Mighty Life List
Jan 17 2012

CES is Killing Sexy


“Wanna hook up? Noooope.” is a screencap from the Wired magazine Instagram stream. (Via Ink361)

Last year was my first year attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and after a few days in a crush of wall-to-wall men, women did start to seem endangered; the sight of someone wearing lipstick was almost luxurious. At first I wondered why everyone was staring at me when I walked around the show floor. Three days later I was so starved to see a sister, I would stop in the middle of an aisle to gape, slackjawed at any woman passing.

So I understand why people hire booth babes — female models who demo products — and I get why they’re effective. I just don’t get why the people who dress them seem to hate pretty girls so much.

(Photos from Coed Magazine.)

The Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra is super supportive. And tube socks to wear on her arms in case she gets cold. That’s thoughtful.

Let’s set aside that hiring booth babes makes it clear women aren’t peers at CES. Also how the media keeps interviewing the models to represent a female perspective on technology, while conveniently forgetting that they don’t actually work in, or often have any interest in, technology. Or that the whole thing isn’t laughably 1962. (I mean, have you been to Vegas? CES doesn’t touch the frowny-faced emoji that goes down for women there.) So, accepting these facts as a given, let’s talk about the depressing shit they’re making these women wear.


They said string bikini, fine. They said eight hours in platform heels, she brought foot numbing cream. They asked for someone with double Ds, so she arrives… and they ordered an XS bikini that provides less coverage than her actual underwear. You knew about her boobs, Creeper. She’s wearing her bra.

Given the opportunity to dress a woman in a way that says, “I’m smokin’, but approachable! Come talk to me about technology!” What kind of mouth breather says, “Put this on:”


This company’s target customers are bikers who like to salsa dance at toga parties.

An angry person who hates flirtation and the nerdy people who yearn for it, that’s who.

Here’s what. If you want to pay models to pretend-demo your products, fine. Models totally love getting paid, and women don’t need to buy your product. But the least you can do is provide clothing that genuinely appeals to the target audience — nerds.

Something that says, “My hotness does not preclude the possibility that I’m smart” instead of “I grew up without a father, and am being paid to make eye contact with you.”

Not this:


This outfit is actually adhesive. It hurts to take it off, but so much more to put it on.

This:

Oh. Did my top fall off my shoulder? I didn’t realize, thanks. Are you into video games? (Victoria’s Secret)

Not this:

Pleather makes you sweat, so they cut vents in the sides.

This:

I’m usually a math tutor, but I decided to change things up for the weekend. (American Apparel)

I mean, as long as you’re irritating half the population, you might as well move some product.

35 Responses to “CES is Killing Sexy”

  • Absquatulate Says:

    THANK YOU for writing this. And people wonder why I get irritated when they suggest sexism doesn’t exist anymore (yes, someone said this to me, recently.)

  • one soul Says:

    This is so depressing I could cry all over the motherboard of some really expensive new electronic equipment. Dipshits. I mean, honestly.

  • SAWK Says:

    unbelievable!

  • Andrea Says:

    ok, first off I love your website, perspective and all that you bring to this world. Secondly….. Thank gawd someone wrote about this abysmal subject. It makes me sick looking at these girls but I really appreciate your level headed alternatives. They need you to be booth babe casting director for sure ;)

  • Margot Says:

    THANK YOU for writing this! And perfectly timed as well, I’m working on a blog post of my own regarding the strange and surprisingly dated places that conferences seem to be. Especially with to women.

  • Amanda Says:

    So eye-opening, Maggie. Thank you!

  • schmutzie Says:

    And this is 2012, right? Right?

    I’m going to go weep for us all a little bit before I put on my feminist fighting suit.

  • AnthroK8 Says:

    I didn’t realize all the women in the world besides me who like technology ALSO like dressing for their upcoming audition of Girls Gone Wild… Tech Specs Edition!

    Um… wait…

  • Christy @morethanmommy Says:

    Thanks for a funny look at something that is not really all that amusing otherwise. It’s my third year at CES and each time I’m both irked by the scantily clad booth babes and horrified that someone thinks it will help sell their product (I refuse to accept that the skankification of women sell CE products). I’m only sorry that you missed the shot of the woman in the French Maid costume who was so over made-up that she looked like something Frankenstein might have conjured up. I wasn’t sure if they were going for slutty or Monster High.

  • Kristen Says:

    As the uber smart SueBob said on Twitter, this is sexist when it comes to men as well — to assume that that’s what it will take to bring them to the booth.

    Meanwhile, where are the hot guys dressed in boxer briefs?

  • Wendi Says:

    Thanks for writing this. They make boat show models look like Rhodes scholars.

    And are bad hair extensions part and parcel, too?

  • Maggeh Says:


    I’m not into criticizing the models, the ones I’ve talked to are nice women looking for a paycheck. That’s easier, especially in Vegas, if you have long hair and a good body.

  • Nellie Says:

    Right. On. Thanks, Maggie!

  • Fatemeh Says:

    Did you know that a majority of those women are imports? Many of them are exotic dancers who can make more in three days on the CES floor than they could in several weeks back home. So they come.

    It’s actually the same biz model as the many primo strip clubs in Vegas: girls come for a weekend, make great money, and fly back home on Sunday night to their real lives, where no one has to know that they dance for tuition.

    Vegas preys on souls. That’s just the bottom line. I hate the place.

  • Carahe Says:

    This. Is so the exact reason I don’t do cons. Why travel and take time off to buy stuff from businesses that are so EAGER to tell me how much they hate women, ya know?

  • Sommar Says:

    Exactly.

  • kim Says:

    Sometimes the world just comes right up to your face, and says with halitosis tinged breath “You were wrong – nothing ever changes.”, and then backs away slowly, maintaining eye contact.

  • Shannon Says:

    How little things have changed. Back in the mid 90s, I worked as a programmer at a computer consulting company. For some reason (unbeknownst to us when the request came), one of the secretaries and I were asked to demo the one of the company’s products (an application we developed). We couldn’t figure out why we were asked as we weren’t the two most knowledgeable people there (she was a secretary and I hadn’t even worked on the product) until we got to the show. Then it dawned on us that we were asked because we were the two best looking women in the company; I think they were too cheap to hire actual models and figured that she and I might be able to say something intelligent about the product. Thus, began and ended my career as a demo dollie (that’s the term we heard instead of booth babe). Interestingly, since there was little female competition for all the men working there, we got invited out to lots of events, parties, and the like. Even got to see Cirque de Solieil for free. Don’t get me started on how I missed my chance for dinner with Bill Gates at a table of 4 though. Still to this day regret that one.

  • holly c Says:

    Wow. My husband is a techie who’s never been to CES. Yet I have the urge to go downstairs and yell at him about this. (OK, I won’t, he’s a great guy and so wouldn’t be in to this) but gah. This is pretty depressing.

  • Bianca Says:

    Thanks for writing about this–CES, gaming, etc. aren’t scenes I delve very far into, but they reek of male-privilege-in-denial even on the fringes. It’s about a month old, but I just read this article written in a similar vein the other day and enjoyed it: http://kotaku.com/5868595/nerds-and-male-privilege

  • Emily Says:

    Even better? I believe the adult movie conference/tradeshow is going on at the same time.

  • Sandra Kessell Says:

    Thank you for this post. You’d never know there have been women at the forefront of software development for more than 40 years ago, would you?
    The OTHER computer billionaire giving away a fortune is – female. Plus ça change.
    http://sandrakessell.wordpress.com/tag/dame-stephanie-shirley/

  • AnthroK8 Says:

    Soooo is it just me who thinks these companies dressed all their women employees like they are avatars in certain types of video games? Because I am getting the feeling these product development people think men who go to CES believe all women look like the digital rendering of women.

    @Shannon- please tell me they didn’t ask you and your colleague to wear lame for that conference.

  • sharshank Says:

    These models are very confident and pretty! Whatever it takes to get peoples attention. I don’t have a problem with it. I wish I could have gone to CES in Las Vegas! Too bad I was stuck working at DISH. I bet these models catch everyone’s eyes and get them interested in their tech gadgets. I really like the Hopper that was introduced at CES. It has a huge DVR space. It has more recording space then DIRECTV’s HR34.

  • Daniel Says:

    There’s more to this than simply “men bad, women good”. I detest booth babes, but not because the evil men running the companies are paying for these ridiculous costumes that supposedly degrade otherwise virtuous women. I detest them because they’re insulting to *men*.

    Think about that a minute. What does it say to *men* when a company pays a woman (who volunteers for the gig, in true feminist fashion – she’s no slave) to dress like that? It tells men, “we know how to control you. We know that you can’t pass by the trashiest of the trashy, the skimpiest of the skimpy, and we know that *you* think you have a shot with these girls.”

    It’s insulting. I have no problem with the women who take the jobs. Nobody is holding a gun to their heads. Nobody is losing their souls, as one commenter put it. These girls choose to do this. The companies who hire them (run most frequently by men) are the ones that deserve your ire – for insulting men.

    I’ve got my flame retardant suit on, so feel free. I’m not toeing the line about how the women are victims, about how the creeps are making them dress this way. Booth babes need to go – we agree on that much.

  • Christina Says:

    Amen.

  • Amy Says:

    I’ve never been to one of these events, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume there aren’t any hot guys selling this stuff. I’m grossed out by the companies dress their employees. But I’m also really annoyed that they seem to be assuming they only need to attract men (and lesbians?) to their product.

  • Jason Says:

    Sandra Kessell(#20) mentioned that women have been instrumental in Software Development/Computer Science for a long time. I totally agree. Ada Lovelace was the first, maybe one of the first, programmer. Don’t lump CES Attendees/Gamers/Gadget Junkies in with good ol’ software developers though. Most, if not all, of the software developers I know could care less about playing computer games or even the newest gadget.

  • Uncle Roger Says:

    Remember also that, were it not for a woman, we likely wouldn’t have computers in front of us. Admiral Grace Hopper turned computers from a military/research curiosity into an indispensable business tool. Without her, they very well may have remained in the labs for much, much longer.

    That said, CES is, as I understand it (having never been — it’s on my mighty life list), a consumer electronics show, not a computer or even video game show. So the target audience is not so much the computer nerd/programmer as it is the couch potato, the casual gamer, and those who sell to them.

    I see the same thing at the Auto Show every year here in San Francisco and I can’t say I don’t enjoy it. The booth babes at the auto show, however, tend to be dressed better, perhaps because there are a lot more families/women who go.

    That said, I like your first alternative (a lot!) but the second outfit isn’t much better than the booth babes’ outfits (and that huge bow makes her look like a flight attendant.)

  • Rainee Says:

    C’mon folk! This does not surprise me in the least. I live through stuff like this everyday since I work in ‘da sciences’.

  • Anna Says:

    I would very much like to high five you right now.

  • Liz Says:

    First: I thank you for offering very excellent free styling advice to these brands. Next year they should pay you for it. Because it’s damn good.

    Second: I thank you for pointing out which brands we should be reluctant to cover on our own website. A high significant of our readers have indicated that “a brand’s values is of high importance” in making purchasing decisions. I’d imagine that “admires pole dancing” is not going to fly with our female readership in the values department.

    Our own contributor has already informed us which CES booth featured an actual stripper on the floor. Again, very helpful.

  • The smart skirt Says:

    Hilarious article. A problem at festivals and trade shows the world over. Booth babes ugh, that term exists?

  • Meg Says:

    I laughed so hard while reading this. So funny and poignant.
    “This company’s target customers are bikers who like to salsa dance at toga parties.” – Classic!

  • Erika Says:

    Okay but – kinda trashing the single moms to suggest that being raised without a father inevitably leads to this.