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July 27, 2012 9:10 pm
We may be at full Olympic throttle (or overload, depending on your perspective), but do not let the thrills and spills of medal-dom obscure the reality of what is looming at the bend of the week: the Silly Season. And you know what that means: politicians on holiday. With all the potential sartorial horrors that involves.
You understand: when I say “sartorial horrors”, I’m not talking about viewer experience – though on occasion (Silvio Berlusconi in his Speedos leaps to mind) that can be pretty scary. No, I’m talking about the situation the men and women in question are facing. Let’s have a little sympathy here. Even leaving aside the moral complications of taking a vacation in a crisis, appearing extravagant in a recession, and so on, what the leaders of the free (and not-so-free) world should wear on their holidays is pretty much a poser. Or so seems clear from past experience.
Consider, for example, the water vacation, whether on a yacht or by the sea, and think about Nicolas Sarkozy on the beach last year in the south of France sporting baggy swim shorts and a bigger belly than his proudly pregnant and black-bikini-clad-wife Carla Bruni; or Barack Obama, shirtless in the surf in Hawaii in 2008; or Tony Blair in his $200 bright green Vilebrequin shorts. Any time a leader dons a bathing suit, or the equivalent, they are exposing themselves, pun fully intended, to ridicule.
It’s not their fault; very few men (or women for that matter) of an age to become head of their country, have the body to carry off being uncovered. It’s a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t thing; after all, theoretically, they are supposed to be spending all their free time trying to solve the thorny problems of their countries instead of, say, working out with personal trainers. But if they are in notably good shape they risk landing, as Obama did, on the cover of Washingtonian magazine because they are “hot”. Yeah: that’s the way to be taken seriously by the electorate and Congress!
As for the sporty, non-swim vacation, getting snapped in a bicycle helmet (Obama) or a life vest (Romney, recently, on a jet ski) or in those stripey sports socks that little boys wear (Jimmy Carter) is just not a smart strategy. The message might be: health. But the image is: yikes.
Not, of course, that inland vacations are any safer. Think about how silly David Cameron and Prince William looked at the Wimbledon finals in jacket and tie. Relax much?
Indeed, the last time a politician’s vacation really worked in his favour was probably circa John F Kennedy on his boat, where photos showed the president looking impossibly glamorous and wind-blown in a polo shirt and white trousers. Had those shots been taken now, however, I’m not sure even they would have been favourably received. People probably would have complained about the privilege of Kennedy owning a boat and announced he was out of touch.
But you know what they say about learning from history. There are signs this is happening: in the past four years Obama has never been seen shirtless again, and on Romney’s recent vacation he was pictured swimming ... in a T-shirt. That might have been taking things a bit far, but the alternative – a 65-year-old in all his saggy-stomached glory (let’s face it, even skinny 65-year-olds have saggy skin), is probably worse, especially when we are supposed to be convinced said candidate has the stamina and strength to fix things.
So what’s the answer? I’m tempted to say the best solution is to stay home, but that seems terribly unfair. On the other hand, it would also be a lot more relaxing not to have to worry about silly photos being leaked, so maybe it’s worth it.
After all, our politicians can always take a really long vacation once their term is up. But thanks to the internet, any embarrassing photos of them while in office will follow them for ever.
However, if that doesn’t convince you, dear leader, to eschew this dangerous photo op, then at the very least, I suggest following these rules:
1. As the Atlantic magazine once pointed out, national leaders should never, under any circumstances, be seen wearing shorts more than a centimetre above the knee; the thighs of a middle-aged anyone simply don’t hold up (I do not except myself in this assessment).
2. Do not get photographed in a bathing suit. Ever. You just don’t want anyone thinking about images of you unclothed at any time. That is exactly what shrinks always advise insecure people to do when they feel threatened by someone: picture them in their undies. Do not help your opponents by making this easy.
3. Stay away from sports socks, jog bras etc. Never let them see you sweat. Even when it’s 110 degrees.
4. When all else fails: hide. This can be done in a polo shirt and khakis just as effectively as in real camouflage. In fact, I’d argue that is actually what it is.
For a slideshow of politicians on vacation, see www.ft.com/luxury360
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