Vogue Portugal's 'The Madness Issue' displayed a front cover that has been widely criticised as portraying a "dystopian" and "outdated" idea of mental health.
Picturing a young woman in a bath flanked by nurses dressed in starched uniforms has sparked a great deal of necessary debate.
It's aesthetically striking with an alluring artistic quality, until you realise it is called 'The Madness Issue', then you ask yourself if this is this a) real, b) allowed and c) OK?
Reactions have been, in the main, negative, but not all.
Some have felt that by glamourising the awkward discussion around mental health it keeps the conversation front of mind and on the newsagent's shelf.
Others feel that the presentation and messaging behind it is not only insensitive and ill-judged, but ill-conceived too.
The link between mental health issues and the fashion industry is no secret, nor is the history of women and mental illness.
'Mental health is not a fashion', but unfortunately, it plays its role.
This image certainly presents a woman in a moment of vulnerability which is difficult to look at. But, of course, that is the point. The 'uncomfortable truth' rears its head again.
It has been described as 'vulgar' and 'in bad taste'. But is it?
The fashion industry is entrenched with impressionable young models and we have a societal obsession with how we look. So is it not appropriate for Vogue to address mental health in the only way it knows how?
What's clear is that everyone has an opinion.
Tinman's Alexandra Keates has spoken before about her struggle with mental health and below she has shared her feelings of distaste and anger that she felt when she saw the cover.
"Vogue Portugal can go f*** themselves".
This was my initial reaction.
In all honesty, when I glimpsed the cover of the Vogue Portugal ‘Madness Issue’ I thought someone had acted on a vendetta against the publication and had published their own mock-up to cause the title harm. Therefore, my acute astonishment when I realised it was in fact created by their own editorial team, left me bewildered. And angry.
What I found most problematic was Vogue Portugal’s conflation of mental illness into an aesthetic.
An outdated and damaging aesthetic but one which is made out to be ‘artistic’.
As I have never been treated by the Portuguese health system, I cannot account for what it is like. However, my experience of treatment rooms and centres within the NHS, albeit limited compared to some, has always had a central onus on normality.
Far from being sterile and soulless with expressionless nurses shuffling through cold corridors, as Vogue Portugal may have you believe, wards and treatment rooms are made to be comfortable, practical, and most importantly safe. Thus, in punctuating a highly outdated vision on their cover, Vogue Portugal have not only displayed a sense sheer ignorance but have done intense harm, whether unknowingly or not, by contributing further to entrench the taboo around mental health in society. This, at a time when so many individuals and institutions are attempting to erase it.
Even more problematically, the cover draws parallels with Steven Meisel’s controversial ‘Models Enter Rehab’ shoot for Vogue Italia in 2007 which provocatively sought to glamorise young men and women in rehabilitation centres. A shoot that has since garnered large amounts of criticism for how it handled the topic. I can therefore only assume the entirety of Vogue Portugal’s researchers and sub-editors are on furlough.
Over the past few years, we have seen numerous consumer magazines pioneer conversations around subjects deemed to be ‘taboo’ – from eating disorders to period poverty. Indeed, I strongly believe that these magazines have an important place within these conversations.
Many young journalists have penned powerful and practical pieces on their own experience of dealing with mental health, shining a light on taboos that need to be overcome and providing details and in-depth portraits on the institutions that are there to help. I’ve also contributed to a first-person piece for Cosmopolitan on my experiences with depression, which helped bring clarity to the conversation.
In June last year, Men’s Health produced a series of truly honest cover stories centering on a group of young boys from a South London Academy entitled “the next generation”. They focussed on male mental health amongst teenagers to launch its #GiveThemAHeadStart campaign. The journalism consolidated the thoughts, research and opinions of teachers, counsellors, clinicians, commissioners, legislators and, of course, the students photographed to provide a truly holistic and evolved documentation of the crisis.* The photographer himself, Chris Floyd, drew on carefully researched inspiration from a previously successful and sensitive New York Magazine cover story of school-shooting victims across the US.**
Therefore, not only is Vogue Portugal’s cover entrenched in distaste, but it is also lazy and unresearched journalism.
As many brands, including some within the Condé Nast platform, are working tirelessly to help educate readers and fight to break taboos, this sadly makes Vogue Portugal seem out of step with contemporary feeling and fuels the argument of its own critics that traditional, glossy magazines have had their day. Something I strongly disagree with.
As for the title of the issue ‘The Madness Issue’ – believe me when I say if you are struggling with mental ill-health, this does not necessarily mean you are mad. If you have been medically diagnosed with a form of madness, then just like any other illness this deserves to be respected, understood, accepted and above all treated like you would any other condition.
I continue to stand by my initial statement, Vogue Portugal should go f*** themselves, but most importantly, they should educate themselves.
Vogue Portugal has removed all of the covers associated with the issue.
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