Historically, the term "velina" referred to the press releases sent by the Ministry of Culture to newspapers in Fascist Italy. These releases reported facts, and most often the government's interpretation of facts, to the newspapers. In the years that followed the term became a common one in political jargon, used to identify official and not so official communications between the offices of political parties and those of newspapers and TV news stations.
The definition of veline began to change when Antonio Ricci started using the term for the showgirls that assisted the hosts of his satirical newscast Striscia la Notizia. Little did Ricci know, but by doing so he was going to change the face of Italian TV forever. From the day the program first aired in 1988 Italians took notice of the beautiful assistants and it came to pass that being selected as a velina was quite prestigious and a great way to jumpstart an acting career or make a name for yourself in the public eye.
The veline gained some much attention on Italian TV that the name soon became synonymous with showgirl. After Striscia la Notizia, many TV shows began employing attractive, scantily clad assistants that engaged in sexy dance moves. In fact, this phenomenon of having sexy girls on any number of shows has come to be seen as something quintessentially Italian. Letterine, schedine and many other something-ine invaded Italian TV screens and gossip magazines.
Apparently, it wasn't just the viewing public falling for these gorgeous girls. The "-ines" and Italian football (that's soccer, for you Americans) players have a strong reciprocal attraction. Elisabetta Canalis, the current girlfriend of George Clooney, and one of the most famous of all the veline, had a long relationship with soccer superstar Christian Vieri, who went on to date other veline, some his ex's colleagues from Striscia la Notizia, like his current girlfriend the American-born Melissa Satta (who grew up in Sardegna like Canalis did). Ilary Blasi, wife of AS Roma captain Francesco Totti, began her career as a letterina and is now a big name in Italian TV. And Canalis and Blasi are not the only ones who have gone on to bigger and better things, career-wise. Some veline have even gone into politics, perhaps finding an easier road because of Prime Minister Berlusconi's appreciation of beautiful women.
Veline and their -ine colleagues are also choice subjects for many sexy calendars. If you have a passion for tasteful nudes there is a very high chance that some of your favourite photos feature an Italian showgirl or two.
These women are so popular and visible in Italy that many a young Italian girl, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, promptly answers "a velina." To help these young women achieve their dreams Antonio Ricci, who originally coined the velina term, decided to cash in on his invention. Ricci created a show, aptly named Veline, which is a reality show/beauty pageant where contestants compete to be the new veline on Striscia la Notizia.
Many years have passed since 1988 and Striscia la Notizia is still a popular daily offering on Italian TV, while the veline are other "-ines" are more popular than ever and a constant presence on almost every entertainment TV show in Italy. Women like Elisabetta Canalis, Maddalena Corvaglia, Giorgia Palmas, Elena Barolo, Vera Atyushkina and Lucia Galeone are a few of the more popular showgirls who are now famous throughout Italy. A quick search on Google Images will tell you why.
If you want to improve your Italian, you can look two websites dedicated to these showgirls: http://veline.org/ and http://digilander.libero.it/velinedistriscia/. And of course, there's the official site for veline: http://www.veline.mediaset.it/
For everything else there's YouTube.