Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Redefining Beauty: It's Not About the Belly Button

The old concept of Italian female beauty is about to be scrapped
Miss Italia 2008

In favor of a whole new concept of inner beauty
Tara Gandhi

The Miss Italia Pageant Goes Mainstream

Arrivederci belly buttons and bikinis. Anna Maria Tarantola, the new boss of Italian state TV under Mario Monti's austerity government is clamping down on female TV nudity, beginning with the Miss Italia Pageant. Patrizia Mirigliani, pageant organizer has announced that bikinis will be replaced by one piece bathing suits to cover the crotch and upper thigh. In an unprecedented move, the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi has been invited to teach the girls about “inner beauty''. Gandhi will also judge the final competition, replacing a panel spot typically reserved for the likes of Sylvestor Stallone, Bruce Willis and Andy Garcia. Somewhat contradictory is the inviting of Jane Fonda, who in her perfectly plastered body will also serve as a judge. (This is the same sex symbol Jane Fonda who stared naked in Barbarella and who admitted that her father taught her that her looks were all that mattered.)  An incidental case of mixed signals?

Is this "flight to purity" a moral triumph for Italian women, or is it an insult to their female sexuality? Are they being told to cover up something that they should be proud of? Is it insulting to tell a woman to cover up her body and to imply that she doesn't have inner beauty? Is this a politically inspired maneuver to correct the distorted global perception of Italian female sexuality propagated by internationally acclaimed political pervert Berlusconi? Or is this the beginning of a “piccola grande rivoluzione”, a top-down strategy, using the media as a vehicle to indoctrinate and slowly reform the very gut of Italy’s female culture?

Italian women in my age group are divided. Some believe that female nudity on TV undermines the female image, and others see it as harmless realism.

Yes, I bought a pair of rose-colored glasses when I moved to Italy and will never take them off. Perhaps it has distorted my perception. When I watch the bikini-clad Miss Italia contestants I see nothing but innocent, wholesome, elegant teenagers whose body behavior is far from suggestive. If a woman in a bikini is sexually indecent, then we might as well call the Uffizi a porn gallery and cover up half of the art in Florence. After all, this is supposed to be a beauty contest.

I always thought that the Miss Italia candidates already had inner beauty. But maybe it's just those darn rose-colored glasses getting in the way, ehh? Telling them to adopt a more Indian philosophy can be interpreted as an insult. (In fact, the Indian culture is not exactly the global epitome of feminist success). Are we saying that the Italian ideal of beauty isn't good enough, and therefore we have to copy someone else's culture? 

There isn’t a culture in the world that uses body language the way the Italians do. Their inimitable facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements! Covering up their bellies is like putting them in a straightjacket.  Where's the fantasia?

As I see it, it's not the bareness of the body, but the behavior of the body, the way the body is used, the innuendo and the attitude that makes the difference. It’s the difference between the obnoxious “Big Boob Barbie Doll Bimbo Beauty” and the pure elegance of Botticelli Beauty. And these little innocent girls, many from the back roads of Italy, are not strutting their bodies in "that" way. I always found the Miss Italia Pageant to be imaginative, spunky spontaneous, innocent, natural, entertaining and well.....Italian!

As a rather straight laced corporate American competing in a man's world, I was unfortunately taught to strut my bodily stuff in a business suit and to cover up the cleavage. Just the opposite mentality. It took me four years of living here to finally shed the old uniform and start dressing Italiana. The difference is that Italians are taught to love their bodies unabashedly, regardless of being fat, skinny, young, old, housewives or executives. They have a confidence and elegance that I wish we had in America. One of the reasons I love watching the Miss Italia Pageant is that it is pure in its bodily pride, carefree and unrehearsed. I dread the thought of  Miss Italia going the way of Miss America.   Let’s not make it too psychologically competitive and serious, man!!   This is Italy!!!!

On the positive side, the new “inner beauty” movement may indeed indoctrinate the young beauties with more esoteric values and prepare them for better career and life opportunities. And as long as Berlusconi keeps his pecker out of the Italian sex scene, it will certainly improve Italy’s image in front of the rest of the world.

I’m sorry to see it go. I guess after all is said and done, I can’t blame Italy for changing its image, but I'll miss the old Miss Italia Pageant. It was a pisser. I’m probably more in favor of the new ideas than not. On September 9th and 10th we will see the outcome and judge for ourselves. I just have one thing to say:  "Hey, Italy keep your "Italian-ness"!

Either way, the very gracious Patrizia Mirigliani is sure to pull it off with elegance and finesse.   And as usual, it will probably bring tears to my eyes!!  It must be those rose-colored glasses.