la bella figura...

italy01Translates literally as 'the fine figure', but in a broader context means 'looking good', 'keeping up appearances', or 'making a good impression.'

'Looking good' - la bella figura - is tied up with competence, style, credibility, performance, self-respect. On the negative side a preoccupation with looking good can lead to over-optimism, and 'worse case scenario'; la bella figura means all gloss, and no substance.

'Italy is far from hellish. It's got too much style. Neither is it heaven, of course, because it's too unruly. Let's just say that Italy is an off-beat purgatory, full of proud, tormented souls… ' From Beppe Severgnini's analysis of Italian culture, entitled… La Bella Figura (2006).

Critics panned Severgnini's book. What was wrong with it? 'All gloss and no substance', said the critics.