Sprucing up the president

2010-11-22 00:00

LADY Margaret Thatcher had one, so did Ronald Reagan and Hillary Clinton. If they did, surely the president can consult one too?

I’m not referring to anything controversial or esoteric like a personal banker or a psychic, but an image consultant. When Thatcher’s famously persuaded her to change her hairstyle, it generated more media coverage than many of her considerable achievements during her stint as the Iron Lady prime minister of Britain.

The first thing I’d do as image consultant to JZ would be to whip the specs off his nose and into an optician faster than you can say “screw”. That’s all it would take to put an end to that annoying and unprepossessing habit he has of constantly pushing them up — tighten the screws in the arms of the glasses. How hard can it be to get the head of state’s spectacles fixed? Isn’t that what all those deployees and other minions in the Office of the President are for?

Continually having to push your glasses up the bridge of your nose does not make for an air of gravitas and statesmanship, especially when addressing such weighty topics as the latest moves on the cabinet chess board and the Pothole Repair Budget.

Wearing a jacket over a T-shir­t would be banned along with leather jackets that make him look like a union leader and all those dull, shapeless suits. To improve his image, the president needs to find a personal style that’s particular to him, and own it. Nelson Mandela famously had the Madiba shirt, Thabo Mbeki had the cardigan-and-pipe look and Bheki Cele has colonised sharp suits and hats, so that style is taken too.

If JZ had employed an image consultant whose brief stretched to include the first ladies, there would never have been an opportunity to snap that now notorious picture of the three first wives snoozing during their man’s address to Parliament. That image has taken on an electronic life of its own and pops up periodically in my inbox with comments that have become less and less complimentary in tandem with the current regime’s plunging approval rating. The latest showed them after a series of photos of the svelte and athletic Michelle Obama playing American football.

Top of the list of advice I would give to the women of the Zuma household would be to lose weight. I know I’m getting into sensitive territory here and I can almost hear the traditionalists protesting about African conceptions of beauty and African men’s proclivity for “traditionally built” women. However, science doesn’t (always) lie and the statistics on South Africa’s rising obesity rate are alarming. I’m not suggesting that we need public figures who look like they’re practising to come back as rabbits in their next life by living on lettuce leaves, but we do need role models of a healthy lifestyle.

Cultural traditions aside, we can’t escape the reality that all the president’s partners probably qualify as clinically obese. This offers the world a chance to point mocking fingers: “Here comes the only head of state in the world to have not just one, but three wives and one fiancée who are seriously overweight.” Imagine the cost of overseas presidential jaunts if airlines really do introduce penalties for overweight passengers?

And that’s another job for the presidential image consultant — the first wives’ and fiancée’s wardrobes for overseas tours. Although mostly acceptable, especially those stunning shweshwe outfits, there have been lapses. For example, no matter how gorgeous dimpled knees hiding in rolls of fat look on babies, they do not make for a flattering photo on a presidential partner seated beside a world leader. In the name of our country’s international image, cover them up already. And hire an image consultant.

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