Bertagnoli: SCARLETT RULES
Scarlett rule 1
Pretty is as pretty does
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm. . . .—Gone with the Wind
Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house for three days?—George Bernard Shaw
Fans who’ve seen the movie yet not read the book all agree: Katie Scarlett O’Hara was beautiful. Drop-dead gorgeous Vivien Leigh brought Scarlett to life on the silver screen, and Leigh was perfect for the role. Her model-slim figure, wavy jet-black hair, and green eyes eerily matched Margaret Mitchell’s description of our heroine—except for one important detail. Where Vivien Leigh’s classic features made people stop and stare—“What a lovely child,” commented Queen Mary of England when the sixteen-year-old Vivien was presented at court—Scarlett wasn’t beautiful, a fact made clear in the very first sentence of the novel.
What made Scarlett different from every other average-looking girl in the world is that Scarlett was unaware of her lack of beauty. And if someone had had the nerve to mention that fact to her, she probably wouldn’t have cared. Scarlett knew how to dress to play up her figure, and she knew how to act to make men (and women) forget she was anything but ravishing.
Scarlett’s favorite gowns were green, the better to highlight her bewitching, catlike eyes. She wore hats and gloves to protect her milky-white complexion, so prized by Southern belles, from the harsh Georgia sun. When she could, she wore gowns that showed off as much of that peaches-and-cream skin as she could.
Scarlett knew that clothes make the girl. More important, she understood that charm almost always seals the deal. She knew instinctively that the perfect accessories for her just-right gowns were the Scarlettisms that Gone with the Wind fans know so well: fluttering eyelashes, a flirtatious smile, that calculated toss of her head. When she had harsh words to say, Scarlett sugarcoated her speech, smiling and fluttering those eyelashes all the while. Better than most anybody, Scarlett knew that it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
But Scarlett’s charm was as filigreed as the French lace trimming her pantalets. Unlike Melanie, who was born gracious, or Ashley’s sisters, who’d rather die than display anything less than impeccable manners and perfect charm, Scarlett’s veneer carried her only so far. When Scarlett did not get her way, her Irish temper flared, her brow furrowed, and she forgot every single deportment lesson drummed into proper Southern girls.
Only when the upset world was righted once again and tilting decidedly in Scarlett’s favor was she sweetness, grace, and charm personified.
On the surface, Scarlett had charm in spades. But she lacked true charm: the ability to be unfailingly unflappable, polite, and well-mannered even under awful circumstances. Had Scarlett been truly charming, she would have accepted Ashley’s marriage to Melanie graciously and would never have let Rhett get under her skin, as he did so many times.
Truly charming people make anyone feel that he or she is the only person in the world. They know how to deliver a compliment and how to accept one. They know how to make people feel good about themselves and about life, no matter what the circumstances.
Like a mean backhand or a perfect risotto, charm is a skill that takes cultivating. What does it take to be like her, the woman whose entrance makes a party, whose smile is like the sun breaking through clouds, who’s invited everywhere and then some? The next time you’re at a party and spot a woman surrounded by people hanging on her every word, watch her. Take mental note of what she says and does in the company of her admirers.
This is what you’ll learn: She listens. She doesn’t interrupt. She doesn’t reply to an anecdote with a quick “Oh, that happened to me once!” She lets the story, however trite, long, or boring, belong to the teller. She remembers people’s names and details about their lives: new job, new baby, new home. If she doesn’t remember a name, she graciously asks for it, because candidly admitting a lapse in memory can be charming in itself. She asks to see baby pictures, sparing proud new parents the awkwardness of an unwanted show-and-tell.
She gives well-considered, straightforward compliments with no hidden meaning. She’ll say, “That dress looks great on you,” not “That dress makes you look so thin.” She’ll tell you how gracious your home is, not that white paint makes the living room look so much bigger. You get the idea. A real compliment, one that makes the hearer blush with pride, carries not even the smallest piece of negative baggage.
A charming woman knows how to accept a compliment, even the backhanded type that she never delivers. She knows the proper response is a handful of words: “Oh, thank you. How kind of you.” And that’s it. No embellishment or argument needed. Not “Oh, this old thing?” Not “You’ve got to be kidding.” A short, gracious response does the trick.
A charming woman lets people help her. When a man offers to carry her groceries to her car, she says yes. When a man holds the door for her, she says thank you. She doesn’t even consider shaming him with a rant on how she’s strong enough to open the door herself, thank you very much. It makes people feel good to help other people; a charming woman knows that.
A charming woman says thank you and please. She hand-writes thank-you notes, even if she’s already thanked the giver in person. She knows that anachronisms such as thank-you notes and letters are oh-so-welcome in this world of dashed-off electronic communiqués and mailboxes full of catalogs.
A charming woman knows that weddings and parties are a social contract of sorts. Attendees are expected to contribute to the atmosphere, not merely sit in a corner and observe. She responds to invitations promptly; when she says yes she shows up; when she arrives, she draws wallflowers out of their corners. She asks them about books they like, movies they’ve seen, vacation spots they adore. She doesn’t ask about their jobs; that’s a dead end and a possibly embarrassing question.
She also knows that wakes and funerals are necessary. She knows to say “I’m so sorry for your loss” to the mourners and leave it at that: no philosophizing or prognosticating on the deceased’s current residence with God, angels, or other heavenly creatures. And when the bereaved appears at a social gathering weeks or months later, she knows to greet that person with a warm “It’s good to see you again,” not the tossed-off thoughtless “How are you?”
Why bother cultivating charm when life is filled with so many other demands? Here’s one reason: It’s the right thing to do. Think how much more pleasant the world would be if more people made even half an effort to be charming. And here’s another: You never know whom you’re going to charm. That person could lead you to a great job, a new friend, maybe even a spouse. Scarlett, our faulty heroine, was certainly at her most charming when she had something—tax money for Tara, a husband—to gain.
But here’s the biggest reason to be charming: Beauty fades; charm lasts. As George Bernard Shaw observed, nobody notices beauty after it’s been in the house for three days. Charm is noticed—and cherished—forever.
put your best foot forward
Not every woman has Scarlett’s mesmerizing eyes or her tiny waist. But every woman does have physical qualities that, given just a bit of attention, can make her a knockout. According to Jesse Garza, co-founder of Visual Therapy, an image-consulting firm with offices in New York and Los Angeles, here are the beauty spots women tend to overlook.
Your health. Before he even takes a peek at their wardrobes, Garza counsels his clients to exercise and eat nutrition-packed foods. The result? Healthy, glowing skin and a body confidence that no Chanel suit can beat. “Nutrition and exercise give you the best version of yourself,” Garza says.
Your hair. Shiny, healthy hair cut in a flattering style will elicit wows wherever you go. Even if you don’t spend a lot of money on your clothes, invest in a good haircut.
Your skin. Garza is adamant on this one: “Moisturize! Use sun block!”
Your clavicle. “That area from shoulder to shoulder is really beautiful,” Garza says. Give it some attention with an elegant bateau-cut top; for extra pizzazz at night, rub in a bit of shimmery body lotion.
Your calves. Wear skirts tailored to a length that shows the taper of your calf toward your knee. “The curve of a calf can be super-great, super-sexy,” Garza says.
Your back. Forget a plunging neckline; try a plunging backline instead. A deep V-back, a sexy drape, or a cowl gives people something to talk about when you leave a room.
Your overall shape. Every body has a shape, and women make a big mistake when they smother themselves in baggy garments. “It’s better to create a waist and go with clothes that are more tailored,” Garza suggests.
Your curves. Ankles, wrists, hips, shoulders, butt: Curves make a woman’s body. Play up your curves with garments that skim them but don’t turn them into sausage casings. “Curves are sexy done the right way,” Garza says.
Excerpted from Scarlett Rules by Lisa Bertagnoli. Copyright © 2006 by Lisa Bertagnoli. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.