Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer turns heads with Vogue photo shoot

Story highlights

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is the subject of a 3,000-word profile in Vogue

She poses prone on a chaise lounge in a designer dress and heels

Some find the image inappropriate for a CEO

Defenders say women's interests shouldn't undermine their work

CNN  — 

Since taking the helm of Yahoo after years in Google’s upper echelon, Marissa Mayer has been at the center of plenty of talk not focused on turning around the once-mighty Web giant.

As Silicon Valley’s most prominent woman, her appearance, her motherhood and the way her policies will affect female employees have all, fairly or not, been the subject of spirited discussion.

Now, a two-page photo spread in September’s Vogue magazine has them talking again.

In the photo, Mayer lies upside-down on a backyard lounge chair, wearing a blue Michael Kors dress. Her blond hair fans out at the foot of the chair, her Yves Saint Laurent stiletto heels point toward the top and she holds a tablet computer featuring a stylized image of her face.

In the minds of some, that single image is enough to undo a 3,000-word article – the first in-depth interview Mayer has granted since taking the reins at Yahoo – that focuses on her successes and vision in a male-dominated tech world.

“Nothing says, ‘I’m a powerful woman’ like a photo of you upside down on a weird couch,” Stan Horaczek, an editor at Popular Photography, said on Twitter. “Nice work, Vogue.”

“Being equal means you can be (feminine) AND smart,” wrote online business consultant Angie McKaig. “However, still wincing over Marissa Mayer all stretched out for Vogue.”

Some people focused less on the photo and main article than they did on what they deemed a questionable sidebar piece titled “What Would Marissa Mayer Wear?: A Workweek Guide to Office Dressing.”

“Marissa Mayer’s ascent up the corporate ladder and to the top of the tech world are enough to make her the mentor every working woman wants,” the piece reads. “But her uncanny ability to perfectly answer that age-old fashion question: What is work-appropriate? is equally worth emulating.”

It follows with a five-panel slideshow of outfits presumably inspired by Mayer.

“Oy… ” read the one-sound review of Slate economics reporter Matt Yglesias on Twitter.

Mayer has made no secret of her love for design and fashion. The article, in which writer and Slate Group editor-in-chief Jacob Weisberg calls her an “unusually stylish geek,” is her second appearance in Vogue, following a 2009 feature when she was one of Google’s top leaders.

READ: How Marissa Mayer makes her own rules

Much of the online response on Monday, the first day other publications could run the image, remained focused on the article itself, with much of it praising Mayer and the steps she has taken to begin a turnaround at a once-faltering Yahoo. Others said the photo, like it or not, shouldn’t take away from the overall look at Mayer’s life and career.

Anna Holmes, founder of women’s website Jezebel, argued in a column for Time that “women who hold any position of authority get it coming and going” when it comes to their appearance. Ignore it? You lack self-respect. Focus on it? You’re superficial.

If anything, she writes, Mayer’s photo and other recent debates “make me yearn for a time when female competence in one area is not undermined by enthusiasm for another – in which women in positions of power are so commonplace that we do not feel compelled to divine motive or find symbolism in every remark they make, corporate policy they enact or fashion spread they pose for.”

In the article, in which Mayer reveals a fondness for even numbers, cashmere boleros, pineapple milkshakes and Candy Crush, she also provides insight into her first year at Yahoo’s helm.

Who works from home and how they do it

On her vision for Yahoo: “Close your eyes and listen to this list. E-mail, maps, weather, news, stock quotes, share photos, group communication, sport scores, games. You’re listening to what people do on their mobile phones. And it sounds like a list of what Yahoo does.”

On buying blogging site Tumblr: “I’ve done now between three and four dozen acquisitions in my career … and I’ve never seen this kind of lock-and-key fit between two companies. Our demographic is older. Theirs is the youngest on the Web.”

On her controversial move to end work-from-home at Yahoo: (In a conversation with Web investor and pioneer Esther Dyson) “Mayer elaborates, a little defensively, on her reasons for the change. She never meant it as any kind of larger statement about society, but simply as the right decision for Yahoo, where by various accounts working from home often meant hardly working. Teams are happier now that absent participants don’t teleconference in for meetings. Messages on Yahoo’s ‘devel-random’ e-mail list, the company’s informal forum, have lately turned positive. And in perhaps the clearest sign of support, employees have, she tells Dyson, ‘stopped leaking my e-mails’ to the press.”

On getting ahead in Silicon Valley: “I didn’t set out to be at the top of technology companies. I’m just geeky and shy and I like to code. … It’s not like I had a grand plan where I weighed all the pros and cons of what I wanted to do—it just sort of happened.”