It's gonna get sappy up in here.
You're so vain -- you probably think this post is about you.
I hated that song as a kid. I never understood Carly Simon's appeal to, well, anyone. As an adult, I can appreciate the way she's continued to string people along, refusing to reveal who the song is about. But mostly, I have -- both as a child and now -- understood from the song that vanity is a bad thing.
Let's start, as I learned long ago in Lincoln-Douglas style debate, by defining this term, this notion of vanity.
- something that is vain, empty, or valueless
- the quality or fact of being vain
- inflated pride in oneself or one's appearance (conceit)
Thank you so much, Merriam-Webster.
Let's go further. "Vain" is an adjective.
- having no real value
- marked by futility or ineffectualness
- (archaic) foolish, silly
- having or showing undue or excessive pride in one's appearance or achievements (conceited)
That's all real harsh, isn't it? And all so subjective as well -- what is "inflated" or "undue" by one person's standards might be run-of-the-mill by another person's interpretation.
It's also of particular interest to me because, Carly Simon aside, vanity is usually something women are accused of. Vanity is "feminine" -- whatever that means, right? Vanity is spending time on our appearance and being pleased by the result. Vanity is spending money on our appearance and thinking it's money well spent. Vanity is thinking we're worth looking at.
In that sense, vanity is yet another stick with which people are beaten -- because women are told, constantly and without any real deviation from the message, that they have to look a certain way to be worthwhile, to be of value. To be REAL, in some sense.
This is, of course, utter bullshit. Because any woman who identifies as a woman is a real woman. There's a lot of different ways that can look and they are all valid.
(It wouldn't be one of my articles without that kind of statement, right?)
Over on HuffPo, Kate Fridkis wrote this very interesting rumination on vanity. Her post seems melancholy to me in some ways, caught and struggling in the web of the social expectations that are thrust upon women. Of course, that might just be a lingering effect of her being sick. But she's also very right that writing about bodies, particularly about body acceptance, is often judged as vanity -- if you are fat and you accept your body as it is, you are often bombarded with "Your fat!" (they never get the "you're" right) in email and comments and sometimes in person, as though you need the reminder because you've risen above your station.
I'm pretty sure this sort of thing happens to all women, this reminder by the ever vigilant among us that we are flawed and flabby and our noses look weird and our skin is sallow and whatever else keeps us from attaining that literally Photoshopped image of "perfection."
One of the best things I ever did for myself was to consciously make an effort not to judge people's bodies. I do not care if your hipbones stick out. Your body is awesome. I do not care how many chins you are packing. Your body is awesome.
So is mine.
And in that context, I come to a different conclusion that Fridkis. My vanity -- when I am not compromised by my own intrinsic self-doubt (two days before my period, like CLOCKWORK) -- is of the traditional form. My vanity is in thinking that I am absolutely worth being looked at, absolutely worth being seen. Absolutely worth thinking of myself as talented.
I wouldn't call that inflated. I wouldn't call that undue. I'd call that actually having a pretty good grasp on being confident that I am, in fact, a worthwhile human being.
That means I am worth skin care regardless of what society thinks my skin ought to look like if skincare is something I enjoy. That means I am worth blue hair dye, on the regs. That means I am worth the sleeveless, V-neck polka-dotted dress I ordered yesterday and with which I will wear All The Crinolines. That means I am worth sending out that pitch that scares me shitless.
Other than the death fatness and the blue hair, I'm actually pretty conventional in my appearance, according to the social beauty imperative: I am white, I have a clear complexion (mostly), I have thick curly hair on my head but little body hair. I have an hourglassy shape. Acknowledging these things makes me sound vain, at least to my own over-sensitive ears, but I want to make it very clear that, yeah, I can stand here and talk about vanity and being worth it (how that slogan works its way in, y'all) but I know other people get hit with even more intense messaging than I do.
I am still going to advocate for everyone being at least a little vain though. Because "pretty" should not be the sole criterion for "worth being seen." Because "pretty" is actually kind of a bullshit narrow construct. We are all worth looking at because we are all people, whether we identify as hot or pretty or ugly or whatever. And, yeah, I get that some folks don't seem to believe in the inherent worth of individuals, but that's a philosophical battle I will pretty much fight every day for the rest of my life. If it makes me some kind of hippie, so be it.
In fact, when people who do not fit into the effing oppressive beauty standard that is going on in America are vain as hell, I love it. I think it's powerful and subversive and political and awesome. Because fuck those folks who think you don't deserve to be seen.
It's worth clarifying as well -- not only is no one required to participate in beauty culture, you are still awesome and worth being seen if you reject beauty culture entirely. If vanity is about excessive pride in our appearance, well, let's just say I'll be damned before I look in a mirror and hate what I see just to avoid being vain.
My only caveat regarding the awesomeness of vanity? Your intense and concentrated awesomeness does not mean other people are not also awesome. You being rad as all hell doesn't mean other people aren't also -- and, in fact, that is fantastic. Everyone is different, so we've all got different things about which we damn well ought to be vain. Appreciate those things in other people as you appreciate yourself.
This is why I have decided to outright embrace vanity. What does that even mean? It means no more feeling guilty for my Instagram being a lot of pictures of me. It means no more feeling guilty for asking someone to take another picture to make sure my entirely fly outfit is documented. It means no more feeling guilty for owning 130 eye shadows because they are pretty and they make me happy.
It means I think I am worth looking at whether or not I am fanced up or wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt. It means I am worth being seen. It also means that I am going to own all of the damn hard work I have put into being a writer and editor, both in my day job and in my freelance work. I'm good at what I do. (Which means I really DO have to mail off that manuscript to my agent, dammit.)
SO ARE YOU.
Jane and the xoEditors actually have a whole new project in the works that will celebrate all things VAIN. It's pretty hella exciting. So, you know, I've got great timing with this resolution.
What are you vain about? What do you like most about your physical self? Or, hell, what achievement are you absolutely ridiculously over-the-moon proud of? What are you awesome at? Tell me, show me pictures. Be vain with me today.
The only rule: don't neg yourself or apologize.
And, while you're at it, enter Madeline's Winter Holiday Vain Ice Queen Beauty Clarisonic Giveaway! I totally want one of those things.
Marianne is posting selfies on Twitter: @The Rotund.