I couldn’t quite believe it.  Neatly arranged in the pharmacy window was what appeared to be a DIY Botox kit.  Thankfully a closer inspection revealed that, it was not, just a gimmicky type of applicator to put a ‘Botox’ cream on your face with.  Now there are many things that I am prepared to try in the name of beauty but a home Botox isn’t one of them.  Bad enough when you see women wandering round with the kind of lobotomised grin after a poor professional job without trying it at home.   Still, I was intrigued and asked the pharmacist for some more information. 

“Ah yes” she said “it is Botox, you put it on like this you see it is an excellent treatment for…”

“But is it the same Botox as a beauty surgeon uses” I interrupted her patter.

“Yes, it’s a lighter treatment and it gives very good results”.

I wasn’t convinced.  Back home a swift search of Italian consumer site confirmed the product to contain not a trace of Botox. 

This is typical of the kind of inflated claims made over here for beauty products.  Point-of-sale offers on herbal pills claiming to halve the amount of calories absorbed in any meal.  Pharmacists – who have more prescribing powers than their UK equivalents – are more than happy to back them up.  But from what I can see, they appear under-researched and over-hyped treatments that, if they worked, would mean that the skinny Italian girls would actually eat pasta rather than their salads.  After three years of seeing my female Italian colleagues eat I conclude that they don’t. Or at least until they’re married.

And maybe it’s the amount of time spent at the beach by the average young Italian but I don’t understand why cellulite seems to be such a national obsession.  There is no end to the choice of products on display here.  If like most of the girls I see buying them you’re no bigger than an UK size 8 then cellulite I think is more likely to be a product of the manufacturers imagination rather than any reality.  I don’t know if they work or not – I am currently trying some tinctured blend of herbs but keep forgetting to spend the required amount of time twice daily massaging the stuff into my legs.

The pressure to look good at each and every moment I find to be rather overwhelming.  I suspect that all that Italian style happens no more naturally here than anywhere else, its just the result of a tremendous amount of pressure put on people to look just-so.  In a rather mass produced and non-individual way, ‘je ne sais quoi’ isn’t an Italian concept.  I showed an acquaintance a rather girly sparkly hairclip I’d bought.  Ah yes, she said, she would like to be able to wear that sort of thing but her husband would disapprove.  She needed to be wearing a particular type of outfit to go out in the evening. And a shop assistant bluntly told a tall British colleague, UK size 12 and having difficulty finding her size, that “Madam needed to eat less of the pasta”. 

 At its best this obsession with style and appearance gives Italians an air of confidence; they believe they look good no matter how bad their facelift really is.  However all too often it seems instead to be a kind of neurosis best exemplified by an advertisement for a beauty salon I recently saw. The main attraction on offer was that you could pay the salon to do an objective assessment of your defects so that they could treat you and correct them.  The tone didn’t imply gentle Trinny and Susannah style suggestions as to how to make the best of yourself just a list of your failings and what could be done to ameliorate them. Strangely enough this didn’t appeal to my rather British sensibilities.

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