Powerful Images: What Power Looks Like

If you’ve been alive and consuming any kind of visual media in the past 40 years, you can probably conjure in your head with little to no effort an image of business or political power.

That’s because the image is almost always the same: male, in a suit, squared up to the camera, facing down the viewer, often with his arms crossed, but clearly ready to do battle.

A Google image search of “CEO” took all of 3 seconds to locate thousands of images. The majority of them look something like this:

Enrique Salem

Enrique Salem
Former CEO Symantec

Peer Schatz

Peer Schatz
CEO Qiagen N.V.

Keith McLoughlin

Keith McLoughlin
President and CEO Electrolux

By contrast, powerful women are rarely photographed in the same pose. As my friend jokes, gravity gets very strong when women are looking at a camera.

They are usually sitting, leaning, (God forbid sorority squatting) or they have their hands on their hips. Another Google image search produced these photos and hundreds more just like them. (Note: To find female CEOs I had to include gender in the search criteria. Simply CEO, did not produce photos of women.)

Amelia Culwell

Amelia Culwell
CEO Gold and Silver Buyers

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer
CEO Yahoo

Amber Schaub

Amber Schaub
CEO RuffleButts

Does the difference in the way we actually view male and female CEOs change our perceptions of them? Probably. I don’t have any studies or data to present to declare definitively.

I offer this by way of explanation of why I ADORE this photo of Wendy Davis. She’s just formally announced her candidacy for Governor of Texas.

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis
Texas Governor candidate

I think this may be the best “power” photo I’ve seen of a woman. She’s not pretending to be a man by wearing a poorly fitting suit with enormous shoulder pads. She’s not sexing it up with cleavage or a short skirt. She’s not dripping with kids or flags as props. It’s just her, in an outfit that is quite flattering and feminine, but there is nothing weak about any of it.

Well done, Texas Monthly! Here’s hoping we see more photos like this in the future.


6 thoughts on “Powerful Images: What Power Looks Like

  1. It seems to me that says as much about photographers as about the other aspects. They advise women to lean a little–it’s more “flattering.” And don’t you love the pink tennis shoes touch?! I do!

    • An another thing: Actor Michael Caine once told an interviewer that there is a distinct difference in the way people who have power carry themselves. When he wanted to portray a powerful person, he would speak deliberately and quietly, walk slowly and purposefully, often with his hands behind his back. Powerful people anticipate that they will be unquestioningly heard and obeyed. They do not gesticulate. Their demeanor is lower key–dignified, authoritative and unpretentious. The crossed arms, however, are clearly protective, indicative of readiness for conflict.

  2. Good blog post Kerri! Your point is made very well. I also love the picture of Wendy Davis but I noticed the pink sneakers too. Why couldn’t they have been another color?

    There are many powerful women out there. You can emit power in ruffles and floral prints if you so choose. It is a matter of attitude.

    I just started a soapbox post. I deleted it and will end again with saying, “Well done, Kerri!”

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