When I was in college I had a reputation amongst my friends for being sort of obstinately unfashionable.
It's not that I didn't care about the way I looked, quite the contrary. It's just that I would get stuck in these fashion ruts, that while not entirely unappealing, were almost obsessively consistent. Consistently boring.
There were "The Boots" -- a pair of black leather boots I wore every single day, rain, snow or shine until I wore a hole in them, quite a feat when you consider the early 2000s chunky sole on them.
There was the rotating collection of corduroy pants -- blue, red, brown, tan -- and a couple pairs of jeans. Add this a dozen or so nondescript black shirts, a long red winter coat, and the "Lou Do" -- a messy top knot permanently affixed to my head -- and you had my look all day, every day.
Sure I went through phases where I was "discovering myself." There was an androgynous phase, and on the other end of the spectrum what can only be described as a "glam retro hippie" phase. But when too much attention (good or bad) fell upon my style, I always reverted back to "Functional Basic Louise." Zzzzzzzzzzz.
Initially I always loved the attention when I surprised people with my style. "I didn't know you could look like that!" or "WOW! You're hot!" reactions were always fun at first, but when people started really noticing my outfits, I'd clench up and feel self conscious.
The self consciousness didn't come from the fear of being the center of attention, I was a theater major and aspiring celebrity for crap's sake. It came from a paranoia that people would find out my terrible secret: that no nonsense old Louise gave a damn about how she looked, in fact more than a damn -- she was vain.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, I did indeed spend time scrutinizing myself every morning. Part of the reason I was late to class almost every single morning was because I spent precious minutes making sure my outfit was meticulously effortless. I preferred my corduroys to be appear saggy after days of wear, and I'd do and re-do my top knot to find the perfect level of disheveledness. I worked hard to look like I didn't care what I looked like.
I loved, even admired, the stylish, eclectic outfits my girlfriends put together, but I'd somehow decided, almost unconsciously, that that was not my territory. I realize now that as accepting as I considered myself to be at that age, there was some pretty fierce judgment, of both myself and my peers, going on.
Even though I participated in it, "vanity," as I decided it was, was a weakness that endangered my reputation. I was obsessively afraid that I wouldn't be taken seriously if I looked like I was having too much fun with the way I looked.
What's laughable is the fact that I was so worried about people judging me as vain was a vanity in itself.
Over time I got over most of my hang-ups. I realized that I could like the way I looked, really be DELIGHTED in the way I look, and still be perceived as the smarty pants I like to believe I am. I was late to work because I wanted to look like I cared, not because I wanted to look like I didn't.
However old issues don't go down without a fight, and from time to time I still caught myself worrying that people -- friends, acquaintances, complete strangers -- would judge me as vain.
My thinking about VANITY really changed when I got my iPad. I don't have an iPhone so this was a new thing for me. I took some "selfies." Then I took some more. I found myself taking pleasure in documenting many of the times I simply LIKED THE WAY I LOOKED, just for the fun of it. And guess what? It felt good.
Look at me, I got a new outfit and I look good in it! Look at me, I'm doing something fun, and I feel pretty! Look at me, I look and feel great!
"Look at me" was the new unspoken phrase in my vocabulary and it was freeing to shout it out.
I started posting more and more of these selfies on Facebook, and got largely positive responses. I'd never been one to post a lot of pictures of just myself, and though it felt a little weird, people were mostly kind and welcoming about my seemingly new found confidence.
"It's so nice to see you really liking the way you look," a friend told me. "I get a kick out of seeing you get attention for outer beauty AND your inner beauty. It's such a drastic change. You were so adamant for so long that you weren't interested in your appearance that it almost seemed like you felt superior."
I did feel superior in some ways. But what I've learned in this short period of realization, is that that feeling of superiority was merely a shield to protect myself from my physical insecurities.
We can all say, "Duh" together now.
So I've decided to just let it all go -- the overanalysis, the fear of being perceived as vain, all of it. It was all so exhaustingly backward and convoluted.
I am vain. I am (mostly) confident in how I look. Maybe "vain" is the wrong word, but it's the word that I've wrestled with for a lot of my life. But I find no shame in admission of vanity, we all hold onto some version. It's not a bad thing.
So for now I'm exploring the fun I'm having rediscovering the simple joy in playing with style, and being acknowledged for the effort I'm obviously putting in. It's great! Clothes, hair, makeup, how I conduct myself -- all of it -- have a renewed sense of fun.
So in the spirit of unabashed "vanity," I leave you with this picture. I just got a new haircut, and I think I look good.
Has anybody else ever felt this way? Been vain about the being perceived as vain? Have you recently rediscovered the fun in liking how you look? How are you vain?