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Beauty on an Italian beach

A culture known for their sex appeal—in sports cars, fashion, and well, people—Italians are doing something right, and it might just be in their attitude.

In America, exercise, fitness and dieting are the topics of conversation these days. Everyone is aiming for the kind of perfection that beauty-product advertisements claim is achievable, and we believe them. What we often don’t realize while we are trying to squeeze in an extra spin class and squeeze out an extra carb, is that perfection is a relative term. But even if it weren’t relative, how many people would really believe their bodies are so perfect they couldn’t possibly be improved? Exactly.

Maybe this is where we could learn a thing or two from the land of endless olive oil, wine, and (gasp!) pasta. These same people who would rather spend their spare time with family unwinding at the beach or conversing for hours around the dinner table, than cranking out mile after mile on the treadmill, might have the answer. They appreciate what they have and enjoy life, so why shouldn’t we?

This healthy body image phenomenon didn’t take long to notice the first time I went to the beach in Italy. Everyone talks about how beautiful and exotic the Italian women are so I expected to be intimidated right off the beach. But that was hardly the case. Yes, Italian women are beautiful and exotic, but not in the way we think. 

They don’t look like what American culture tells us we should look like, whether we achieve it naturally or surgically. They look like normal women who have careers, women who are mothers, hey, even women who eat—and that’s a good thing. So instead of feeling intimidated, I felt more beautiful being in this environment that promotes natural feminine beauty, and if felt great.

Our media is constantly updating us with which red carpet bombshell has gotten what surgical procedure to further her in the realm of diva/goddess. We are bombarded by infomercials, magazine articles, and just plain word of mouth telling us all how to achieve this beauty that in reality came from a knife and a talented craftsman with an M.D. rather from any particular ointment, exercise, or diet philosophy.

Even as little girls we learned that the fairy princess was beautiful while the evil witch was either overweight or at least had a wart on her nose. It could be argued that the message conveyed is that the prettier little girls are automatically good while the less attractive girls are not. As adults how can we avoid the pressures that make us feel like we aren’t as pretty as we could be—or even should be—and how can we accept that what nature gave us is enough. 

By starters, we can follow the Italian woman’s lead. They don’t walk down the beach with their stomachs in and their breaths held, concentrating so hard to look natural that they forget to swing their arms. They walk with their heads high, taking in the glory of summer and appreciating the breeze, even if it is a humid one, that lifts their hair off their neck and ruffles their vivid sarongs. They relax while sitting in their beach chairs and ignore the (oh the horror!) rolling of their stomachs, knowing that a little something extra there is normal and they are still beautiful. Some even take their tops off and relish in the warmth of the sun even when “perhaps a little support or shaping may enhance them,” a Victoria’s Secret saleswoman might say.

They socialize, they eat, they drink, they love every minute of their beach days because, after all, isn’t that the point? A day by the sea isn’t something they view as a potential nightmare or at least an uncomfortable experience with all the sucking in. They love the beach! Summers in Italy are spent on the coast because it’s part of their lives and their culture. It’s what they value. They place family and tranquility at a high importance, not this week’s waist measurements. 

When someone tells you that Italian women are beautiful and exotic, believe it. They are.  But don’t believe that they’re the Hollywood-manufactured image of beauty, because that type of beauty, after all, isn’t real. What is real is the natural femininity and mystery that all of us women are born with and that men admire and we, therefore, should appreciate.

So next time you plan a day at the beach, have a little rigatoni and cabernet the night before and smile to yourself knowing that while your waistline may be suffering from water retention, who will really notice? And who’s going to care? You shouldn’t.

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