A New Year’s Resolution in the Italian Language

Jan 6, 2011

Blog Sophia Loren

fare una bella figura or fare bella figura

to make or cut a good figure

This is the season for i buoni propositi per l’anno nuovo (New Year's resolutions). Year after year we swear to smettere di fumare (stop smoking), mettersi a dieta (go on a diet), or iscriversi in palestra (join a gym). In this guest blog, Jody Goode, author of the blog Is 50 the new 40?,  resolves to fare una bella figura –- a phrase that she interprets in what may be a particularly American way. (An Italian offers a different perspective at the end of this post.)

by Jody Goode

To me la bella figura applies to all factors of appearance, dress, manners and actions. Although it is difficult to define, we know it when we see it. A person (una persona) with la bella figura exudes poise (padronanza di sé) but is not arrogant (arrogante), is attractive (attraente) but not vain (frivola), has impeccable manners (ha modi impeccabili) but remains warm and approachable (amichevole).

This person behaves with style (stile) elegance (eleganza) and grace (grazia) in all situations, yet she is accepting of others and never snobbish (non fa mai la snob). She walks with confidence no matter her age, bank balance, or size (a prescindere dall’età, il conto in banca o la taglia che porta).

She is well dressed (ben vestita) but not overdressed (non eccessiva). She is open (aperta) to new ideas and respectful (rispettosa) of the opinions of others, while at the same time she remains comfortable with who she is (a proprio agio con sé stessa)

She knows to laugh at herself (sa ridere di sé) when she makes a mistake (fa un errore) and realizes that, no matter how good her intentions, she is only human (solo un essere umano) and will sometimes fail (fallire). She knows that it is as important in some situations to remain silent (stare zitta), as it is in others to speak her mind (dire quello che pensa).

La bella figura requires that a woman take care of herself (prendersi cura di sé stessa), both physically and emotionally (fisicamente ed emotivamente), since a tired and miserable person (una persona stanca e triste) cannot carry this off. The woman who knows this is careful to nourish (nutrire) her body as well as her soul. She chooses the right ingredients (gli ingredienti giusti) and uses them often.

So for the coming year my resolution is fare una bella figura!


An Italian friend comments that presentarsi al meglio (presenting oneself at one’s best) and essere un modello di eleganza in ogni situazione (being a model of elegance in every situation) are commendable examples of "migliorare se stessi" (improving oneself). From an Italian perspective, fare bella figura refers to a single episode rather than a modo di essere (way of being). As she notes, even an unkempt, rough, uneducated villano (villain) can fare una bella figura in certain circumstances.

So in 2011, you might resolve to essere una bella persona (be a nice person) or fare una bella figura (behave in a nice, admirable way) as much as possible. My aspiration is to strive for both.

Buon Anno a tutti!

Words and Expressions

 fare una figuraccia, fare una brutta figura –- to cut a poor figure

fare la figura del fesso , dello stupido, del cretino — to make a fool of oneself

un figuro — a shady character

Che figura! — how embarrassing!

To enjoy the timeless delight of two people who epitomize la bella figura, click below:


Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language.

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La Passione
Mona Lisa
La Bella Lingua