Skip to main content

Why shouldn't Marissa Mayer look hot?

By Peggy Drexler, Special to CNN
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Fri August 23, 2013
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
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Sun July 13, 2014
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
updated 11:12 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
updated 9:20 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
updated 2:41 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
updated 8:01 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
updated 8:08 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
updated 3:03 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
updated 6:37 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT