Skip to main site content.


1991 Vanity Fair cover featuring pregnant Demi Moore named 1 of most influential images of all time

By Andrew Tavani on November 18, 2016

TIME magazine has unveiled its compilation of the 100 most influential images of all time. The series tells the stories behind some of the most famous photos that have appeared in the media throughout the years and “changed the world.” Among their editors’ selections is the famous and provocative August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair, which featured Demi Moore — seven months pregnant and completely nude — as photographed by the venerable Annie Leibovitz.

The backlash that the cover triggered was unprecedented. Everybody freaked out. The outrage machine was cranked up to full power. Many supermarkets refused to sell the issue. Those that did covered it up like they did with porn magazines. Looking back on it all, the reaction, like the $2.50 cover price, seems quaint. Of course, the editor behind the now-iconic cover photo is none other than Women in the World founder and CEO Tina Brown, so we thought we’d talk to her and see what she remembered from that wild time. She didn’t expect such a scandal to erupt.

“I was absolutely blown away by the reaction,” Brown recalled in an interview. “I remember before publishing it saying to the [Vanity Fair] PR department, ‘Maybe we can get it on the Today show.’ Little did I know it would become a media sensation, on every radio, TV and newspaper outlet — not just in America but all over the world. There were polls done on whether we should have done the cover!”

The August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair featuring a photo of Demi Moore, shot by Annie Leibovitz. Tina Brown was the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair at the time.
The August 1991 cover of Vanity Fair featuring a photo of Demi Moore, shot by Annie Leibovitz. Tina Brown was the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair at the time.

Brown said she figured the photo would upset some, and thought the overblown reaction helped make the cover more shocking and sensational than it actually was.

“I never questioned that I wanted to publish it. It seemed to me a wonderful celebration of the essence of womanhood,” she said. “I knew that some would find it offensive, and indeed when our publisher Ron Galotti showed it to Walmart, they insisted that we had it shrink-wrapped or it would not appear on the newsstands. This just made it more X-rated.”

“It amused me that we were able to shock Walmart with family values,” Brown quipped.

In a 2008 essay in which she reflected on some of her most famous photos, Leibovitz mused on how the Demi Moore cover shot came together and the way she sees the image in retrospect. “It was a popular picture and it broke ground, but I don’t think it’s a good photograph per se. It’s a magazine cover,” Leibovitz declared. “If it were a great portrait, she wouldn’t be covering her breasts.” Imagine the commotion that would have ensued if that had been the case.

Be sure to click through to TIME to see the rest of the photos that made the top 100.


Photographer Annie Leibovitz to exhibit new portraits of women

Annie Leibovitz teams up with Gloria Steinem to take ‘Women’ project on the road

Annie Leibovitz opens up about shooting intimate portraits of Queen Elizabeth II