Che Bella Figura

The Italian ethic of che bella figura is literally what beautiful figure a person makes in society.

It’s the often stylized theatrics of acting as if you’re successful long before you’ve arrived at the place you want to be. I alluded to this in a scene in Left of the Dial.

In one way I had certain expectations I was supposed to live up to: to go to college to better myself and go farther than my parents had. Though having owned their own business isn’t shabby.

I do think culture impacts a person in recovery. This has not been widely researched or reported on or at least I could not find a lot of information about it on the Internet.

I contributed a 10-page chapter “Recovery is Within Reach” to Benessere Psicologico: contemporary thought on Italian American mental health. That’s of course psychological well-being in Italian. You can buy this book on Amazon. It features three peer stories in the first-person recovery section of the book as well as interesting glimpses into research studies about ethnicity and counseling.

Yes: I’m proud to be Italian. I credit the love and support of my close-knit Italian American family as a prime factor in how far I was able to go in my recovery.

I remember dancing the tarantella at American Legion halls. I remember the parties hosted downstairs in my Nonna’s basement. Nonna’s food was sprinkled with garlic cloves as big as teeth. You could scare the devil with how hot the sauce was.

No: I don’t approve of the family-bashing that goes on in the consumer recovery movement. I don’t approve either of when family members call their loved ones “a schizophrenic.”

Above all my mother was quick to boot my ass to go out and get a job. She didn’t think I was a schizophrenic: she thought I could hold a job just like other people could.

In October I will talk about finding the career you love. October is Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Stay tuned.

La Bella Figura

I talk about la bella figura in Left of the Dial.

Most Italians could think this “beautiful figure” ethic is social theatrics taken to an extreme. They could feel it reflects poorly on their heritage.

Not so. I’m greatly impressed with this Italian trait. In a negative way, it’s when we go to a bridal party and secretly or not-so-secretly assess the kinds of gifts each of us gives: the amount of money, or how much an item cost, or how lavish the item was.

In another way, it’s “acting as if” or “faking it until you make it” before you’ve become successful. In this way, you adopt the behavior and characteristics of successful people, even when you’re just starting out, so that you can fit in and be taken seriously.

It’s la bella figura in action. And I, for one, am proud that this national trait exists. This is a cultural phenomenon that might not have a biological origin. Yet in a positive light embracing the beautiful figure is a way to be able to at ease in the world with other people.

I’m reminded of a woman I met with a diagnosis who told me she does what it takes to appear normal when she’s outside of her house. Observing social protocol is also what got me where I am today. A little bit of la bella figura helped me get taken seriously when it counted.

Acting normal is not the same as acting false to yourself like I railed against in the last blog entry. At certain times, doing what it takes to blend in can help you feel confident. Yet even as I typed this last sentence I can see the expression “be you-nique” is valid too.

I prize originality, whether in thought, fashion or livelihood.

You can most likely Google in quotations “la bella figura” and then type in Italians to get a more detailed report of this national ethic.

Like I said, I see the good in making a beautiful figure in a positive way. I also see the beauty in being your own original self. The marriage of these two ethics can be magnificent.