La bella figura, literally “the beautiful figure”, is an essential philosophy that rules the lives of gli Italiani, yet is a difficult concept for outsiders to comprehend.
Bella figura can mean many things, but at its core is presentation…how one looks, how one comports oneself, how one makes the best possible impression in all things. That such a concept is hardwired into the Italian psyche is no surprise: what else could be expected from a country that’s been creating beauty for centuries? Beauty is revered in Italy, whether expressed grandly through art and architecture, or more simply by the perfect cut of a suit.
Bella figura goes well beyond image, visual beauty and presentation…it also is defined by behavior: knowing how to properly and graciously interact with others in any social or public situation. Exhibiting good manners, tact and gentility is an essential component of “cutting a beautiful figure”.
In EyeItalia’s travels throughout Italy, we’ve experienced many examples of bella figura: a dinner host setting the perfect table with fancy linens and chargers; a friend recommending just the right restaurant to impress our visiting relatives; an elegant woman in Milan tossing a flowing scarf around her neck; a neighbor bearing a welcome gift of a beautifully wrapped pot of begonias; a store window dressed as a work of art. It might be expressed by a hostess serving 5 courses at dinner when 2 or 3 would do, or a housewife having an immaculately-cleaned house with starched curtains gracing the windows.
The rest of us might benefit by incorporating a little more bella figura into our own lives, no?