Iron Fist, Ironed Face
By Elliott Eglash
Celebs who have digitally altered their press photos: the Kardashians, Beyoncé, Trump, and—interim Kazakhstani President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev? Since he entered office in March, his press office has released photos in which his face has been blatantly photoshopped. His wrinkles and creases have been flattened and smoothed, as if his face were a freshly laundered sheet, and his double chin has shrunk to a healthy 1.5x.
His press office has so far offered no comments in response to these allegations. But comparing the two sets of photos leaves little room for doubt. In the originals, Tokayev’s face appears pocked and scarred, as if he were a teenager recovering from a bad case of acne (and a worse case of bushy old-man eyebrows). His superfluous chin flaps limply from his face, like a chicken’s wattle. In the edits, his characteristic facial craters are nowhere to be found, replaced by skin as smooth and bland as a piece of plastic wrap. And his formerly fat visage has been slimmed and tightened. Perhaps he’s using one of these photos for his dating app profiles.
Does it matter? On the one hand, who cares about the self-presentation of a temporary president from a far-off and forgettable central European state known mostly for its oil exports and human rights violations? On the other, Tokayev is only the second president in all of Kazakhstan’s brief post-Soviet history, and, ahead of official elections in June, his election strategy appears to draw directly from Trump’s playbook.
Like Tokayev, Trump’s social media accounts routinely releases edited press photos, in which the orange autocrat’s belly appears slimmer, his shoulders appear stronger, his hair appears more humanoid, and his baby hands appear almost adult-sized. Whether anyone notices this obvious tampering is almost beside the point—his supporters applaud his successful diet, his opponents mock his vanity or else cower meekly, and the world keeps on careening.
Tokayev is hardly the first world leader to follow Trump’s example. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now routinely cry “fake news,” while leaders from Italy, Hungary, and elsewhere have begun to ape Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. What’s happening in Kazakhstan may be the newest, least troubling iteration of this trend.