Italian women certainly seem to be happy. Do they owe their happiness to La Bella Figura?
By Laura Schreffler
Italian women are doing something right. I say this not simply because my family is partially Italian and I feel like boasting about it, but with a divorce rate of 12% to America’s 50%, the Italian way of living, otherwise known as “La Bella Figura,” seems to be working in their favor. But what is Bella (other than a character in Twilight, of course)?
Literally translated, La Bella Figura means “the beautiful figure.” The term doesn’t just apply to looking good — although that is part of it, but feeling good and acting perfectly as well. According to Micaela Bubola Passeri, the author of For Love & Design: Love Who You Are, Love What You Wear, Love Other People Through the Clothes You Wear!, “It might be hard for us to understand, but in essence Italians take pride in the way they look, not only physically, but also figuratively and most importantly how they look in other people’s eyes. They are obsessed about making the best impression everywhere and at all times. In their minds there is a certain way that one is supposed to behave and act. This way of thinking permeates the essence of the Italian being.”
I bet you’re thinking “so what?” Why should I have to dress or act a certain way to please someone else? Well, you don’t. If you’re reading this, and you’re appreciating my point of view, you’re an American. We think we’re dressing and acting the way we want to… but are we really? Although we may not allow La Bella Figura to dictate our fashion sense and overall presentation, we do sometimes dress to please the men in our lives — just as the Italians do.
Beauty is respected in Italy, and that’s a lovely thing. Women put effort into their appearance and are more often than not impeccably turned out in glamorous gear regardless of whether they’re on a date, having dinner with a friend, or simply out shopping.
As Passeri says, why shouldn’t we apply this sentiment to our dating lives as well? She might be on to something. True, looking good is part of feeling good and being the bigger person (especially when gracefully handling the blind date from hell) may feel good at the end of the day, but does outer prettiness bring us inner peace?
I went on a blind date in Manhattan five years ago where the guy in question was not only unbelievably rude, but made me pay for his coffee (the horror!) while he droned on arrogantly about himself. He was short, dumpy, and dismissive. I so wanted to give that dorky dude a piece of my mind. Instead, we ended the evening quickly, and I slunk around the corner of said coffee shop, walked away, and then retreated back the way I came… just so he and I wouldn’t have to walk that one block to the subway together.
I’d like to say that it was La Bella Figura that helped me to bite my tongue but it was probably just a case of utter shock at his complete lack of manners. To this day I wish that I had slapped a $20 on the table and walked off with a casual, “Keep the change, you filthy animal,” all Home Alone-style. To this day I wish I hadn’t shown him one modicum of decency, that I hadn’t dressed up in a darling little NY-style summer dress, that I hadn’t held my tongue.
Sometimes, my friends, you have to say ‘bite me’ to decorum and completely forget your social graces. It feels good to be a little renegade, a little wrong, sometimes. Perhaps that’s why I’m really an American-Italian and not an actual, pure Italian donna. Forget the heels, the wrap dress, the tinkly laughter, and the graceful dining skills. I wear flip-flops and shorts, I sometimes laugh so loudly that I cry in public, and I have learned to never, ever refuse to speak my mind. The Italians can keep La Bella Figura… I’ll live my life with l’espressione perfetta, grazie mille. That is what makes me happy.
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About the Author: Laura Schreffler is a former New York Daily News columnist who left the world of celebrity behind to focus on what makes her happiest — love and travel. She is the creator of LoveTrekker.com — a website devoted to these two passions that she fondly calls “looking for love in all the right places.” In her spare time she likes to play matchmaker for her friends, dream about her next vacation and gaze at photographs of Taylor Kitsch. For more advice on love, relationships, and happiness, check out http://lovetrekker.com & her book "Internet Dating 101". And follow her here at Happiness Series with her weekly blog about finding love.