In the event of a competitive presidential election, it’s wise to throw caution to the wind and pull out all the stops, and Emmanuel Macron has decided to lean on a tried-and-trusted attention-getting strategy in his quest to defeat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen: thirst-trapping. On Sunday, Macron’s official photographer Soazig de la Moissonnière posted an Instagram carousel of Macron’s campaign trip to Marseille that includes a picture of the president lounging indulgently on a light brown Vico Magistretti sofa.
Macron has a huge, contented smile on his face, and the three top buttons on his crisp white shirt have been left undone, revealing a thicket of the president’s opaque, dark brown chest hair. Some commentators have alleged that the chest hair has been enhanced via Photoshop, while others speculated that Macron is attempting to woo conservative voters by “signaling traditional French values:” chest hair and two cellphones.
“Honestly, I think everyone probably looks sexier when sitting on a honey Maralunga sofa,” Tyler Watamanuk, a GQ contributor and the author of Sitting Pretty, a newsletter about interiors, said. “And I wish I could earnestly wear a button-up with that many buttons undone. No small feat.”
Eagle-eyed observers may also notice the way Macron’s chest hair is shaved neatly at the neck, creating a pleasing contrast between unwieldy masculine follicles and crisp, sophisticated hygiene techniques.
Is Macron embracing male grooming trends, or bucking them? While the president’s body hair isn’t completely out of control, its undeniable abundance is championed in a 2021 Manscaped article which dubs the look “the full Sasquatch.”
“After a year of quarantine and pandemic, a lot of guys let the hair go,” Manscaped explains. “Do you know what they discovered? The world didn’t end.”
The intersection of politics and body hair (or lack thereof) doesn't begin with Macron, who’s already established as a bona fide sex symbol—there've even been adult coloring books created in his honor. In fact, it has a rich and sometimes sordid history. The avalanche of partially nude selfies that led to former New York congressman Anthony Weiner’s downfall and conviction as a sex offender revealed conspicuously baby-smooth pectorals, prompting questions about whether Weiner regularly sprung for a wax.
Shirtless beach photos of Richard Nixon reveal a chest that's hairy, but not in excess. While Barack Obama’s (hairless) chest was exposed countless times in fawning vacation photography, George H.W. Bush went to great lengths to ensure he wouldn’t ever be snapped with his shirt off.
In the midst of the pandemic, many male politicians seized the chance to be photographed sans shirt while getting their COVID vaccinations. Being inoculated against a deadly virus signals health, prudence and civic responsibility, while a casual bare chest adds a sprinkle of sex appeal and the projection of self-confidence. Wins all around.
But perhaps the most notorious episode of political toplessness was embodied by none other than Vladimir Putin, who in Kremlin-released photos could be seen fishing in Siberia and riding a horse while bare to the waist; the pictures of Putin's fluorescent white hairless chest were given the meme treatment thousands of times over.
“When I am on vacation I see no need to hide behind the bushes, and there is nothing wrong with that,” Putin said, clearly taking pride in his physique.
“Removing body hair not only makes muscles look bigger and more sharply defined (or ‘cut’), but it also removes traces of secondary sex characteristics…in order to render the male body a ‘safe’ object of ‘aesthetic’ contemplation by the eye of either men or women,” writes Steven Cohan, the author of Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties.
By embracing and displaying his chest hair, Macron might then be attempting to center characteristics of sexual potency; youth and vitality offer compelling (if not strictly intellectual) reasons to toss a candidate your vote, even in high-stakes political environments where much hangs in the balance.
“In contrast to Putin’s paranoid propaganda, Macron is creating an archetypal strong democratic leader—young, virile, on his daily grind to save the world order. A hustler-in-chief,” said Kyle Chayka, a contributing writer for The New Yorker and the author of The Longing For Less, an analysis of minimalism. “The casual couch photo looks like something out of a mid-century magazine or a future history book, an iconic photograph that gives a hint of charismatic personality—whether accurate or not—and plenty of authority.”
Macron, a centrist, also has a deep imperative to sway the French left in his favor in order to win his election, a mission that incentivizes him to embrace as many youthful signifiers as possible. He just might be onto something by leaning into the Parisian Tom Selleck vibe.