Celebs Who Were Unrecognizable On The Cover Of Magazines

Occasionally, a magazine cover comes along that makes even the most dedicated pop culture fanatic ask the eternal question: "Who is that?!" No, we're not talking about when a tabloid cover features nothing but up-and-comers you've never heard of before. Sometimes, the most famous people in the world can seem entirely unrecognizable, whether through the magic (and misuse) of Photoshop or just by simply switching up their style. After all, so many people on a set have input into the final look of a cover shoot, from stylists and designers to editors and managers, from the star themselves to the person writing the profile. All of those cooks in the kitchen sometimes come up with a recipe quite unlike what fans are used to, and the result is almost always assured to cause conversation and consternation.

It's a tricky proposition to sell a magazine cover of a celeb to fans who are interested in their popular image and then make that person unrecognizable. Sometimes it works out well, but sometimes fans are confused or even concerned. Read on for a look at magazine covers that sported photos of unrecognizable stars.

Gisele Bündchen - Vogue Italia (2023)

This is an interesting time in Gisele Bündchen's life. After all, she recently finalized her divorce from football player Tom Brady, so it makes sense that the supermodel would want to try out a new look. Where better to do so than on the cover of Vogue Italia?

On the cover of the magazine's March 2023 issue, Bündchen was a vision in red. Her red dress perfectly matched a coif of slicked-back red hair, tinted the same shade as her bold red lipstick and her barely-there arched red eyebrows. A smoky blue eyeshadow offset the look, the colors perfectly complementing one another. It seems that Vogue Italia was well aware of how different their cover model looked. On Instagram, they wrote (translated by ABC News): "Our cover story is a chromatic journey through the thousands of transformations of a woman who, usually portrayed naturally, is almost unrecognizable here."

Fans confirmed that, yes, Bündchen was fully unrecognizable. While many praised the new look, others preferred her more natural appearance on runways such as Victoria's Secret. One fan tweeted: "To me, these pictures just cover her up."

Taylor Swift - Vogue (2016)

2016 was a pivotal year in Taylor Swift's career. This was the year she broke up with Calvin Harris, had that fling with Tom Hiddleston and his "I Heart TS" shirt, and first met Joe Alwyn. This was the year Kanye West included a nude statue of Swift in the video for "Famous," a song in which he infamously took credit for her stardom. It's also the year Kim Kardashian released "receipts" on Snapchat ostensibly showing the "I Forgot That You Existed" singer agreeing to some particularly-offensive "Famous" lyrics, though opinions differ on what was actually shown!

That same year, Swift appeared on the cover of Vogue, and many fans were surprised by the singer's appearance. While she was known at the time for her side-swept bangs, the Vogue cover showed Swift with a much more severe chop than fans were used to. Her hair also appeared to be several shades lighter than her normal golden blonde, and her blue eyes seemed to have been lightened as well.

Vogue was aware of the singer's surprising look; the accompanying profile was, fittingly, headlined "Taylor Swift As You've Never Seen Her Before." In fact, according to Vogue's podcast (via Fashionista), editor-in-chief Anna Wintour herself oversaw the transformation. "We thought that we could take Taylor — who is a beautiful, beautiful girl but has been a little bit more conservative in her fashion choices — and turn her into an Hedi Slimane rock n' roll girl," Wintour said. Mission: accomplished.

Katy Perry - Paper (2019)

To launch her album "Witness," Katy Perry chopped off her trademark locks in favor of a short blond pixie cut that she told W Magazine made her feel "liberated." The drastic change fit Perry's pattern of chameleonic looks; the "Harleys in Hawaii" songstress was no stranger to transforming to match her music, from her iconic "California Gurls"-era blue wig to the purple 'do she rocked in the music video for "Wide Awake." 

Still, Perry's appearance in the February 2019 edition of Paper came as a shock to even the most seasoned KatyCat. Dark under-eye eyeshadow, bleached brows, a light-pink lip, and wispy, dyed-black hair made Perry almost unrecognizable. "I didn't know that was her at first lol," one fan wrote on Twitter. In the associated profile, titled "Transformation," Perry discussed switching it up to keep her career feeling fresh. In particular, she once more credited her pixie cut as a real landmark in her ongoing style evolution. "When you don't have long hair, you really can't hide behind it," she reflected. "Everything is exposed."

Vanessa Hudgens - Flaunt (2014)

It's common for former child stars to experiment with new looks as they try to find their place in the entertainment landscape as adults. In the mid-2010s, Vanessa Hudgens' career shifted from films like "High School Musical" to racier roles like "Spring Breakers." It's only natural that appearing almost as an entirely different person on the cover of a magazine would be part of that process; it's almost a rite of passage these days!

In Baby V's case, the magazine in question was Flaunt. She posed for the cover in a cropped white shirt, baring her midriff and belly button piercing. Though she is most famous for darker hair, she was given highlights for the photoshoot, and her eyebrows seem to have been lightened as well. Combined with smokey eyeshadow, a sleepy-eyed pose, and an angle that made her nose and mouth appear upturned, Hudgens may as well have been someone else entirely. "I thought it was Rihanna," one fan wrote on Twitter.

Despite the surprised reaction from some fans, Hudgens herself was happy with how the photo shoot turned out. She shared the cover on Instagram, writing: "Good times chillin with motorcycles and bleached eyebrows hahaha." One follower commented in reply: "You look like Taylor Swift here!" While we agree Hudgens doesn't look like herself, we have to wonder: have these fans ever even seen Rihanna or Taylor Swift?

Taylor Swift - Wonderland (2014)

The release of Taylor Swift's fifth album "1989" cemented the former country singer as a full-fledged pop star. Country-tinged songs like "Teardrops On My Guitar" and "Begin Again" had given way to pure pop bangers like "Blank Space" and "Bad Blood," so considering the evolution in her sound, it makes sense that Swift's image was due for an overhaul as well.

One place she experimented with a new look: the November 2014 cover of Wonderland, released mere weeks after "1989." The photoshoot stripped back Swift's typical look, ditching her typical bold lip in favor of a more natural pink. Gone were her typical dark lashes; on the other hand, her usually-thin eyebrows were darkened and filled in, leaving her looking more like Cara Delevingne than her typical self. "We hardly recognize her in bushy brows," one user wrote on Twitter. Swift even appeared to have visible freckles, which are usually lost under her foundation. A number of commentators called the overall effect "androgynous," a bold new move for the pop star who usually leans more into her femininity.

The look was such a radical shift for Swift at the time, in fact, that other magazines took notice. The following year, Maxim used a photo from the same shoot as the cover of their June/July 2015 issue (via Yahoo!).

Elizabeth Olsen - Empire (2018)

Often, fans are the ones who will notice when their favorite celebrity looks unfamiliar on the cover of a magazine. In the case of Elizabeth Olsen's Empire Magazine cover variant, however, the "WandaVision" star herself was the one to point out that her face seemed ... different. 

The year was 2018, and Empire Magazine had just released a number of different covers to promote the then-upcoming release of "Avengers: Infinity War." The Marvel Cinematic Universe had grown quite large by that point, and fans love a collectible, so the magazine paired Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., and Letitia Wright on one cover, while Olsen was posed with Dave Bautista, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Danai Gurira. However, even though Olsen's Scarlet Witch costume was instantly recognizable, her face seemed to have been photoshopped past the point of recognition. The shape of her mouth looked completely different, for one, and her recognizable cheekbones seemed to have been smoothed out of existence.

 "Does this look like me?" Olsen asked her Instagram followers in a since-deleted post (via Newsweek). The resulting social media brouhaha was so intense that Empire released a statement to Newsweek, claiming: "Empire magazine did not make any alteration to the 'Avengers: Infinity War' artwork, supplied to them by Disney and Marvel Studios, that appears on the May 2018 cover." In other words, the Mouse House itself was the one to photoshop Olsen's face. Oops!

Andy Roddick - Men's Fitness (2007)

It's no secret that tennis player Andy Roddick was a great athlete, especially at the height of his tennis career during the 2000s. He won the U.S. Open in 2003, and then for the rest of the decade he came in second to Roger Federer at tournaments like Wimbledon. Not too shabby! It's no surprise, then, that Roddick would appear on the cover of Men's Fitness in 2007. What was a surprise, however, was the tennis pro's appearance. He was in great shape at the time, sure, but the version of Roddick who appeared on the cover sported some dramatically pumped-up biceps compared to other photos of him around the same time.

No one was quicker to point out the cover photo's distorted body image than Roddick himself. According to People, he wrote about the magazine cover on his blog, joking: "Little did I know I have 22-inch guns and a disappearing birthmark on my right arm ... It was pretty funny. Maybe Rafael Nadal wants his arms back?"

The Photoshop flap was covered by the New York Post, which reported that Men's Fitness saw a number of staff resignations over the situation. The New York Times even managed to get a statement from American Media, the publisher behind Men's Fitness in which the spokesman told them: "We wouldn't comment on any type of production issue. ... I don't see what the big issue is here." 

Kim Kardashian - Interview (2022)

Kim Kardashian is one of the most-photographed women alive, and she's no stranger to causing controversy when fans suspect she has photoshopped a photo of herself for Instagram. In the case of her Interview Magazine cover story in 2022, however, it wasn't photoshop that shocked fans; it was Kardashian's radically-different styling. She appeared on the cover of the American Dream Issue with her infamous derriere framed by a jockstrap, but it was her face that caused all that conversation. Contrary to her usual appearance, Kardashian sported bleached brows, contouring that appeared to change the shape of her cheekbones, and hair so blonde it was almost white.

In the corresponding interview for Interview, Kardashian credited her "glowing" appearance to all that self-care. "I really take care of myself," she insisted. "I work out, and I eat as plant-based as possible. I'm not perfect, but it's a lifestyle. I feel really good in my own skin these days, so maybe that comes through."

Jessica Chastain - W Magazine (2015)

In 2022, Jessica Chastain won the Academy Award for best performance by an actress in a leading role, recognizing her transformative role in "The Eyes of Tammy Faye." In order to look more like televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, Chastain spent a reported seven hours in the makeup chair to undergo a process that involved extensive makeup, prosthetics, and wigs.

Years earlier, W Magazine lauded Chastain for her willingness to transform herself in a 2015 cover story fittingly headlined: "Jessica Chastain: Transformer." In the stunning cover image, she appears with a shock of vibrant, pink hair in place of her natural red. Her eyebrows were blocky and black, and her lipstick was a far bolder shade than fans were used to seeing her sport.

The profile was timed to her appearances in "Crimson Peak" and "The Martian" — two very different films featuring two very different Chastain performances — that were released the same month. However, she pointed out that disappearing into her roles can be a double-edged sword as a woman. "I would hear, 'Who is the real Jessica?' a lot. I think of versatility as a good thing, but it does make it difficult for audiences to know you," she said, adding: "They rarely say that about men."

Kerry Washington - Lucky (2013)

Lucky Magazine is no longer around, but a few years before the magazine folded for good, it managed to generate a firestorm of controversy thanks to its cover story featuring Kerry Washington. Fans were baffled by the image, which saw Washington's familiar face altered and transformed into what appeared to be an entirely different woman. Her nose and eyes seemed to be different shapes than usual, and her severely-chopped bangs seemed to alter the entire shape of her face. Even her skin, unfortunately, seemed to have been lightened. According to Lucky editor Eva Chen, who shared the cover on Instagram, the shoot was done by celebrated fashion photographer Patrick Demarchelier, who was once Princess Diana's personal photographer. How could it all have gone so wrong? Well, to hear Chen tell it, it was Washington's fault! In a since-deleted Instagram comment, Chen wrote (via Fashion Bomb Daily): "We did the best we could with the subject." Ouch!

"Yes, it does look that bad," Tweeted one fan who received a physical magazine in the mail. They even suggested that the cover wasn't the only problem with the magazine, adding: "The inside pics are not much better." In fact, this cover was so unrecognizable that fans still use it online as the benchmark for subsequent cover-image scandals. "This reminds me of what Lucky Magazine did to Kerry Washington," one fan Tweeted in 2021, attaching a tweet about an unflattering Vogue cover featuring Vice President Kamala Harris.

Lady Gaga as Jo Calderone - Vogue Hommes Japan (2010)

In 2011, Lady Gaga bewildered fans and viewers by showing up to the VMAs in character as a male alter ego named Jo Calderone, claiming to be her own boyfriend. She acted out a monologue on stage to open the show, then segued into a performance of her single "You and I." Journalists backstage seemed just as confused as fans, and according to Entertainment Weekly, one reporter asked the "Poker Face" singer how one persona complements the other. "I don't understand the question," Gaga/Jo replied. Fair enough!

While the VMAs were certainly Calderone's debut for most people, true Little Monsters had seen the "Italian model" before — the previous year, when Gaga appeared in costume on the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan. Gaga's longtime stylist Nico Formichetti teased the character in a behind-the-scenes blog post shared on Twitter, and when the magazine cover debuted, fans were left to scrutinize the James Dean-esque "model's" profile for hints of Gaga's famous nose. In an interview (via Hypebeast), Calderone claimed Gaga had told him: "You were born this way." The #1 song debuted the following year.

Interestingly, Gaga's Vogue Hommes Japan appearance foreshadowed another iconic moment. In a much more recognizable variant cover, Gaga appeared (in woman form) wearing a bikini made of meat. Months later, she would shock the world by stepping out on the 2010 VMAs stage covered in beef, asking Cher to hold her meat purse. Gaga, ooh la la, indeed!

Miley Cyrus - W Magazine (2014)

At this point, fans are used to Miley Cyrus changing up her look. After all, she skyrocketed to fame on "Hannah Montana," a show where we were meant to believe that she transformed into an entirely unrecognizable person just by putting on a certain wig. During the "Bangerz" era, Cyrus chopped off her hair into a side-swept pixie cut, infamously twerking on the VMAs with her brand-new look.

The following year, she appeared on the cover of W Magazine looking unlike what we'd ever seen of her before. Featuring a shock of white-blonde hair and dyed eyebrows, Cyrus posed seductively, wrapped up in a sheet. Gone were the normally-thick eyelashes she wore in favor of a more subdued look, and the low angle of the shot made both her nose and mouth seem more upturned than normal. The corresponding profile, written by Ronan Farrow, emphasized her then-recent shift from Disney starlet to tongue-waggling bad girl. "I'm trying to tell girls, like, 'F*** that. You don't have to wear makeup,'" she explained. "You don't have to have long blonde hair and big t******. That's not what it's about. It's, like, personal style.'"

Kerry Washington - Adweek (2016)

Kerry Washington didn't address the backlash to her infamous Lucky Magazine cover, but a few years later, the "Scandal" star found herself once more at the center of a confusing cover shoot. This time, Washington appeared on the cover of Adweek, and in the inside profile, she discussed the legacy of the Shonda Rhimes show. "In a million years, I couldn't have expected the success of the show and the impact that it would have culturally in terms of fashion, changing language, images of gender and the landscape of casting in television," she said.

However, the profile wasn't what caught people's attention. Instead, it was the fact that Washington didn't really look like herself on the cover. In fact, she looked more like Scarlett Johansson. Washington addressed the backlash to the cover in a lengthy Instagram post ruminating on photoshopping, writing that she loves Adweek and was proud of what she had discussed in the corresponding interview. Still, though, she admitted being upset by her appearance. "I just felt weary," she wrote. "It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror. It's an unfortunate feeling."

Ariana Grande - British Vogue (2018)

On "Victorious," Ariana Grande was known for her pink hair. When she launched the pop career that sent her popularity through the stratosphere, however, it was her high ponytail that made her look instantly iconic. She wore the brunette look for years, sporting it on single covers, in music videos, and in paparazzi shots, making everyone associate her name with that image.

On the cover of British Vogue in 2018, however, Grande switched it up. She wore her hair down and blonde, immediately erasing the one iconic image people had of her. In addition, her makeup style on the cover was completely different. While she typically wears heavy makeup, the look on the cover is more natural; the bridge of her nose in the cover shoot is covered in freckles, though it's unclear whether they are real or drawn-on. When the cover hit social media, fans were shocked by the "Break Free" star's appearance ... in a good way! "Omg I barely recognized her," one fan Tweeted, clarifying: "She looks stunning." Another suggested that she should have ditched the ponytail long ago.

Speaking with British Vogue, Grande discussed her lingering sorrow about the then-recent bombing of her concert in Manchester. Perhaps the singer felt it was best to strip back her popstar costume for such a serious topic, considering she ended the profile with a hopeful quote. Grande concluded: "Sometimes, it's kind of just about being the light in a situation."