Skip to main content

Why shouldn't Marissa Mayer look hot?

By Peggy Drexler, Special to CNN
August 23, 2013 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's photo spread in <a href='http://www.vogue.com/magazine/article/hail-to-the-chief-yahoos-marissa-mayer/#1' target='_blank'>Vogue magazine</a> has proven controversial, with some saying it detracts from the 3,000-word article that focuses on her successes and vision in a male-dominated tech world. The profile describes Mayer as an "unusually stylish geek." Take a look at other photos of her through the years. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's photo spread in Vogue magazine has proven controversial, with some saying it detracts from the 3,000-word article that focuses on her successes and vision in a male-dominated tech world. The profile describes Mayer as an "unusually stylish geek." Take a look at other photos of her through the years.
HIDE CAPTION
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
Marissa Mayer: Proud geek
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peggy Drexler: Talk of Marissa Mayer's Vogue piece focused on her appearance
  • Drexler: We can't blame Mayer, or Vogue, for society's obsession with appearance.
  • She says Mayer has no say over the fact that looks matter, pretty people succeed more
  • But it's unfair, she says, to expect Mayer to sit for a photo that wasn't going to be flattering

Editor's note: Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @drpeggydrexler.

(CNN) -- Yes --- Marissa Mayer posed for Vogue. Her skin is creamy, her hair perfect. She looks gorgeous. It's not surprising; it's Vogue.

It's also not surprising that the conversation about Mayer's Vogue piece -- the first major profile she agreed to since becoming CEO of Yahoo -- has remained squarely focused on how she looks in the accompanying photograph.

Most criticisms, my own included, have examined Mayer's role in this: At a time when women in the workplace desperately need role models, why did she allow herself to be depicted in a manner so far removed from most women's realities?

Peggy Drexler
Peggy Drexler

On CNN.com, Pepper Schwartz writes that "a significant number of women ... were less than thrilled at the idea of one of the few women of real power still needing the affirmation of a Vogue fashion shoot," and "here's a woman who has made it to the top because of her brains, does she still need to self-validate by having a beautiful fashion gig?"

But what's so inexcusable about a woman wanting to look her best? How is it self-validating to let a respectable magazine profile you in the way they know how? Or is the issue more about the audacity of a powerful woman sitting for a portrait that might be -- gasp -- flattering?

The truth is that we can't blame Mayer, or Vogue, for society's obsession with, and response to, appearance. Women, especially women who happen to be both beautiful and brilliant like Mayer, are very often reduced to, or at least measured by, their looks. This was a reality before Mayer's Vogue spread, and it will be a reality after. The debate over Mayer's culpability in agreeing to be sexed up for a fashion magazine implies that she has some power over the fact, some ability to change the truth, that looks matter, and that pretty people succeed more.

Because they do, with or without the "affirmation of a Vogue fashion shoot."

Yahoo CEO's photos inspire debate
Can a tech CEO be chic?
Was Marissa Mayer out of line?

According to a 2007 paper from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overweight and obese white women face a significant "wage penalty." According to research by Daniel Hamermesh, author of "Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful," the top one-third of attractive females earn about 10% more annually than those in the bottom sixth of the genetic pool.

And in her groundbreaking 1999 book, "Survival of the Prettiest," Harvard Medical School psychologist Nancy Etcoff argues that good-looking people get better jobs, are better paid, and have an easier time in life. The evidence is in: Evolutionarily speaking, pretty people win.

Mayer's looks likely helped her get ahead in some manner throughout her career; as such, it's unreasonable to expect that she'd do anything but agree to play them up for a national audience.

For women, who are faced with any number of disadvantages in the workplace, why not use what you can? That's not to say Mayer isn't brilliant or hardworking; it's not an either/or in business or in life. But it's unrealistic, and unfair, to expect that Mayer wouldn't sit for a photo that wasn't expected to turn out at least somewhat flattering. That's not self-validation, or even narcissism. It's nothing more than completely human.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peggy Drexler.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1812 GMT (0212 HKT)
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 2124 GMT (0524 HKT)
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2331 GMT (0731 HKT)
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
August 1, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2350 GMT (0750 HKT)
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 2300 GMT (0700 HKT)
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2031 GMT (0431 HKT)
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT