LOVE AND DEATH: Presidential Pols Reveal Too Much for Camera

Every election season has its ugly moments, and this has certainly been no exception. I refer specifically to the photographs that have been swirling around the entire affair. If cynical ears have long since become inured to the blather of campaign chatter, the eyes are still vulnerable to an occasional jolt of horror that can leave you jittery for days.

Some joker recently left one such vision of the damned on my desk, perhaps not realizing I am seven months pregnant and susceptible to stress-related physical collapse. The photograph showed Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov combing his hair before a television appearance. It wasn't a Brillcream-style look-at-this-gloss combing either, but one of those hunched, surreptitious grooming moves you catch men making on the metro, where the little black plastic comb is invisibly clasped in the palm of their hand like a deadly weapon, and the entire process comprises an endless series of swift, grim strokes with eyes shyly downcast, as though the groomer can hear his mother scolding him: "You'll never get elected with that hair!" It is a spectacle both mesmerizing and depressing.

Many people might argue there are those among us who could stand to comb our hair a little more often. But coming from a proudly slovenly country where public displays of personal grooming are generally frowned upon, I must confess that my boneschilled at the sight of Gennady Andreyevich sprucing up while cameras snapped and crackled. Still, this wasn't the worst shock of the campaign season. For I put bikini swimming trunks on a terror par with small black combs. And that can only mean the worst snap of the season goes to the top gun himself, Vladimir Putin, who saw fit to break up the monotony of the photo gallery in his new book by throwing in a candid shot of himself playing table tennis in one of the smallest bathing suits available in the eastern hemisphere. As if this isn't bad enough, he throws in a caption about precisely how much weight he eventually gained from eating all that German food.

This is a curious time for the country's biggest enigma to choose to tip his hand. He could have easily stayed a mystery just a little bit longer. Is this the sort of image that people want to take with them to the voting booth? There are very few secrets left about U.S. President Bill Clinton, for example, but I'm still deeply grateful that I never had to see a picture of him in his bathing suit or combing his hair. In the category of more news I don't want to know, however, I recently read that Clinton has tipped the scales at around 94.5 kilograms. In America, where obesity is the new obsession, this could widely be seen as a populist move. Perhaps Putin is trying the same tactic. He's really just like the rest of us.