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
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT