Italian women are more often than not impeccably turned out or at the very least stylish. They take care of themselves and most of them before they slip into their 40s and 50s are enviably slim. So slim in fact that I sometimes wonder if they have any internal body organs. I could lose all of my body fat and I still wouldn’t fit into the skinny jeans they wear with such ease. A more robust person like myself finds it extremely difficult to buy clothes that fit, in fact I have come back from recent clothes shopping expeditions empty-handed and rather deflated.
Most Italian women spend a few hours getting ready, wear make-up, accessorise well and delight in discussing the latest fashions. I am definitely NOT like most Italian women and I get a fair amount of bad looks in the street from them to confirm this. My ‘mother-in-law’ often describes me as simple. I cringe everytime I hear it but she dishes it out constantly as a veiled compliment. My partner instead often refers to me as a ‘wild woman’, like the unruly Celtic warriors that the Romans encountered when they first invaded Wales. I guess it is just that I can’t do the vain thing. I often go whole days without looking in the mirror, when I do it is not unusual for me to screw my face up at my appearance or stick my tongue out at my reflection. My beauty routine consists of showering, applying a bit of UV moisturiser, a quick brush of the hair and that’s it, I’m done. My partner more often than not takes longer to get ready.
Frequently, I am given unwanted, and it goes without saying, unheeded advice on how to dress, what to do with my hair etc. I used to teach a class of 8 year-olds who seemed very concerned that I was single. Every lesson they would ask me if I had found someone, pass looks of disappointment and frustration between themselves when I consistently reported back that no I hadn’t and then they would proceed to lecture me on my appearance. I would be told that in order to get a guy I would need to constantly flick my hair back, wear make-up, high heels and even worse a low cut top and mini-skirt. Hmmmm, so they wanted me to hang out in the street and look like a prostitute. I had to refrain from giving them a lesson about feminism and women’s rights instead of English although I did try to explain that getting married was not the be all and end all of everything. They didn’t quite get it and went back to looking at me in despair holding their little heads in they hands and letting out huge sighs.
It is not just the young who I have had worried. An Italian flatmate (although really the word mate is not suitable here) once scolded me as I left the apartment for not drying my hair first. I’m surprised she didn’t step in front of the door and bar my exit. For her, I was going to ‘prendere fresco’, literally translated as ‘catch the cool’ and then obviously get pneumonia or something. In fact, it was more than 30 degrees outside and it dried within minutes. Even worse, much to the horror of the esthetician, I had my first facial in my 30s in Sicily. My partner had been going there for years, although I rather think this had something to do with her wearing low tops and almost planting his head in her ample bosom as she worked. I haven’t had a facial since, I just couldn’t work out why she would clean, massage, moisturise my face, thereby opening up all the pores then fill up said pores again with a hideous amount of make-up. When I looked in the mirror in the car I was horrified to see that I looked 10 if not 20 years older. She had said she would apply natural looking make-up yet it was caked on and appalling. I washed it all off as soon as I got home and vowed then not to let anyone ever apply make-up on me again.
Yet, despite all this I do acknowledge that I do need to spend at least a little bit of time on how I look. So every six months or so, I bravely venture to the hairdressers. I don’t really like going either and going to one in Italy is even more daunting. Before, I used to wait until I returned to the UK. Once I had my hair cut in Sicily because my boss kept going on about my hair and how she would like to take me to her hairdressers. I gave in but was less than pleased with leaving the hairdressers with a fringe, something I hadn’t described I had wanted to them. I remember them asking if I liked my hair and all I could say was ‘I like the colour’ over and over again. So when I went to get my hair cut yesterday I was a little nervous, even more so when the hairdresser handed me a gown and asked me if I wanted to get undressed.
It is the little differences between how things are done in another country that make otherwise everyday experiences stand out and here I was standing in the hairdressers being asked if I wanted to take my clothes off. It would seem that this was all a good intention and it was to ensure that my clothes did not get dyed along with my hair. It was also entirely optional so I took the risk and kept my clothes on which is just as well as the gown was rather skimpy and as I have already mentioned I am rather robust compared to their normally slim clientele. The rest of my time at the hairdressers was rather pleasant. As my Italian is painfully bad I didn’t have to have those tedious ‘Where are you going on holiday?’ conversations. I was left in peace. Most hairdressers here are men who seem to actually cut your hair exactly as you ask them to. I was not scalded by the hairdryer although I was sweating profusely as it was already hot. The only thing they don’t do unless you ask them to of course is brush off the cut hair so I had to pluck it out from my cleavage instead.It was also cheaper and I might just be cured of my need to constantly change hairdressers and I might even get it cut before six months passes next time. Although, I will refrain from flicking it back in a ‘just stepped out of the salon’ way as men pass me in the street and seeing as I have not looked in the mirror today I can’t tell you if it still looks good!