But, according to French sports photographer Marie Heurtier, such "retouching has become very common."
"In my job, I often retouch close shots, especially if the subject has a big pimple in the middle of his face!" she told ABC News. "We don't ask, we just do it. And it's assumed that we do it."
"Of course," she said in the case of Sarkozy, "we always see him working out and jogging, so when, on the first picture we have of him sitting down, he has love handles. It's embarrassing for him."
Such awkward moments are what Putin hopes to avoid, by managing his appearances carefully.
While his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, was often pictured as a drunk and often embarrassing head of state, Putin strives to appear calm, collected and physically fit.
During a state visit to Japan, for instance, the Russian leader — a black belt in judo — decided to demonstrate one of his judo moves, a harai goshi, otherwise known as a sweeping hip throw. It was a far cry from the days of Yeltsin, a man known more for his love of alcohol than athletics.
In 2002, the Russian girl band Singing Together even released a hit single in deference to its president, with lyrics that said, "I want a man who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke and doesn't beat me. I want a man like Putin."
The recent photographs of him wearing fatigues while rafting and fishing on vacation in the mountainous southern region of Tuva, Siberia, are only the latest in a long line of images promoting the Russian president as an example of old-fashioned machismo.
And judging from the reaction to these pictures, the public relations strategy seems to be working.
In politics at least, it seems that male vanity is not welcome. Few voters express a preference for the metrosexual over the manly presidential candidate.
Just ask U.S. presidential candidate John Edwards.
Maeva Bambuck contributed to the reporting of this story.