Vogue Portugal has been criticised for insensitive treatment of mental health on one of its latest magazine covers.
The image – one of four covers created for its July/August “Madness” issue – features model Simona Kirchnerova crouched in a bath flanked by two nurses, with one pouring water over her head. The cover has been criticised both for attempting to glamorise mental illness and for the use of the outdated term “madness”.
The Portuguese model Sara Sampaio commented on Vogue Portugal’s Instagram page: “These kinds of pictures should not be representing the conversation about mental health! I think it’s very bad taste!”
Clinical psychologist Dr Katerina Alexandraki said: “Promoting the aesthetics of mental health is very problematic. It’s never a fashion, that is so invalidating.
“Not to mention the history of women and mental illness. There are hundreds of stories of abuse where women are at their most vulnerable.”
As for why it had decided to do an issue devoted to mental health, on its official Twitter account the magazine stated: “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 Guardian has asked the magazine for comment.
Meanwhile, on Instagram Kirchnerova, the model featured in the bath photo, revealed that the nurses who posed with her were her close relations. “My career highlight,” she wrote, “made it to Vogue cover with my mum and my grandma!!! 3 generations on Vogue cover.” When the photographer Elliott Morgan wrote, “Disrespectful and missing the point,” Kirchnerova asked: “Explain.”
Discussions around mental health in fashion have been controversial. In September, Ayesha Tan-Jones, a model in a Gucci show (who goes by the pronouns they and them), protested against the use of straitjacket-like coats in the collection with the note “Mental health is not fashion” written on their hand. Later, writing on Instagram, they said: “Presenting these struggles as props for selling clothes in today’s capitalist climate is vulgar, unimaginative and offensive to the millions of people around the world affected by these issues.” Jones donated their catwalk fee to mental health charities.
“It’s encouraging to know that the public will no longer stand to see mental illness used as a gimmick,” said Jo Loughran, director of the mental health anti-stigma campaign Time to Change. “When people feel empowered to call out stigma, it can send a powerful message to the world – that stigmatising mental health problems is never acceptable.”