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Clio looks at power dressing in France

Clio comments: Women in political life, especially at the top, do have issues about their appearance. Here is an assessment of the 2007 contender for the presidency of France, Ségolène Royal, and her approach to power dressing, by her biographer Robert Harneis:

"With a minimum of policy declarations, support for her [Ségolène Royal] grew. Initially, at any rate, this was connected to her uniqueness in being an attractive woman in the very male-orientated French politics and the enormous media attention it generated. The readers of the French edition of FHM got so carried away, they voted her the sixth sexiest woman in the world, beating Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. She said of herself at this time, with evident satisfaction, 'even when I say nothing it generates interest.' . . .

"Despite cultivating an image of spontaneity Ségolène left little to chance in her campaign to seduce the public and, through them, win the primaries. In the summer of 2005 she had work done on her jaw, supposedly because she had a slight lisp, but it also had the effect of making her already pretty smile quite dazzling.

"She took great pains with her appearance and dress, taking advice from longstanding friend and adviser Nathalie Rastoin, a top executive with advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather, who is an expert in public opinion surveys, brand marketing and particularly revitalizing old brands. There was plenty of scope there for her with the Socialist Party. They meet at least twice a week to decide on presentation tactics. It is she that advises what clothes to wear. No detail is too small. According to Isabelle Mandraud of Le Monde, no member of her team is allowed to wear sunglasses when they accompany her. When the television company RTL used a picture of her and François Hollande [Clio: Ségolène’s now ex-partner and father of her four children, as well as secretary-general of the Socialist Party] together on the steps of the National Assembly she threatened to sue because they showed her one step in front of him, which could be misconstrued."

Clio asks: do you think such obsessive concern with image is justifiable? or not?

Source: Robert Harneis, Ségolène Royal: A Biography (Petersfield: Harriman House, 2007), pp. 134-135.


Tiffany Wayne
Tiffany Wayne
United States

An interesting dilemma - I'm sure there are many men in the public eye who also hire PR teams and personal image consultants. However, we all know women are going to be judged more harshly when it comes to their appearance (think Hillary Clinton's pantsuits...and cleavage!), so in that sense it is understandable that Royal would be so "obsessive" about it. Perhaps she is just trying to preempt criticisms and negative attention by orchestrating every move and using her appearance to her advantage... Certainly it is unfortunate that women seeking high political office (or business positions) have to pay so much attention to the matter.

Michael DeLong
Michael DeLong
United States

I, too, wonder about the use of "obsessive" in this context, as for me it points up the way that these sorts of issues are framed rhetorically. While a woman concerned with image might be deemed "obsessive," a man might be deemed "resolute" or "detail-oriented." A male politician's concern with his image might also just go unnoticed, considered a trivial or unremarkable part of his overall campaign, whereas a female politician's concern with her image becomes a central focus by the media. For example, Carol Migden's facelifts are a common topic of (snide) political humor in local media, whereas no one even mentions that of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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