Vice Magazine Removes, Apologizes For(!) Tasteless Fashion Editorial About Lady Writer Suicides


As you may know, the ever-edgy Vice Magazine* put a “controversial” fashion spread in its newly released “Women In Fiction” issue, perhaps to balance out all the tasteful content from writers like Mary Gaitskill and Joyce Carol Oates. In said spread, beautiful, well-dressed models portray various female writers who ended their lives by suicide, alongside helpful notes about the clothing and accessories they are wearing. (If you are looking for some stockings to hang yourself with, check out these super sturdy ones made by Prada!)

I think most of us can agree that this spread was in pretty bad taste, especially considering some of the writers died fairly recently and still have living family members—Iris Chang killed herself in 2004, and her son is now 11—but par for the course for a magazine that has always gone out of its way to be provocative. (Never mind the fact that violence against sexualized female bodies is the fetishized norm in fashion, and not some kind of countercultural statement). And, as expected, the spread garnered many angry blog posts and comments, blah, blah, etc.

The remarkable thing, and the reason I am writing about this at all, is that while the magazine generally responds to such criticisms with a terse, bratty “LOL U MAD” or similar refusal to engage, this time they actually removed the offending spread and all of the angry comments along with it, replacing it with a statement of apology:

“Last Words” is a fashion spread featuring models reenacting the suicides of female authors who tragically ended their own lives. It is part of our 2013 Fiction Issue, one that is entirely dedicated to female writers, photographers, illustrators, painters, and other contributors.

The fashion spreads in VICE Magazine are always unconventional and approached with an art editorial point-of-view rather than a typical fashion photo-editorial one. Our main goal is to create artful images, with the fashion message following, rather than leading.

“Last Words” was created in this tradition and focused on the demise of a set of writers whose lives we very much wish weren’t cut tragically short, especially at their own hands. We will no longer display “Last Words” on our website and apologize to anyone who was hurt or offended.


While this might read to some as a weak, “sorry you got mad” type of apology, it’s a pretty unprecedented action for Vice to take. As a magazine that has always championed artistic freedom above all else, and balked at the idea that words and images have real power in the world, especially when churned out by such a cultural juggernaut (or maybe accepted this, but thought “freedom to say whatever shitty thing you want” was the more important value), Vice doesn’t tend to back down on things like this.

What happened here? Did the highbrow literary women in this issue decide they didn’t want to be associated with a spread like this and force the editors’ hands? Or have the higher-ups finally decided that the brand’s increasing sense of social responsibility is directly at odds with that willfully asinine, naively individualistic, right-wing libertarian, “I don’t give a fuck” attitude that’s still left over from the days of Vice co-founder/professional troll Gavin McInnes?

I doubt they are ever going to tell us, but future issues should hold some clues as to whether the lifestyle mega-brand is, in fact, “growing up,” or if this was merely a one-off incident due to pressure from outside forces.

*Full disclosure: I used to contribute to Vice.

(Via Jezebel)

Photo: Vice

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    • M.Brown

      Honestly? I think it’s valuable to examine the concept of suicide through an artistic lens, even if that is fashion, which seems to be the main complaint in the blagosphere. In my opinion, it comes down to the flawed assertion that fashion is somehow more “frivolous” or “trivial” than the very serious notions of “fine art” that we associate with photography or sculpture or painting. I sincerely doubt that an artistic rendering of Sylvia Plath’s suicide in the form of a painting or a poem would stir such controversy.

      • jamiepeck

        I don’t think this spread really “examined suicide through an artistic lens,” though. I think it took suicide and aestheticized it in mainstream culture’s grand tradition of glamorizing/sexualizing/gendering of mental illness. “Look at all these sad pretty strung out girls,” etc. I would say the same thing if it were merely presented as “art.”

        Plus, I’m sorry, but it is always going to seem more frivolous when everything used in a piece of art has a designer and a price tag attached, plus the implied glamor of a fashion model, expensive couture, etc. Of course, art is itself a commodity…because everything is a commodity. But luxury items could not exist outside of this commodified framework, while art theoretically could.

      • m.brown

        I must have interpreted it quite differently, I think. While the women’s beauty is emphasized in the photos, I think that’s an important and integral part of its examination of the subject; it forms a strong and moving contrast with the ugly thoughts inside these women as they approach such an extreme act of self-harm (as a sufferer of major depression and sometime suicidal person, I do feel qualified to ascribe ugliness to these emotions).

        I also think that there is importance to this particular art form (I feel it qualifies as such) being commodified: these women are commodified. Their work, the truest expression of their motivations and thoughts are bought and sold by companies whose only interest in them is commercial. The shoot itself doesn’t focus on the “luxury” of how they’re dressed at all. It focuses on them–the expressions on their faces, the languishing posture of their bodies. The addition of the clothing credits and prices only reiterates how much these women have been exploited.

    • anna

      I think it’s romanticizing suicide, which is what everyone has a problem with. it’s making suicide pretty. it’s like if you’ve ever searched through the tumblr poetry tag
      -gee, a lot of these poets are addicted to heroin! they write pretty things about heroin! i want to be pretty and deep and artistic (through heroin)

    • Jurassic_Babe

      I don’t understand how the Hoarding fashion spread is cool and this one is tasteless?

      • jamiepeck

        Because hoarding doesn’t always hurt the people doing the hoarding? I don’t know, as a bit of a hoarder myself I take issue with the notion that it is necessarily a mental illness that needs to be cured.

      • Jurassic_Babe

        Thanks for responding! That makes sense. I think it was just an interesting contrast because both articles were written by the same author (you) and right next to each other. Hoarding is so tricky! I never really know how to conceptualize it. It can really impact some people (especially those who live with families) but I know a lot of other people feel the same way as you, and don’t really see it as a problem. Also there is the SES, cultural, age aspect. For people who grew up during the Great Depression or in poverty, holding onto things makes a lot of sense. Alright! Psychology nerd time is over.

      • jamiepeck

        I think I also reacted negatively to the sexualized/aestheticized violence against female bodies. It’s certainly possible for art to deal with serious subjects, but I don’t think this did that very successfully. I do realize that the line between “okay” and “not okay” can be a bit blurry, though.

      • Jurassic_Babe

        Yeah, I think the suicide spread definitely has a Kayne, Monster vibe.