Have a bunch of magazines print pictures of you wearing a bikini. It's that easy. Or at least it won't hurt the chances of Segolene Royal, 53, the French Socialist who is in the running for the job. Royal is doing the requisite complaining about the pictures, but the protests appear to be purely for window dressing. Mind you, it doesn't hurt that she actually looks pretty darn good in it, too. She is, after all, 53 and the mother of four.
This week's edition of celebrity magazine "Closer" included a cover picture of Royal on holiday in bathing suit, cap and sunglasses as part of a survey of "50 stars at the beach."
Its rival VSD followed up with a similar photo of Royal juxtaposed with a picture of Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative she may well face in next year's presidential election, jogging on the beach over the headline: "Duel in the sun."
The photos have sparked widespread radio and newspaper comment including a long article in the ultra-serious Le Monde.
Both politicians are shrewd at using the media to push their image as modern politicians ready to breathe life into France's hidebound political system and both have faced accusations they place style and image over substance.
That has played into the agenda of a celebrity press devoted to the doings of actors, singers and other personalities referred to in France as "les people."
"Segolene Royal and Nicolas Sarkozy are the 'people' of the vacation season," VSD deputy editor Marc Dolisi wrote in an editorial. "The public watches their smallest actions and gestures because they have used their private lives as a political weapon with such mastery."
The comment is undoubtedly true but it may also have been aimed at warding off complaints about intrusion.
The French media has traditionally been very discreet about covering politicians' private lives, steering clear of sensitive issues and sparing them the relentless attention faced by their counterparts in countries like Britain.
As a public service, we went through the internet searching for this fabled photo, just so our faithful readers wouldn't have to risk carpal tunnel syndrome:
We also want to go on the record with one, small request. Please stay away from the beach, Hillary. Please. Your bust was bad enough.
UPDATE: April 22, 2007. This post has suddenly become red hot on the search engines according to the logs. Hey, take a look around the blog if you found it because of this picture!