National Eating Disorders Association

Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer’s Spread in Vogue Raises Eyebrows and Questions

NEDA Staff

Open the September issue of Vogue and you’ll find an in depth feature on Yahoo! CEO, Marissa Mayer. Mayer is one of only 22 female CEOs running a Fortune 500 company – a feat made all the more notable in the field of technology, where the gender gap at the top has proven particularly challenging for women.  In one of the article’s accompanying photographs, Mayer is seen reclining outdoors in a pose that some women felt was inappropriate for a female CEO and would never be utilized to showcase a male in a similar position.

The controversy is this: Whether she wants to be or not, Mayer is a role model for women simply by being one of the few female CEOs. And, by appearing in what many feel is a passive, sexualized pose in Vogue, she is presenting herself in a certain light to an incredible number of women (Vogue’s reported total audience is 11,037,000 and 87% of their readership is female).
Obviously, Mayer has the right to do what she feels is right for her and to pose in any way she sees fit. But, from our perspective as the National Eating Disorders Association, the larger debate brings up a lot of questions about women in power, gender bias, feminism, and the responsibilities of role models.

In covering the controversy, a recent article in CNN Living solicited input from a variety of women and posed the question: “But can’t a woman be powerful, strong and beautiful, all at once?” Of course, a woman can be all of these things (and more), but is that the point? It seems to us that the real question here is, “What does a women of such power posing as a sexual object say about our culture?”

We also started to wonder:

  •  Does this spread display a healthy level of body confidence or is it representative of the pervasive tendency to over-value a woman’s physical appearance?
  • Does it reinforce the idea that success and beauty are inextricably linked?
  • Does it play into the pervasive myth that “having it all” means having the great career, the happy family and the “ideal” body?
  • Does seeing a CEO this way in the pages of Vogue have a different impact on women than seeing traditional fashion models?

In asking these questions, it is not our aim to judge Mayer on her decision to pose for Vogue. Our goal, as critical viewers of media, is to think about the images we see and start a discussion about the potentially harmful messages they convey.  Call it “food for thought.”