Italy is a pretty easy country to adapt to. Within weeks of moving to Rome, my palate for pizza and espresso was refined, I ate Nutella every day, and I began to carry myself like a Roman woman. Cheap makeup and beauty products.
I knew when I moved there that I’d have to up my game. There will be no in public wearing of sweatpants or sneakers in Rome.
There was something mysterious and romantic about moving to a place where no one knew me, and adopting what I saw as the best of their culture into my life. I straight-up poached Italian style.
I copied them, because to me, they were doing everything better than I’d seen done thus far, and I wanted to be a part of it. They live better, eat better, vacation better, and a lot of the time, they look better.
The number-one beauty tip I learned from Roman women: CONFIDENCE. It was important for me to go full Kanye there.
More than their hair, or faces, or makeup, or bodies, or clothes, the most striking thing about Italian women was the way they carried themselves. They were self assured, or really good at pretending to be, and that beamed out of them like cannoli-flavored stardust.
It’s amazing how different you feel when you sit up straight. Try it now. Uncross your legs, tuck your tailbone slightly and let your shoulders drop down your back. Breathe.
I’m not trying to con you into meditating. I'm hocking good posture mainly to look good, even though it’s all connected. When you sit straight, you breathe better, when you breathe deeper, you become at once more relaxed and aware, if that makes sense. You also emanate confidence and your face will shine with an "I got this" glow.
Roman women also walked really fast with their heads held high, and I never saw one slouched while seated. EVER.
What I did see Roman women do while seated was yell. A lot.
Being in public there was like watching a live telenovela. You’d be eating at a restaurant, spinning some bucatini all'amatriciana around your fork while your fellow diners ate, chatted and laughed, and all of a sudden, the table with the hot young couple next to you would erupt. The woman’s hands go flying up, the man’s hands start waving in prayer position. A musical tirade of Italian curses comes shooting out of the woman’s mouth, the man urges her to sit down. She probably won’t. It's brilliant.
With Italians, when a feeling is felt, good or bad, they let it out. I’m not advocating for public rage or anything, and yes, this behavior is a bit nuts, but there's a beauitful freedom that comes with releasing your emotions. This, in addition to working fewer hours, vacationing more and eating all the good things all the time, is probably why they’re not really stressed.
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The less stressed you are, the better you will feel and look for a number of real, scientific reasons. Toxic stress hormones can break down the collagen and elasticity in your skin. Stupid stress. So feel your feelings and comunicate them. It's better for you. I'm generally a polite Canadian girl, but at times, that Italian temper has been called out of me, and man, it feels good to yell when you’re mad.
While they're passionate and overly-emotional, Italians are also a loving, happy, and very excitable bunch, most of the time.
What I loved most about living in Italy were the dichotomies EVERYWHERE. A beautiful sun-kissed bridge with a dreamy vista in the distance that seems as close to heaven as you’ll get on land is greeted by raging, chaotic traffic on either side. Rome will always kick you while she kisses you.
In the same way, beauty is both a top priority and not a very big deal for women, which makes it fun and not life-consuming. Living there also fed my obsession with beauty products of all kinds.
I Miei Prodotti Preferiti Italiani (My Favorite Italian Products)
OK, so I didn't find Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Treatment Bar IN Italy, I found it at Sephora one fateful day a few years ago, but it comes from and is made in Italy, so it counts, OK? I need to tell you about it because it is a beauty game changer.
Harvested in Umbria, it's 100% natural and has a ton of minerals in it to neutralize skin’s acidity, extract toxins and leave your skin feeling glowy and healthy.
It's in solid bar form, and you wet one end of it and paint it on a wet face right after washing. This bar LASTS. I've only had two in the past three years, and I use it at least once a week, so it's a worthy beauty investment.
It dries pretty quickly, so you can wash it off right away, or leave it for as long as you can stand your face to feel like a Rockbiter's. When I'm breaking out, I leave it on for an hour, although some of it falls off around my mouth because I can never not eat stuff.
My FAVORITE beauty find while in Italy was Robert’s Acqua Distillata Alle Rose (distilled rose water). It’s been around since 1867, when the Florentine women went nuts for the stuff. It's made from Centiforal rose petals and distilled spring water. I use it as a gentle, refreshing toner after washing my face, and also to refresh my underarms throughout the day since I'm not a huge fan of deodorant. Was that TMI?
You can use it on other parts of your body, too, and can also launder your lingerie with it. Because if you're going for the whole Roman woman thing, you should probs stock up on some super-sexy lingerie that smells like wild summer roses covered in fresh morning dew.
The scent isn't overpowering, just a gentle touch of rosy whimsy for a freshly cleaned face (or knickers).
I hadn't seen my beloved rose water since I moved back from Italy, but as luck would have it, while shopping in Williamsburg with Marci a few weeks ago, I spotted it, and she will tell you that the reunion caused me to have a stage-five manic episode. It's that good.
Nivea Creme is a mainstay in Italia. You can still get it in the metal tins there, which I love because it's more nostalgically romanic that way, and I'm ridiculous.
The creme smells like milky almond blossoms, teenage years gone by, and sex. The stuff in the jar is soooo thick, so I use it often in the winter months when my skin is sad and dry, but it leaves legs silky soft year round when used after shaving.
It’s also soothing on sunned skin and a lot of Italians use Nivea in place of oil to bronze themselves on the beach, in case you're into tanning sans SPF and ruining your skin. (Italians aren't always right...)
When it comes to affordable skincare, Italian ladies love them some Garnier. It's a more popular brand in Italy than I would have ever thought, not that I really considered those things.
Stores in Italy have a much bigger selection of Garnier skincare products, but one I loved that can be found in North America is the the Skin Renew Anti-Puff Roller. The metal roller acts like a jolt of cool soothing relief on tired eyes, and the product stimulates micro-circulation to get rid of puffiness and dark circles. It's basically the product equivalent of putting cold cucumbers on your eyes. Ahhhh.
Finding the Rance Eau de Thé Blanc (White Tea) at a Farmacia near Piazza Navona was the most giddy olfactory moment of my life.
It's smells like Italy (to me). In reality, it's a little bit citrus, a little bit jasmine and a little bit musk. It's vivacious but not too strong, and smells different and glorious on everyone who wears it. I ended up buying five bottles when I left Italy to give to friends and family.
As the scent gods would have it, my most precious perfume been discontinued, so I am safeguarding the quarter inch that's left in the bottle like a bloody knight. Rance products are all so amazing, I'm going to try another one of their perfumes once my bottle of Thé Blanc finally passes on (sniiiiif).
Musky scents in general are popular among Italian women. This might have something to do with the fact that musk is the traditional scent of love, which they are all about.
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Santa Maria Novella is the loveliest skincare store I've ever been in. Founded in 1221 by Domenican Friars who made herbal remedies and potions (yes POTIONS!), it's one of world's oldest pharmacies. It opened to the public in 1612 thanks to sponsorship from Grand Duke of Tuscany.
In the 1500s, they created a cologne for Catherine de Medici, who brought her personal perfume-maker with her when she left for France to marry Henry II. You can still buy the cologne now as it's the official perfume of the store.
The products at Santa Maria Novella are divine, but they are really expensive. I could only afford the Santa Maria Novella Water when I visited the Rome store. At first I thought it was a toner, but after reading the packaging, I learned that it was made as an anti-hysteria water for the tightly corseted Florentine women of the 15th century (like Catherine de Medici). The women would hyperventilate and get hysterical because their air flow was so restricted, and this water, taken mixed in water, or inhaled, calmed them.
It can also be helpful after a large meal.
Italians are obsessed with digestion. They eat massive, delicious four-course lunches and then wait three good hours before doing any heavy lifting in order to digest properly. It's a good time for a nap. Sometimes, though, a nap isn't possible, which is where Santa Maria Novella water comes in. It aborts food babies, if you know what I mean. It can also be used to prevent motion sickness, which I can attest to because I used it while on a bus trip to the Amalfi coast, a windy, jerky, "I think I'm going to die" sort of ride.
The water contains essential oils from plants like balsamita suavolens, spearmint, peppermint and Ceylon cinnamon, which are known for their calming properties. It works, and I also loved using it because I felt like a lady of the Renaissance. Like, THE Mona Lisa totally used this stuff. (Probably.)
When I visited the New York store, they were out of the water I so love, but they did have the lozenges, which are made from the same ingredients and essentially do the same thing, digestion and motion sickness wise.
This morning, I had steak and eggs for breakfast because I thought I had true grit. Afterwards, all I wanted to do was lay down to digest for five hours, but I'm in America now, so I popped a lozenge and prayed to the friar who invented them to ease my stomach bloat. He did. It was a digestive miracle. Also, they taste yummy!
Speaking of yummy, I'm going to eat some Nutella.