Body language experts tell us that photos of couples offer up myriad clues as to the state of their relationship, even more when they’re caught unawares. The idea is that we all emit ‘tells’ which give away our secrets, and that anyone skilled in the dark arts of decoding this particular branch of semiotics can read us like the words on a page. I don’t have those skills. While I wouldn’t bet my house on anything a ‘body language expert’ might say, it’s still interesting that this pseudo-science remains neither verified nor disproved. It persists in the realm of things that might sorta-maybe-kinda be true. Like god, and UFO’s.
Speaking of gods, Barack Obama and Michelle Obama sit at the top of the tree for skilled exponents of the body-language game. These guys have some moves. Consistently, they send out the message that they are very much in love. Always in sync, there’s a lot of apparently spontaneous touching, public displays of affection, deep eye gazing, body mirroring, which can all be faked of course. Especially the hand-kissing. They lay that on a bit thick.
But not even the Obamas can keep their game-face on 24/7. Sometimes they let the mask slip and the reality of crushing schedules and personal sacrifices, of a powerful and ambitious woman playing second fiddle to a man she adores but also, maybe, sometimes resents, slips through. Especially when she’s not being constantly validated as the hottest woman in the room by the most powerful man on Earth. But I’ll get to the Danish vixen Helle Thorning-Schmidt in a moment.
Next we have Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Community Party of China, and his vivacious wife Peng Liyuan, a former folk-singer whose charm offensive extends to everybody except her husband. I’ve reviewed hundreds of photos: no shared eye contact, no hand-holding, no kisses either staged or spontaneous. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but if a man and woman like each other, it shows. Here, it doesn’t. She is like a dutiful employee, a proud foot soldier of the Communist cause, the stylish smiling face of Chinese ‘soft power’ abroad.
Vladimir Putin and Lyudmila Putina, now divorced, were married for 31 years until he dumped her for a 31 year old gymnast with a monobrow. He loved Lyudmila, I think, when he was a hungry young nobody. But then he became a somebody and started putin it into other women willy-nilly to prove his enduring masculinity, it all fell apart. But for many years the photos showed them drifting sideways, evidenced his roving eye, her smile becoming tired and fake. For a long time, they were happy as only a couple who’ve shared the best years of their lives can be. She’s still looking for him in this picture, but he doesn’t want to look at her anymore, he’s looking elsewhere. It’s sad.
A totally different pair, Bashar al-Asaad the President of Syria and his wife Asma (described as the First Lady of Hell) are monsters. Carefully posed photos aside, this weak-chinned war-criminal somehow snagged a beautiful, posh-talking Londoner who pretends at compassion yet goes on shopping sprees while her poverty-stricken subjects are being cluster-bombed by her husband. In a way, their photos are perfect. He looks like an insincere, insecure crybaby, the wimpy kid who got bullied and came back for revenge. She’s not invested in any of it. Never a hair out of place, immaculately groomed, she’s there purely for the bling. I’m sure she dominates the shit out of him at home. Back at the palace it would be all femdom whips and high heels, diapers and harsh spankings. He’s got that sort of head on him, and so has she.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, and his wife Sophie Grégoire can do no wrong. He comes across as the ants pants of world politics, an energetic young progressive, and she is his stunningly attractive and very much in love young wife. But both seem very posed, a byproduct of a public life I guess, as if they studied ‘relationships’ at university. She seems to dote on him more than he does her. Both are supremely conceited about their looks, but they’re hard not to like. They seem genuine, lots of touching, flirting, eye contact — but why so many photos of her pulling him towards her for affection, as if he is resisting? Dude, you’re an idiot!
Okay, so who the hell are Giorgi Margvelashvili and Maka Chichi? He’s a former chess champion, academic, and current President of Georgia, and she’s his not-really qualified at anything second wife. I like this couple. He looks like a busted-nose bouncer from some underground strip-club in Moscow, when in fact he’s a bilingual intellectual who loves knitting. She looks like a bimbo, when in fact she’s ah, … a bimbo! Just this once, who cares. Lots of hand holding, incidental touching, leaning in to share each other’s personal space, heaps of deep eye contact. He knows he’s punching above his weight in the looks department, and he’s delighted. Every photo screams happy to me.
Our next contestants are about to get some major heat. Enrique Peña Nieto is the President of Mexico, and Angelica Rivera (filthy rich entrepreneur and former soap-opera actor) as the First Lady make for a very photogenic couple. And don’t they know it. But they are smitten, love their respective public roles, and dazzle in the limelight. Nieto will shine in his showdown with Trump, and Angelica’s political capital will soar as his #1 staunch (and stylish) supporter. He needs it, because he has a bad-boy image to bury, hence (maybe) the very public displays of affection. These guys are all over each other, all the time. But they are media savvy too, and Trump hasn’t applied the blowtorch to Nieto’s belly yet either.
Did anybody know that Kim Jong-un is married? Apparently the lucky lady is called Ri Sol-ju. His consort never gets closer than half a metre to the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; there’s no touching, no intimacy. I’ve looked at tons of pics, and the pair don’t even look at each other. I suspect that their ‘marriage’ is bogus, to finally put to rest those rumours that Kim Jong-un is actually unicorning his younger sister, the sinister Kim Yeo Jong, who’s said to be behind some of Kim’s nastier executions (burning people alive with flame throwers, shooting them with anti-aircraft guns, etc). It’s hard to examine photos of Kim and Ri together, because seven months ago Ri disappeared and hasn’t been see since.
Much better relationship-ambassadors are Britain’s new PM Theresa May and husband Philip, a terrific couple with plenty of miles on the clock, always relaxed and comfortable in each other’s company, with no suggestion of any rivalry or simmering resentment. Their pictures exude warmth and trust, mutual respect and admiration of each other. You feel happy for them. Lots of photos, quite a few of them snapped privately, reveal a power-couple leading successful careers with plenty of energy and hope for the future. They are a feel-good pair with no real dirt or scandal attaching to them, unlike some of our subjects.
Angela Merkel and Joachim Sauer are an interesting pair. Without a doubt, Sauer plays second fiddle in public. He comes across as insecure, stiff and uncomfortable, deferential, unsure, a real beta-male. But in private photos (and there are many) there’s a 180 degree reversal. Maybe that’s what Ange, the world’s most powerful woman, wants when she’s at home? By all accounts, he’s a (professor of theoretical chemistry) smart bloke who happens to be extremely private, strong-willed and disciplined enough not to be drawn into the media whirlwind. I suspect he’s an introvert too, so he gets my vote. Solid couple. He’s always looking at her with admiration and pride.
Now we come to the saucy Viking at the business end of Michelle Obama’s death-glares: Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Prime Minister (until recently) of Denmark, married to Stephen Pinnock. While it lasted, she was all the power and all the glory. His sole claim to fame was that he’s a skinny-younger-brother lookalike for Vladimir Putin. in 2015 came an interesting role reversal: he’s now a British MP and she’s retired from politics, with far fewer photos of them in the present situation. This is mainly, I think, because Pinnock is a bit dull. I haven’t seen a single picture suggesting Helle disagrees with this assessment. I think Helle baited her hook for bigger fish, and received more than one nibble.
Lastly, and perhaps irrelevantly, Donald and Melania Trump. I won’t rehash the body language experts, frothing at the mouth over the way she draws away from any contact with him, her fake smile, his arrogant dismissiveness. I have no doubt that the loathing and boredom you see in her expression is genuine, but it’s hard to tell with all those injections paralysing her face. What I do see is an absence of any warmth between them. Look of love? If you are rich enough, you can surround yourself with pretty, shiny things. If you look hard enough into them you might see your own reflection. That’s all it is for Donald Trump — Melania, his empire, the Presidency, everything is just a giant mirror reflecting the only thing in the world that matters to him.
Pictures don’t always speak a thousand words — they don’t need to — sometimes a single word will do.