10 Magazine Covers That Changed The World

National Geographic

National Geographic

If you want to bring attention to an issue or cause affecting our community, the most effective way is to “break the internet.” Magazines specifically have been the catalyst for this new trend, using their advertising power and publicity to make statements on our society. These magazine covers hugely influenced culture, inspiring questions and discussions about a myriad of issues like race, feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, war, poverty, and more.

Here’s a look at ten of the most iconic magazine covers that have created waves in our culture, and challenged our thoughts in the most innovative way.

1. Bill Cosby’s alleged victims, New York Magazine


This 2015 cover of New York Magazine is one of the most powerful magazine covers of the year. 35 of the 46 women who are Bill Cosby’s alleged rape victims sit side by side dressed in black, creating a striking and memorable image that tackles the issues of rape head on. What’s so powerful about this cover is that it places issues of sexual assault at the forefront, giving voices to the women who have been silenced and shamed for decades, and telling them they have power. It represents an issue in our society that needs to be changed.

2. Ellen Degeneres, Time Magazine


Back in 1997, this cover of Time magazine was one of their most shocking to date, as Ellen DeGeneres exclusively came out to the world. The cover was the first time that a popular entertainer had come out in such a public fashion, and influenced many who would later on use magazines as a platform to inspire others with their stories, from Lance Bass to Ricky Martin.

Coming out on a magazine cover in the late 90s was a much bigger deal than it is now. Coming out in such a public fashion pushed gay issues at the center of culture, forcing many to rethink prejudices and to become involved in a dialogue many didn’t fully understand.

3. Angela Lansbury, The Gentlewoman


In an industry obsessed with youth, especially regarding women, this refreshing cover featuring legendary actress Angela Lansbury provided an alternative look at publications that choose to represent women of various ages. The powder pink cover and Lansbury’s straight-on gaze provided a playful touch, showcasing a magazine cover that wasn’t for the male gaze, and offered an alternative look at a women’s magazine. It’s an incredibly powerful cover.

4. Caitlyn Jenner, Vanity Fair


Caitlyn Jenner’s cover of Vanity Fair proved that magazines still have the power to shock the masses, and that’s exactly what Vanity Fair did when unveiling Caitlyn to the world. Referencing the infamous Marilyn Monroe, this cover was trailblazing for the transsexual community, opening them up to a larger public presence than ever before.

5. Are you mom enough?, Time Magazine


This cover created a lot of controversy when it was released in 2012, with the topic of “attachment parenting” and what age it’s acceptable to continue breastfeeding your child. The photo, which featured 26-year-old Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her 3-year-old son, is still debated today, as breastfeeding remains a touchy topic for many. The cover shone a spotlight on a lot of issues on what is considered appropriate, while challenging our thoughts toward breastfeeding and the treatment of mothers who breastfeed in public. With such a simple yet polarizing image, it’s difficult to not have an opinion. This cover was undeniably influential in bringing these issues to the forefront.

6. Beth Ditto, Love Magazine


For the first issue of LOVE magazine, editor Katie Grand started with a bang, as she tapped singer Beth Ditto to bare it all for the magazine’s debut. This cover continues to be inspirational for many reasons: it proudly displayed an alternative body type that isn’t often displayed by magazines — let alone on the cover. It also showed fashion embracing body acceptance, and definitely stood out on the magazine stands.

7. Jared Leto, Candy Magazine


Labeled as the “first transversal style magazine,” Candy magazine tapped Jared Leto to cover the magazine dressed in drag. This cover was published before the release of Leto’s Oscar-winning performance as a transsexual in The Dallas Buyers Club, and displayed Leto in all his fabulousness — pink wig, red lips and all.

8. Naomi Sims, LIFE


In 1969, Naomi Sims was the face of LIFE magazine’s “Black Models Take Center Stage.” As the first black model to cover LIFE, this cover was a game changer for black models and black history, and created a platform for black models to cover national magazines. While black women still struggle to become the norm on magazine covers, this moment was definitely a starting point and created a great cultural impact for black women in the fashion industry.

9. Syd Tha Kid, Vibe Vixen


Representations of black LGBTQ+ people is pretty rare on magazine covers, and this cover of musician Syd tha Kid creates a strong visual that many can relate too.

10. Afghan Girl, National Geographic



The 1984 cover of National Geographic, featuring a photo of a green-eyed girl looking directly into the camera, is one of the most iconic images in photography. Shot by Tim Curry, the image represented the plight of Afghan refugees, forced into Pakistani refugee camps due to war. This cover constantly reminds me of the power of print media, of photography, and of magazine covers who bravely put forth issues of humanity so that we may evolve into a greater, better society.

About The Author
Leah Sinclair