The Year’s Most Controversial Magazine Covers


For a year when the Death of Print Media meme was already old news, the dinosaurs of publishing managed to come up with more than their share of provocative content in 2010. (Hey, maybe it’s because they were fighting for their livelihoods.) From a bloody, naked threesome to questionable Photoshop practices to one of Afghanistan’s most wrenching war photos, we look back at the year’s ten most controversial magazine covers.

Lady Gaga mans up for Q

Early this year, Lady Gaga showed up topless on the cover of British music magazine Q. That alone wouldn’t have been particularly surprising — but if you look closely at the photo, you’ll realize she’s packing a little something extra below the belt. In response to the rumor that she has a penis, Gaga donned a strap-on. As a result, the cover was banned in the US.

Vanity Fair’s “Young Hollywood” issue

Notice something funny about this cover? Oh, that’s right: there are nine young actresses on it, and they’re all white. Apparently, the year after Avatar, Slumdog Millionaire, and Precious came out, no ladies of color did any great acting.

Gabourey Sidibe’s mysteriously lightened skin

Especially considering the absence of diversity on the Vanity Fair cover, it was gratifying to see Gabourey Sidibe on the cover of Elle’s 25th anniversary issue. Although the magazine never admitted that any kind of work was done on the image, just about every other photo of Sidibe shows a woman with much darker skin. Was it just the lighting, or did Elle secretly whitewash the Precious star?

Lindsay Lohan as Jesus

Now, why would religious types be upset to see Lohan — that fine, upstanding, young Christian — all dolled up as a sexy savior on the cover of France’s Purple? And would it surprise you to know that the cover was shot by Terry Richardson?

The Economist Photoshops Obama

What’s controversial about this cover photo of Obama surveying BP’s oil spill disaster isn’t what you see — it’s what you don’t. The original Reuters image shows the leader standing next to parish president Charlotte Randolph and Admiral Thad W. Allen. According to The Economist, Allen was cropped and Randolph removed “because the presence of an unknown woman would have been puzzling to readers.” But the Times notes that the edit violates both Reuters’ in-house photo policy and misleadingly paints the president as lonely and despondent.

True Blood stars on Rolling Stone

As we noted when the issue came out, it’s not often you see a naked guy on the cover of a mainstream magazine. Even rarer: two dudes and a lady, snuggling and covered in blood. We’re still trying to decide whether this one is gross or hot.

Time’s “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan”

Among the airbrushed celebs and sexualized teenagers, Time magazine’s haunting image of an Afghan woman whose nose had been cut off reminded us of one of the year’s most serious issues. It also sparked debate, with some calling the photo “torture porn” or propaganda. Also disturbing: the 18-year-old in the photo didn’t even know what Time was until a friend showed her this cover.

Taylor Momsen on Revolver

In perhaps the most over-the-top jailbait magazine cover of all time, 17-year-old Momsen showed up in her underwear and brandishing firearms in Revolver’s “Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock” issue. The photo only added to the firestorm of criticism being thrown her way, but we’d like to point out that there were lots of adults involved with the making of this cover that could probably also stand to answer a few questions.

Glee stars on the cover of GQ

In another special Terry Richardson photo shoot, Glee’s Lea Michele and Dianna Agron pose flirtatiously with cast mate Cory Monteith. And the cover isn’t all: the stars get even racier, Lolita-style, inside GQ. Although the stars are all actually of age, this one pushed buttons because Glee is seen as a wholesome, family show.

Mark Zuckerberg as Time’s Person of the Year

No, there isn’t a secret hardcore porn scene hidden amongst Zuckerberg’s freckles. People got pissed off about this cover because, well, is 2010 really the year of the Facebook founder? Wasn’t that year more like… 2006? 2007? And shouldn’t Time have considered its readers’ choice — Julian Assange — a bit more seriously?