Douchebag Decree: Side Boobs and Fat Babies—Five Not-So-Subtle Magazine Covers

We get it. Selling magazines is tough. As a feminist nonprofit swimming in publishing world, we know how hard it is to keep your head above water. (Completely unrelated: Do you have your Bitch magazine digital subscription yet?) But some magazines feel the need to push their publication with provocative cover photos and headlines in order to compete with the Huffington Post. Here are some recent offenders: 

A cover of Time magazine featuring a young thin white woman defiantly staring at the camera as she breastfeeds her three year old. He is standing on a chair, mouth pressed against her one exposed breast, and is also looking at the camera. The headline reads, Are You Mom Enough?The Cover: Here we have a “conventionally” attractive (thin, white, blond, young) woman breastfeeding her child. This could have been an opportunity for TIME to say “A woman breastfeeding her child in public: Really not that big a deal.” But the exposed breast, model-esque mom, the three-year-old (who looks twenty four)—this isn’t mean to make a statement about breastfeeding, it’s meant to titillate and provoke.

The Headline: “Are you mom enough?” I know! You forgot about this headline immediately because SIDE BOOB. THAT KID LOOKING RIGHT AT YOU. No matter how you feel about attachment parenting (the subject of the article), this headline isn’t only gender essentialist (hey dads, parents, and caretakers—are you mom enough?) it’s classic “mommy war”–baiting bullshit. I’m sure they had “Motherhood and Feminism: TWO ENTER ONE LEAVES” as an original title but they had to scramble for something else when the New York Times beat them to it.

A Newsweek cover featuring a thin white woman with red lipstick. She is not wearing a shirt and is blindfolded with a think black satin ribbon. It exudes sexuality, elegance, and submission. The headline reads, The Fantasy Life of Working Women: Why surrender is a feminist dream. 

The Cover: A thin, white model, blindfolded (to the nines!), presumably topless, wearing red lipstick. It looks like someone handed the art director a copy of Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly about harmful images of gender and advertising and said “We’re going for something a little like this!”

The Headline: “The Fantasy Life of Working Women: Why surrender is a feminist dream.” Ugh, this again? The article is actually a Katie Roiphe–penned piece about how “empowered” working women are pathetically turning to domination in the bedroom. Because 50 Shades of Grey! </argument>


A Foreign Policy cover featuring a naked woman with black hair covered in black paint against a black background. She is huddled over defensively. The only part not painted is a thin strip where her eyes are, invoking imagery of the black niqab some Muslim women wear. The Cover: From book covers to op-eds, Western media loves reducing the complex lives of Muslim women to two eyes staring out from a scary and oppressive head scarf. This imagery implies that sporting a niqab, chador, veil, hijab, burqa, etc. means you’re oppressed, and that wearing it is something women are subjected to, never something they choose for themselves. This cover is no different, and the weird black body paint on a naked woman makes it even worse. As Sherene Seikaly and Maya Mikdashi put it, the cover “[invites us] to sexualize and rescue her at once,” and the takeaway message is “The female body is to be consumed, not covered.”

The Headline: “Why Do They Hate Us?” Um, I guess you get some credit for not saying “Beyond the Veil,” right? Mona Eltahawy’s meditation on women in the Middle East has sparked controversy, but one thing’s clear: This cover and its accompanying images are not appropriate for an article about women in the Middle East. Oh, and thanks, Foreign Policy, for finally covering this topic—for your “sex” issue.

A Newsweek cover features a Photoshopped white baby with gleaming blue eyes giggling into the camera while holding some french fries. The headline reads When I grow up, I'm going to weigh 300 lbs. Help! The Cover: My first thought upon seeing this was “They’ve finally done it. They’re making full-formed babies out of recycled plastic and bright blue LED lights.” It turns out “this blue-eyed little angel [is] warning us of America’s coming obesity crisis.” Hey Newsweek, this giant creepy Photoshopped baby is disturbing because it’s a giant creepy Photoshopped baby, not because of “obesity epidemic” scare tactics.

The Headline: “When I grow up, I’m going to weigh 300 lbs. Help!” Besides the obvious fat shaming, Melissa McEwan at Shakesville broke down some other aspects of the cover already :

I just want to point out the assumption that the baby is female and note that “she” is a “blue-eyed angel,” in order that we may be extra worried about the possibility that she will grow up to be a fat white lady who fails to fulfill her primary purpose as privileged sex object for straight men. Sure, sayeth Newsweek, it’s terrible when white dudes and people of color are fat because gross I MEAN HEALTH, but it’s a GODDAMNED TRAGEDY when a nice blue-eyed white girl weighs THREE HUNDRED FUCKING POUNDS (guess how much this blue-eyed white girl weighs? go on, guess!) and ruins what could have been a perfectly good opportunity for straight men to sexualize her.

And unfortunately this isn’t going to be the last we see of provocative covers. Did I miss any? Share them in the comments!

Update 5/15/2012: Newsweek is not going to be out-done by a little side boob! I just had to share this week’s cover because of its redonkulousness.
A Newsweek cover featuring a picture of Obama looking reverent with a rainbow halo shining over his head. The headline says The First Gay President.
The Cover: Is that…a hula hoop? Why the savior face? Sure he’s the first president to say he supports same-sex marriage, but that doesn’t grant him sainthood, nor does it mean he’s….

The Headline: “The First Gay President.” What? WHAT. Apparently writer Andrew Sullivan makes this comparison because Obama “had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family.” As any multiracial queer person can tell you, it is not that simple. But also, POTUS has enough trouble with people questioning his citizenship and religious views, let’s not give him one more incendiary (and more importantly, untrue—Barack Obama does not identify as gay!) attribution. Plus, what message does this send to openly gay politicians with presidential ambitions? “Sorry, you can hang your hula-hoop halo dreams up! A straight dude beat you to it.”

Previously: Ashton “Raj” Kutcher and Sadly Delicious Popchips, Richard Grenell, Romney Spokesperson and Sexist Tweeter

by Kjerstin Johnson
View profile »

Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

19 Comments Have Been Posted

I agree that the Time cover

I agree that the Time cover is really troubling. It also started a conversation on Facebook after a male friend of mine posted it with the comment "Ewwwwww" and several other men agreed, while I and another woman both asked them what exactly made them disgusted by kids breastfeeding past infancy. It was actually a pretty interesting conversation, so at least this is getting people talking a little.

The other covers are even scarier.

I agree with Jessica Sewell,

I agree with Jessica Sewell, conversations have to be started in order for people to examine/reexamine the assumptions that they live on. I don't see anything wrong with the cover at all but I do see some bizarre reactions to it.
Men can sexualize any photograph of a woman, any photograph, any thing. That inherent ridiculous reflex should not inhibit the necessary societal change that acknowledges women as capable representatives of ideas in the same manner that men are portrayed. Our culture is SATURATED with images of hypersexualized females. It time we took possession of our representation and demonstrated the multiple dimensions present like attractive, motherhood, non traditional, informed, active, independent, and courageous. Men will have to have these ideas brought to their attention and few will be able to understand how they are all present but it's a necessary process if we want change.

Newsweek Baby with French Fries Cover

I don't get the rant about the presumption that the baby is a female. Unless there are facts that you haven't shown us. My first thought was that this looks like a picture of a baby boy. But even if the article does hint at the baby being female, the idea that people would be horrified because they would expect her to grow up to be a white sex symbol sounds paranoid to say the least. I'm always leery of people who begin their arguments with incendiary language.

little angel

The <a href=" Tumblr said</a> "This week’s cover features this blue-eyed little angel warning us of America’s coming obesity crisis. We’re fat, she’s (he?) saying, and we’re only getting fatter. So why is she on our cover?" It's not the best hyperlink job, but I do link to it before quoting them. Even if it's not supposed to be a girl, I think Melissa McEwan's point about gender and race is worth noting.

the sad thing is that most women will take the bait of the Time

cover ...

see here, I was quite an active member on Babycenter until i realized it was such a waste of life. i am so sick of having to defend breastfeeding, and especially breastfeeding in public. it is so sad that what these women don't realize is that they are feeding right into it!!! cutting each other down like hyenas to a dead carcass. i can't tell you how many times i have seen a SAHM vs. WOHM argument! what good is this. i'm sorry, but you do NOT see men sitting there arguing with each other over who works harder at being a dad/worker or whatever. I'm so over this persecution of one another. i have not met one person in real life who does not know the benefits of breastfeeding, or that have been abrasive to me about it. i think i will just go about my life how i see fit and breastfeed where/when i want too.

just a side note. probably the SADDEST thing in the world from my personal experience is this fact: i used to be a stripper. i loved it.. but thats another condo. i have no shame about my body and i believe it is beautiful, more beautiful naked than anything. BUT when i became a mom i never felt so uncomfortable as i did BFing in public. there are no words! what a fucked up society we live in.

just something i just came

just something i just came across and i know that no one will understand my ... anger? i was browsing and came across this "letter"
posted a few days after the Time's cover controversy, discussing how a reader feels like his mom, who breastfed late, sexually molested him by allowing him to play with her breasts after he weaned... and now she is now doing it to his younger sister. The response is that she is "disguising herself as the ULTIMATE attachment parent" and that she must be immediately reported to authorities. I have no intention of downplaying incest, sexual molestation of a child or anything like that. I just find it very convenient that an unusual letter comes at such a time, and the fact that "Prudie" even address the Time cover in the first sentence of the response is also fishy, to me anyways. The women on the Time cover admitted that many people have cried allegations of child abuse at her for extended breastfeeding, so this letter is just fuel to the fire. How are we, as mothers, to know which child will / will not be permanently disturbed by extended breastfeeding? We could all have our children taken away, so better we just wean early to prevent such suffering. Again, I'm not suggesting that this person is wrong in his claims, but I just feel like the timing is far too convienent.

"why do they hate us?"

Granted, the images from that issue/article were pretty awful, but the article itself was pretty freaking awesome.

When I saw the Time cover my

When I saw the Time cover my first thought was that I was absolutely not going to read the article, and my second was that I wish for JUST THIS ONCE that all other women would ignore it as well. But NOOOO, its all over Facebook with all kinds of women getting sucked in to the whole "well I breastfed mine 'till high school!, VS."your practically having sex with your child!!" (Im exaggerating of course, but you know the deal). Not only is it pointless and destructive for women to let themselves be goaded into reacting about this shit, it is also so mind-numbingly BORING.

It's a gaylo!

You totally missed out on some awesome wordplay with that gay + halo = gaylo. <3


yes , they could have played on that one very well.

An editor "war" going on? and 50 shades of gray

All I can say about these crazy, disturbing, and shaming covers is that there must be a "war" going on between Newsweek editor Tina Brown (yes, her) and Time editor Rick Stengel. Wouldn't surprise me.

Re: the mention of "Fifty Shades of Grey." Can we have an analysis of this laughable book, please? I say laughable because I would rather re-read anything the ever-awesome Susie Bright, Tristan Taormino, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Hanne Blank, and the countless other editors and writers of erotica have published in the last couple of decades. This "Twilight Mommy Porn" isn't really erotica at all, but an "introduction" to graphic sexual expressions in novels for the too many out there that were prohibited by the prudish patriarchy from ever learning about the richness of real erotica, that I wish were a little more mainstream than "Fifty Shades of Grey" has become.

I got into feminism, in part, because I discovered the empowering richness of erotica, encouraged by the likes of Bright, Bussel, Taormino, Blank, and others. I am trying to discover ways in how it can be introduced to all those "Fifty Shades of Gray" readers without running into the usual troubles and controversies that have kept so much of it hiding in the underground, even today.

The Obama cover reminds me of

The Obama cover reminds me of when they were calling Clinton the "first black president".


I had exactly the same thought!

All I thought was, somewhere,

All I thought was, somewhere, former president James Buchanan is crying softly in his grave. (Our 15th president had a male companion for several decades (called "Aunt Nancy" by the press), and his fiancee broke off their engagement because he was not sufficiently interested in marrying her, by 19th century standards. Read more in James Loewen's <i>Lies Across America</i>.)

US media = trolls. They are

US media = trolls. They are quaking in their boots about loosing so many of their readers to the internet that they have no choice but to over do every headline. And what's the best way to defend against trolls? Don't feed them.


US media = trolls. They are quaking in their boots about loosing so many of their readers to the internet that they have no choice but to over do every headline. And what's the best way to defend against trolls? Don't feed them.

Add new comment