Travels in Italy: Bella Figura, What Does it Mean?

‘Bella Figura’ literally translates to “the beautiful figure.” An Italian concept of awareness of the beauty that surrounds us in the world, and presenting oneself in a way that amplifies the elegance, not detract from the surroundings.

My earliest recollection of this concept being instilled by my family, was when my relatives from the ‘Old Country’ would observe people in public dressed in pajamas, wrinkled, frumpy clothing, or when the latest chain store or industrial building was built, they would express disgust. This isn’t vanity as one might think, it is a violation of bella figura, or an example of la brutta figura, an insult or bad impression to the beauty encompassing us in the world. This extends to being cordial and making a positive impression as a sign of respect for oneself, community, and viewed as good form.

Despite how Italians are often portrayed in movies or TV, it is actually considered rude to be loud, draw attention to oneself, or broadcast one’s private business. Ironically, in Italy, it is the American visitors behaving in this manner, while veritably Italians are a soft, quiet, private culture. Business is handled respectfully and the concept of ‘bene comune’, or for the greater good, means trouble or conflict is dealt with by and within the community.

Give it a thought, notice how your presentation influences your surroundings and interactions. You may be surprised at how applicable it is. Looking and feeling good is the Italian way, behaving with respect is enchanting.

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