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"She complains that women are sexualised and then sexualises herself in her own work. Hypocrisy," said radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer on Twitter.
Watson said she was "confused" by accusations she is "anti-feminist" and there was a real "misunderstanding" about what it actually means.
So can you bare your breasts and still be a feminist?
"Emma Watson has done more for women and for young girls than most of us put together," says Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality and women's rights.
"So I don't really see that just because she's made that decision, any of us should be criticising her.
"She's an empowered woman who is posing for a very tasteful image. She's not being exploited, she doing it in a controlling position. It's a positive use of her body."
Sexist News, the team behind the campaign for the Sun to stop using topless models on Page 3, said it loved that the former Harry Potter star was "exploring and championing feminism having grown up in the public eye".
It believes the row created by the photoshoot is "daft", adding: "It is not a debate that we have about men's fashion shoots, regardless of the amounts of nipple-grazing crochet they wear.
"While no woman gets to dress herself outside of our society's patriarchal bubble, this example just shows that someone like Emma Watson is going to face an even more impossible standard than many other women."
Victoria Jenkinson, 20, a member of Girlguiding, believes the shoot has been used as a opportunity to "stir up a frenzy" around Watson and "undermine" her work promoting women's rights.
"The shoot doesn't suggest hypocrisy nor does it undermine her work as a feminist and we as women should be united in our fight for equality more than ever before," she said.
"I don't understand why people have an idea they can tell a woman what she can and can't do and I agree with Emma that critics have missed the point.
"A woman should be able to choose what she wants to do. This is what feminism is all about in 2017."
But Dr Finn Mackay, a feminism researcher at the University of West England, rejects the view that feminism is about giving women "choice" and says it is a social justice movement.
"Emma's saying feminism is about choice and the choice to do whatever you want, but that's a nonsense," she says.
Emma Watson photo shoot
"Some women choose terrible things, some women choose to work for parties that deny women access to abortion, access to healthcare or mothers access to welfare."
However, she does not believe that Watson's pose for Vanity Fair means she is not a feminist.
"If she self identifies as a feminist and believes in promoting women's rights, her doing her job doesn't necessarily have to undermine that.
"I think if she's trying to say being in a photoshoot and getting your breast out is a feminist act, that's a different matter."
But Dr Mackay believes promoting feminism is more effective through the voice and not the body.
"The most radical thing that women can do in this culture is keep their clothes on and open their mouths and make political points," she says.
The controversy surrounding Watson's magazine shoot has brought into question what it means to be a feminist.
But equality groups and feminists say the debate should be focused on female objectification and inequality.
'Dig at feminism'
Ms Smethers says: "The real issue about all of this is the pressure on young women to look a certain way, to be judged on their appearance so if we are going to focus on anything that's what I would be more concerned to be prioritised."
Dr Mackay questions why the debate has been reduced to a celebrity exposing her breasts rather than issues such as women's economic positions and cuts to women's services.
"A Hollywood celebrity flashing a bit of boob is really the least of my worries," she says.
"It's interesting that people only speak about it now and their real motivation seems to be to want to have a dig at feminism rather than to talk about the overall problems Hollywood has with objectifying women."
Sexist News adds: "We really need to examine why on earth this one fashion image has caused such outrage. This is not to say that images of fashion or celebrity are unproblematic, quite the contrary.
"As ever the focus is on what a woman should or shouldn't be doing and not on how our culture presents, polices and consumes women's bodies and condemns their actions.
"We need to challenge these things, not the individual women stuck in the system."