Article first published 3 July 2020 and updated 7 July 2020 to include latest update
Vogue Portugal has apologised and pulled one of its July/August covers, after it was criticised for glamorising mental health issues.
For the fashion bible’s ‘The Madness Issue’, one of the four covers depicts a haunted looking woman naked in a bathtub, having water poured over her by two women wearing old-fashioned nurse uniforms.
But some weren’t impressed with the imagery used, claiming the cover shot was not only “offensive” but relies on outdated stereotypes surrounding mental illness and psychiatric hospitals.
In a statement posted on Instagram, the publication said: “On such an important issue such as mental health we cannot be divided.
“Vogue Portugal has taken the decision to pull one of the four covers of our July/August issue, which depicts a scene of a psychiatric hospital as well as the inside cover story based around the topic of mental health.
“Vogue Portugal deeply apologises for any offence or upset caused by this photo shoot.
“On reflection, we realise that the subject of mental health needs a more thoughtful approach. We sincerely apologise for this.”
The cover image featuring the woman in the bath sparked controversy after its release last week.
Following the backlash Vogue Portugal released a statement on Twitter explaining that the cover story explored “the historical context of mental health and is designed to reflect real life and authentic stories”.
The publication explained that their intention was to open up a discussion on the topic of mental health.
The statement added that: “Inside the issue features interviews and contributions from psychiatrists, sociologists, psychologists and other experts”.
The magazine initially tweeted the four chosen cover images alongside an explanation about the issue’s theme.
“THE MADNESS ISSUE. It’s about love. It’s about life. It’s about us. It’s about you. It’s about now. It’s about health. It’s about mental health. #themadnessissue It’s about time,” the publication tweeted.
Having also shared the four separate cover images to Instagram and across the two platforms the response to the bathtub cover was somewhat divided.
THE MADNESS ISSUE.
It’s about love.
It’s about life.
It’s about us.
It’s about you.
It’s about now.
It’s about health.
It’s about mental health. #themadnessissue It’s about time.
Pre-order the july/august issue at https://t.co/7vQX0f1u8F pic.twitter.com/3PX5nUWOPb
— Vogue Portugal (@VoguePortugal) July 2, 2020
Some of the criticism of the cover on Twitter centred around the description of mental health as ‘madness’, while others raised concerns that issues surrounding mental illness was being both glamorised and not accurately depicted, particularly in terms of psychiatric hospital care.
the new @VoguePortugal is extremely disrespectful, the glamorisation of asylums / traumatic methods of treatment just pushes the stigma further. I can't believe this was approved pic.twitter.com/55oUu93tzt
— elliott morgan (@elliott_morgan) July 2, 2020
This is horrific for people who are actually struggling with mental health problems and sectioning. I’m sure none of the content in these issues is helpful to vulnerable people. Why not do a cancer issue next?
— MJ Lira (@liradelira0) July 2, 2020
Appalling. This is everything that is wrong with the portrayal of mental illness in the media. It is not something to be glamourised or falsely and damagingly portrayed. Remove it. Recall it. Apologise and educate yourselves!
— Dr Sarah Vohra (@drsarahvohra) July 3, 2020
How is it helpful to frame references to Mental Health as ‘Madness ? The cover photo is appalling.
— Debbie (@SFC_Debs) July 3, 2020
Mental ill health is not an aesthetic. It is NOT okay to commodify and glamourise these experiences
— Henna (@hennadp) July 3, 2020
Seriously? You’re equating mental health challenges as ‘madness’. There has been so much work to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues and you do this and use an image like that last one? Wow
— Sarah Davis (@Sarah_paddles) July 3, 2020
Read more: What to do if you suffer from panic attacks
It seems many are concerned that portraying psychiatric hospitals and the care they provide using old-fashioned imagery, reignites harmful stereotypes we’ve worked so hard to escape.
There’s also a fear the depiction could put off those who may need psychiatric care from seeking help in the first place.
Jo Loughran, director of Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, told The Independent that the cover was “disappointing” and “outdated”.
“Today, in a time where there is arguably more awareness of mental health problems than ever before, it’s disappointing to see this outdated depiction of a psychiatric hospital – especially on the cover of such a high-profile magazine,” she said.
“Ultimately, misrepresentations such as this can make life even harder for people experiencing a mental health problem to speak out and seek support.”
Loughran added that while it was good to see Vogue Portugal raising awareness of mental health, she didn’t believe doing so in this way was acceptable.
While the cover caused much upset on Twitter, there was some appreciation for the imagery on Instagram, with plenty of heart and fire emoji praise for the cover.
“Love it. So much,” one user wrote.
“Wow!!!! So good,” another commented.
While another simply described the cover as a “masterpiece”.