Following complaints the last few years, the giant electronics show here in Vegas had been moving away from scantily clad sirens employed to draw inquisitive eyes to exhibitor booths.
But they’ve been replaced by a new type of eye candy: super-fit women showing off the latest health products or demonstrating fitness gear.
At CES and other conventions, exhibitors will do anything to attract the attention of the mostly male crowds swarming the show floor. The booth babes of yesteryear — who frequently looked one step away from stripperdom — were an effective tool for capturing the male gaze.
The tactic was also viewed as sexist, crass and desperate, and became an emblem of the tech industry’s lack of gender diversity.
In 2013, CES show management updated its guidelines to discourage scantily-clad booth babes, following widespread publicity of girls wearing just body paint.
The new guidelines asked exhibitors to keep it clean, and put them on notice that they’ll shut down anything that isn’t “properly attired.” Other tech conferences went even further. The annual RSA Conference, an information security event, has banned revealing clothes altogether.
But at CES, skintight lycra and bare midriffs appears to be OK.
“Everyone’s wearing sports bras and tight little shorts, not cocktail dresses,” said Leah Gruber, a professional “trade show model” who works at dozens of events throughout the year. At the Valencell booth, she was running on a treadmill and climbing on big jungle gym to demonstrate the company’s biometric sensing earbuds and fitness trackers.
“There’s definitely a trend at trade shows to move away from booth babes,” she said. “We used to wear heels and platforms at trade shows but we don’t do that anymore and that’s really nice for me.”
Gruber said she’d received a couple of hours training on the company’s products and was happily telling visitors about them, as well as gamely posing for photos.
She has to pose for lots of guys taking photos, she said, and has been subjected to a few offensive, sexist comments.
Another model said she also preferred working in sports gear rather than a miniskirt. In the past, she stood around passively looking pretty, but at CES she was actively demonstrating how the products worked. “I definitely feel its better than just standing around looking pretty,” she said.