Women of a Certain Age in the Italian Language

May 17, 2013

Italian woman

L'età del fascino

The Age of Charm

Meglio belli o meglio affascinanti? Better to be beautiful or better to be fascinating? This was the delicious question posed in an Italian newspaper’s column on “dilemmi beauty.”

A recent survey asked some two thousand American respondents when women reach the peak of their charm (raggiungono il picco del proprio fascino). The consensus: at age 30. They begin to age (cominciano a invecchiare) around age 41 and stop being sexy (smettono di essere sexy) when they reach age 53.

An Italian begged to differ. Tommaso Ariemma, docente di estetica e filosofiao (an instructor of aesthetics and philosophy), explained that there is una “cruciale” differenza (a crucial difference) between beauty and fascination.

Il fascino,he argues is direttamente proporzionale alla maturità (directly proportional to maturity), and women can acquire it only con il passare degli anni (with the passage of the years).
While beauty is legata alla fisicità e al corpo (tied to the physical and the body), fascination requires un apprendistato (an apprenticeship). Solo con il passare del tempo (only with the passing of time) can a woman gain quella consapevolezza di sé (that self-awareness) that le ventenni (twenty-somethings) non possono possedere (can not possess).

So much for what Italians call la bellezza dell’asino (the fresh-faced appeal of youth)!

Dottoressa Ariemma suggests that questo periodo della vita (this period of life) begins around age 30 as a woman entra nel mondo del lavoro (enters the work world) and masters le strategie legate al prestigio sociale (the strategies tied to social prestige).

When does this period end? “Più difficile” (more difficult), he says, “stabilirne la fine” (to establish its end).

The researchers also posed la stessa domanda (the same question) about men. According to the respondents, gli uomini enter l’eta del fascino (the age of fascination) at age 34—and lose their allure by age 43. The docente’s response to this gender difference: "Questa mi sembra un'ottima notizia per le donne." (This seems good news for women.)

Perhaps women of every age would be better off if they paid less attention to their looks. According to an old Italian saying, “donna specchiante poco filante” (a woman looking in the mirror, or too conscious of her own beauty, is not that charming).

Words and Expressions

subire il fascino di -– to be under the spell of

vecchione, vecchiona –- very old man, very old woman

befana –- witch, old hag, ugly lady

bellezza al bagno -– bathing beauty

trattamento di bellezza –- beauty treatment

Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. Click here for more information on her "writer's studio" in Capri this fall. 

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