Vogue Portugal pulls controversial mental health cover

image source, Instagram / Vogue
image captionThe cover generated a huge backlash

Vogue Portugal has pulled a recent magazine cover, which mental health experts criticised as "outdated" and in "bad taste".

The Madness Issue featured a woman in a bathtub in a hospital setting with a nurse pouring water over her head.

Vogue Portugal said the image was intended to "start a discussion".

But it has since changed the cover, saying that it now realises "the subject of mental health needs a more thoughtful approach".

"Vogue Portugal deeply apologises for any offence or upset caused by this photo shoot," the company said in an Instagram post, which showed a new cover image of a person holding a human heart.

The photo of the woman in the bath generated huge controversy on its release. Vogue Portugal, however, initially refused to back down, insisting in a statement posted on Twitter that the cover story explored "the historical context of mental health and is designed to reflect real life and authentic stories".

"Inside the issue features interviews and contributions from psychiatrists, sociologists, psychologists and other experts," the statement added.

The woman featured in the bathtub, Slovak model Simona Kirchnerova, wrote in an Instagram post on Friday that it was a "career highlight" because those standing either side of her were family members.

"Made it to Vogue cover with my mum and my grandma," she wrote.

But London-based clinical psychologist Katerina Alexandraki told the BBC that she considered the cover to be "unethical".

"For those with experience of the psychiatric system, seeing a fashion magazine cover presenting a woman in such a vulnerable state can be a reminder of a very challenging time in their lives," she said.

"This image reinforces the idea of women being vulnerable and helpless during a mental health breakdown. It does not show us the effort those with mental health put in to overcoming their struggles, their strengths and resistance to overcome adversity," she added.

Portuguese model Sara Sampaio said images like the one portrayed on the Vogue Portugal cover "should not be representing the conversation about mental health".

Ms Sampaio, who said she had suffered with mental health issues herself, said she considered it "very bad taste".

"It looks like it's in an [outdated] mental hospital" that used to "torture" patients, she said in a video posted on social media.

She added that the image came at a particularly sensitive time "because of Covid and the way that mental health has been dealt with", with many people having been isolated or directly affected by the pandemic.

image source, Getty Images
image captionPortuguese model Sara Sampaio said the magazine cover image was in "very bad taste"

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