aisha' cover

    Time published this cover with a photo of Aisha, an 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off after fleeing her abusive in-laws. While the image and story were, and are, shocking, the message was incredibly strong.

  • Kanye West as Jesus Christ on the cover of Rolling Stone

    Another pop star who is renowned for courting controversy is Kanye West. Back in 2005, just after he won a Grammy for his track Jesus Walks, Kanye appeared with a crown of thorns on his head looking like the Messiah.

  • Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's Vogue cover

    No one ever believed Anna Wintour would grant reality TV star Kim Kardashian's wish to be on the cover of fashion bible Vogue US, but she did just that in April of this year. The decision was met with a lot of derision, with many a fellow celebrity saying that they weren't going to buy the magazine ever again.

  • Britney Spears' first cover of Rolling Stones

    Britney's first ever Rolling Stone cover in 1999 caused an uproar because at the time it was considered that this image was far too mature for her as she was just 17.

  • Princess Diana on the cover of Newsweek

    Created in 2011, the same year Wills and Kate got married, Newsweek printed this cover where they imagined what Diana would look like age 50.

  • Barack and Michelle Obama on the cover of The New Yorker

    Where do we start with this one? For starters, there's a burning American flag on the bottom right, and above that there's a portrait of Osama Bin Laden, then there's also Barack and Michelle Obama. The President of the United States is depicted as a Muslim and his wife, the First Lady, is dressed as, what we can only assume, a terrorist militant. Editor David Remnick defended the cover and said: "It's clearly a joke, a parody of these crazy fears and rumours and scare tactics about Obama's past and ideology."

  • Muhammad Ali as St. Sebastian for Esquire

    In 1967 Muhammad Ali, after recently converting to Islam refused to fight in the Vietnam war based on religious grounds. As a result of his refusal he was stripped of his title and denied the right to box in every state. In 1968, this cover created by art director legend George Lois, depicted Ali as St. Sebastian, a third-century Christian martyr and later patron saint of athletes, which was very much seen as a defense of the iconic sportsman.

  • Zoe Saldana's weight revealed on cover of Allure

    Women's magazines are renowned for talking about celebrities, fashion, health and beauty, among many other things. But when Allure actually put Hollywood star Zoe Saldana's weight on the cover they came under flak for promoting weight loss and Zoe's very slight frame.

  • Vogue's sport issue controversy

    Basketball legend LeBron James and model icon Gisele Bundchen appeared on the cover of Vogue's 2008 'shape issue' to much criticism. Many said that it alluded to racial stereotypes with more than nod to the image of King Kong and an angelic white woman.

  • Lindsay Lohan as Jesus on the cover of Purple Fashion

    Clearly, anytime you want to make something controversial, all you need is to talk about religion. Witness Lindsey Lohan at the height of her media attention back in 2010 with her imitating the image of Jesus being crucified.

  • Ant-Vietnam war magazine cover from Life magazine

    In 1965, LIFE magazine published this photo by Paul Schutzer of a Vietcong prisoner with his eyes and mouth taped shut. A shocking image of the realities of war.

  • L'Homme Officiel's Benecio Del Toro cover

    This cover of actor Benecio Del Toro holding a naked woman on the cover of L'Homme Officiel was shocking not just because of the nudity but because the woman also appeared to be unconscious.

  • Azealia Banks on the cover of Dazed and Confused

    The issue of Dazed and Confused which featured singer and rapper Azealia Banks on the cover with a condom in her mouth was banned in seven countries.


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Stylist Team