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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fitness Becoming a Political Necessity

LONDON -- Time was, all a politician had to do to look good was kiss a baby. These days, projecting the right image is getting a lot more strenuous.

From President Vladimir Putin being photographed bare-chested and muscle-bound fishing in a river, to French President Nicolas Sarkozy paddling a canoe in his swimming trunks, fitness and action are the political order of the day.

Get it right, and the publicity can be winning-- Putin's mountain-landscape poses have been a hit among female voters at home and have apparently struck a chord among the global gay community as well.

Get it wrong, and it can be rather like a balloon bursting.

The French magazine Paris Match, which carried the photographs of Sarkozy in his canoe, has been accused by a rival magazine of airbrushing the photos to erase the 52-year-old president's love handles and make him look more trim.

Paris Match, owned by a close friend of Sarkozy's, is not commenting, while the president's office has denied that it made any request to have the bulges retouched.

Whether there will be any political fallout from France's mini-scandal remains to be seen, but those who brand the famous for a living say it's unlikely to give a moment's pause to the booming industry of burnishing politicians' images.

"There is a flowering of very influential, very powerful agencies, particularly public relations agencies, that are plowing their skills at image-making and propaganda into unusual places, including politics," said Mark Borkowski, the head of Borkowski PR, which handles some political clients.

"America honed political propaganda via television in the 1950s and '60s ... and now other countries are buying into the process because of the Internet and the power of images."

It's not for nothing that Bill Clinton was frequently photographed jogging while U.S. president, a trend kept up today by his successor, George W. Bush, and by Sarkozy himself.

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a media magnate who knows the power of television, was often photographed open-shirted on the beach into his late 60s. He admitted to having a facelift and a hair transplant to keep his image youthful.

"I don't necessarily think it's a good idea for politicians to pose naked for photographs," said Dylan Jones, editor of men's fashion magazine GQ.

"But if they're going to be snapped on holiday, it can't hurt their public image to possess a body that their countrymen aren't embarrassed about," Jones said.

"I'd rather my leader had a body like Putin. ... It shows discipline."