On Friday, October 8, Pope Benedict XVI welcomed French president Nicolas Sarkozy to the Vatican. The French president’s visit was allegedly prompted by plummeting approval ratings among the country’s Catholic population. The declining approval rating stemmed from Sarkozy’s extremely controversial effort to deport Roma Gypsies from his country. However, an official statement from the Vatican itself revealed that there was no discussion of the Roma deportation during the Pope’s audience with the French president. Instead, the topics ranged from relations with the Middle East, to ethical, social, and economic issues. The international media, however, found much of this of very little importance. Instead, many took note that Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, former Italian triple-threat (model, singer, and actress) and current French first lady, was not in attendance.
Not long after the president’s visit, the French satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné reported that the first lady had no choice to attend, but in fact had been told via a message directly from the Holy See that she was not welcome to accompany her husband. An ultra-A-list smack-down anybody? According to the report, the Pope was concerned that nude photographs from Bruni’s modeling days would resurface in the Italian tabloids in association with him. The story quickly spread internationally, despite the reputation of the newspaper that first published it and the noticeable lack of credibility to the story.
This, however, was not Bruni’s first run in with the Pope Benedict XVI. She did not attend Sarkozy’s first audience with him in 2007 since the two were not yet married. Bruni later took harsh criticism from French Catholics after she publicly reprimanded the pope for his stance on the use of contraception for the prevention of the spread of AIDS in Africa. Can she really be blamed though? The Pope suggested that the use of condoms may actually increase the spread of AIDS. Somebody had to say something.
Perhaps it wasn’t the position of the French first lady to voice her opinion. But then again what does it mean to “be” a first lady? It’s clear that since Jackie Kennedy took up residence in the White House, maybe even before, that the position of first lady was revolutionized. The first lady is no longer just the president’s wife. She is often adopted as a pop-culture icon. What she does matters, what she says matters, and yes, even what she wears matters. From Jackie Kennedy to Princess Di, and now to Michelle Obama, these women married to politicians have seemingly surpassed their husbands and became public figures of their own making.
Carla Bruni is no exception. Everyone wants to know what she’s wearing, many are willing to pay small fortunes for prints (usually nude) that date from her modeling days, you can purchase a purse with her image printed on it, and, yes, she will soon be the heroine of her own comic book. And now we have the celebrity feud between Mrs. Sarkozy and Pope Benedict XVI that has been fueled by the media. It seems as if the French first lady’s doings will always be noteworthy, even if there really isn’t a story there.