I was flipping through a magazine the other day when I saw a photo of the prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, in a fashionable swimsuit, walking on a beach in Puglia wearing white platform sandals. We’ve become used to Meloni shocking us; nevertheless, it’s still surprising to see a European head of government photographed in that full-body, bare-leg way during the summer holidays.
It seems that the prime minister is trying to soften her image, and that’s quite a task. Meloni comes from the very hard right of the Italian political spectrum, so far right that some people have even called her a fascist. She may not herself be worthy of the “F”-word, but the party she leads certainly emerges from that background. When it comes to
Meloni, there is a lot of softening to be done.
It’s not the first time she has tried to make herself more appealing. Back in 2020 she appeared on a sunlounger wrapped in an Italian flag swimsuit. This time round Meloni was once more sporting a swimsuit, this one with a low-cut décolleté that also exposed her navel, and a pair of flashy sunglasses. Her hair was neatly tied back in a bun.
It struck me what a moderate, delicate, “ladylike” appearance it gave her, a long way removed from her tough, rather sour political image.
Sometimes I can’t believe how much Meloni is trying to demonstrate an ability to change – and not just her appearance. Her political character appears to be becoming more moderate. She is part of the establishment now and has had to cut back on the aggressive political rhetoric. Meloni is having to embrace both Europeanism and Atlanticism.
As a teenager fighting for the right wing cause at university, Meloni was scary, a ranter who often dressed as a tomboy. Back then her hair was more on the brownish side and pulled back in a ponytail. She wore jeans with boots or trainers. Now she looks like something out of a glossy fashion magazine.
I must admit I do quite like her new feminine style, the new, poised image she tries to project at international meetings as if to reassure the Germans and the French that she has dropped all those populist ideas. One of my favourite Italian proverbs goes: “L’abito fa il monaco”, meaning “the robe makes the monk”. It is quite fitting in her case.
It is striking just how much Meloni cares about her appearance. Her hair, clothes, the understated makeup and her relaxed body language all convey precise messages.
As well as spin doctors, it looks to me as if she now employs a full-time personal trainer, beautician and hairdresser.
She has a new, “Matrix-style” look, reminiscent of the outfits worn by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix – long jackets that reach her ankles, worn over trousers, in multiple colours. I think these Matrix suits with broad shoulders help to compensate for her lack of height.
I wonder how much of Meloni’s precious time as prime minister she spends on her looks, while inflation soars and petrol has reached 2 euros (£1.70) a litre. I can’t forget the ranting, right wing student – that person has not gone away. But I suppose working on the appearance comes with the job of prime minister – perhaps much more so for a female one. But even so, no matter how successful the makeover, how
Meloni appears is much less important that what she actually does – it’s important to recognise a facade when you see one.