you are not vain

I am lying in bed, sick, watching Hulu because the inspiration has drained out of me. And the holiday commercial for Victoria’s Secret replays and replays. I can’t look away.

Supermodels with breasts like plastic fruit, so round, move in slow, calculated adjustments, their skinny flanks decorated with proud ribs- a precise school of dolphins, surfacing suggestively.

“Love me,” they murmur. “Desire me.” They say it as though they already know that we do. Sometimes a voice whispers, but their mouths don’t open, as though it’s the lingerie talking. They smile wickedly, sweetly, smugly– whichever way they’re supposed to.

 

(source)

After all these years of living in this country, in this city, in this culture, I am still faintly surprised for some reason, that they are almost naked. I don’t know why. It’s a reaction that comes up from childhood, maybe, from somewhere deep and certain. I am indignant at their nakedness, because I can’t seem to avoid it. I don’t have a choice except to keep shutting my eyes and turning away.

“It doesn’t matter,” I tell myself. “Why should it matter?”

When I was a kid, standing in line at the grocery store with my mom, I felt like I couldn’t look away from the women on the covers of the magazines, with their glossy skin and upthrust breasts and pouting lips and sultry, shadowed cheekbones. They were always women, and they were always sexy. Occasionally, a man is on the cover of something, but often he is wearing a sharp suit that covers everything. Often, a woman is completely naked, with strategically placed hands, or flowers, or something ironic and playful that references a recent role she’s been cast in. Money, puppies, whatever.

But women who speak of the pressure they feel to look a certain way, who agonize, who fixate, who buckle under the pressure, who get cosmetic surgery, who complain, who mention our insecurity—we are considered vain.

 

This, too, surprises me, in my innocent child brain, the one that resides secretly inside the irony, carelessness, and dismissal I’ve accumulated over the years, like a hard shell.

I was surprised the first time someone called me vain, under a piece I’d written. “Get over yourself, you’re so vain.”

(source)

Vain? I had thought that vanity was the evil queen in Snow White, gazing into her mirror, desperate to be the most beautiful in the land. Vanity, I knew was always feminine. It was always about beauty. But I thought it had to do with starting out stunning and being obsessed with maintaining that stunningness. Vanity was not hating your nose and feeling worthless for feeling ugly. That was something sad. It was embarrassing, but for different reasons. It was embarrassing because of the failure both to have been born prettier and the failure to accept not being prettier, like a good little soldier.

It is possible that I don’t actually understand what vanity is, what it means.

But I understand how wrong it is to accuse a person who is struggling of being selfish.

(source)

“I used to read your stuff about body image as the concerns of vain, idle women without real problems,” a reader wrote to me the other day. She went on to describe herself realizing that she hadn’t let herself eat cake in a long time, or bread, for that matter. A very long time. When she tasted a bite of cake recently, she almost cried. She apologized for judging my writing. She thanked me.

It was generous of her to apologize, and I was touched, but the truth is, I haven’t personally taken much offense to the accusation that I am vain. Instead of hurting me, it confuses and worries me.

I write about body image because I figure if I have struggled with hating my own face, and if I have believed at times that my face is the most important thing about me—If I have been afraid of my own body and its fluctuations and transformations—then other women have also fought against themselves this way, and gotten distracted and held down and mired in the muck of self-criticism. And I want to address it, because I believe that we are worth so much more than the measurements of our bodies, and the details of our faces. We are entitled to our boldness and our individuality. We deserve our originality and our potential.

I write about body image and beauty not because all I want to think or talk about is the way I look (god, no!), but because I think there’s so much more than we can think and talk about. Because we should claim all the rest of ourselves. But sometimes, at first, and for a long time, we can’t. Because our faces and our bodies in the mirror are getting in the way.

And I am afraid for the women who are suffering and being called vain for suffering.

(i can’t help but love her outfits… source)

You are not vain. Worrying about the way you look doesn’t mean you live in your own little, insulated world where you don’t understand that there is also war and massive human rights violations and global warming and animal cruelty. Worrying about the way you look is a form of awareness and sensitivity to the world around you. You are influenced by your environment because you are paying attention.

Feeling bad about the way you look can be like a painful hangnail—it nags at you constantly, even as you go through your serious, important day, handling big issues and trying to improve the world around you. Or a prominent pimple that makes you worry about going on a first date. Thinking about the way we look is probably almost never the only thing that anyone thinks about. Our brains are far too lively and complicated for that. But ignoring the hangnail doesn’t make it go away. And being made to feel guilty for it is just ridiculous.

I wonder sometimes, at the human urge to attack the vulnerable. It seems prevalent. We also like to decide who deserves their own pain. Who is owed their own suffering.

Not the people who are too freaky, like trans kids or flamboyant gay people or dwarves (because we laugh at the way they look).

Not the people who are too privileged, like those with too much money or even with the right skin color.

Not those who we hate for political reasons, like our enemies in war.

Not those whose problems are too common or too small-seeming.

But really, for the most part, we don’t choose what will hurt or impede or disable us. And most of us will experience a whole host of struggles as we move through life. We will lose loved ones and face grave illness and be challenged in ways we can hardly imagine surviving beforehand. And some of us, across racial and socioeconomic and religious lines, will continue to hate our bodies during all of this, which will only make life harder. So let’s not make it harder by accusing other and ourselves of being vain for feeling this way. Instead, let’s acknowledge that it’s a real issue and deal with it.

My mom used to scowl at the magazines in the checkout line at the supermarket. She’d try to distract me from them.

“Those are silly,” she explained, trying to teach me that they didn’t matter.

But it’s impossible not to learn the lessons beauty teaches us every day.

(source)

Greasy and unshowered, disgustingly nauseous, I lie on my side in a heap and watch the supermodels languidly pose and smolder at the camera, doing their beautiful job. A woman commented on this blog that her boyfriend kept talking about one of them, how she is the most beautiful woman in the world. They are often talked of that way, and we’ve learned that the most beautiful woman in the world can mean the most successful woman in the world. The best.

My hair is matted and there are two pimples developing on my chin. My breasts, small but flopping, refuse to do cleavage, even when pressed together, there is always an extra, overenthusiastic crease, a flattening effect. My belly, which has refused food, sticks out anyway, unwilling to give up.

Bleary, exhausted, miserable, I watch the commercial.

This is what you should want to look like, the images declare. This is the ideal. That is why they can be almost naked, because they have nothing to hide, because their bodies are perfect.

I want to disagree. At the end of the commercial, when a blonde model saunters towards the camera, the quick-changing angles of her bony hips look uncomfortable to me, as though her skin might break. I don’t want to look like her, despite everything. And maybe that is vanity. That seed of choice and personal preference. My quiet, tiny, stubborn personal preference for myself that gets a little stronger when I clear away the weeds of self-hatred and self-doubt that are trying to strangle it. If I am vain, I choose that kind of vanity. The kind that involves persistently, selfishly looking in the mirror until I can like what I see.

*   *   *

When you think of “vanity” what do you think? Have you ever felt guilty for feeling bad about your appearance? Like you should just get over it?

Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when I’m hydrated.

42 Comments »

Kate on December 13th 2012 in beauty, body, perfection, writing

42 Responses to “you are not vain”

  1. Stephanie responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    I always enjoy your posts, they’re insightful.

  2. Melanie responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    I don’t know a single woman on the planet who doesn’t have a single body issue. I hate my poochy belly and the ripples on my bottom. I have come to accept them but there are times when I’m feeling blue when they get to me and I wish they weren’t the way they are.

    It takes hard work to like yourself and I would never tell someone to “just get over it” even though sometimes I do feel like saying that to certain people. We all have our stuff to work through and we need to respect that.

    I do think women are vain who constantly go get botox and new hair extensions and more plastic surgery and the latest expensive shoes. But maybe I should stop thinking that too. If it makes them happy than who am I to judge? I never know what another person is going through, and it’s not my job to call someone out. That is what I am currently working on. I’m doing really well, but there is always room from improvement.

  3. Call Me Jo responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    I have felt bad for disliking my appearance, and I have felt bad on the occasions that I do like my appearance. Certainly the word ‘vain’ would go through my mind when I liked how I looked. I never really labeled the act of disliking how I looked, however.
    I think that the root of both feelings is the act of comparing how you look to some real or imagined other.

    P.S. Feel better!

  4. Person responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    I feel this way all the time, and I think vanity is a natural reaction when you feel as if you don’t measure up. Because, as you mentioned, beauty is success, really, regardless of how smart or nice you are as a woman.

    But I think the accusation of vanity is something totally different. The more I think about it, it’s basically gaslighting. Yes, we’re all expected to be striving toward perfection? But to admit that you struggle, that you aspire to be something better than what your body can do? It’s as if everyone is pointing fingers at you and saying, “You vain bitch.”

    It’s as if we’re to be content on the surface, unhappy inside, and always striving with a smile toward some amorphous “better” appearance.

  5. sb09 responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    I frequently feel guilty about feeling bad about my appearance, like I’m weak or something. I feel like everyone has their stuff together, that I’m the only one who is dumb enough to be influenced by the media, by the constant messaging that thin, tall, and white equals success in life (I am neither of those things). The bright side is that I know now I’m not the only one.

    I’ve loved this blog since I first saw it through HuffPo. I started writing about similar things myself (except with a lot more profanity). Fight the good fight!

  6. Clare responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    This article hit me like a ton of bricks…in the best possible way and even though I’m a mess of tears and snotty tissues after reading it, I still wanted to leave a comment.
    I’ve struggled with appearance issues for the entirety of my short life (21 years) and coupled with that there has always been that nagging fear of, “Am I just a vain piece of crap?” Recently I decided to go ahead with seeking out nose surgery because I feel like it’s the right decision for me (see, even now I feel like I have to justify my decision to complete strangers when truly the only person’s opinion who matters in this is mine) – but even after making that decision, the fear of being thought by others as materialistic, vain and shallow worsened – and the fear isn’t about “Oh, am I vain?”, it’s “will I be thought of as vain?” – I’m fine with my decision, even proud of myself for making my own choices…it’s the thought of everyone else’s reaction that sometimes scares me. It’s a thought I need to stop dead in its tracks.
    Your article bowled me over and made me feel a gazillion times better…I’ll never be able to thank you enough for that. It’s a reminder to myself that I must make the decisions that feel right to me; that I cannot be swayed by other people’s prejudices, misunderstandings, and misconceptions. They are not me, only I am me, and only I can live my life. You help me remember, no matter what my self-doubts, that I am worthy of life and of love, particularly my own.
    I hope you feel better!

  7. laura responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that women have a right to feel whatever way about their bodies they do.

    There was a time when I would have read your blog and been annoyed because I look at you and see absolutely nothing wrong. I am 100 pounds overweight and have sebborheic keratosis on my face. I used to have the attitude that other women’s beauty issues paled in comparison to mine so to hear women complain about a facial feature or a little cellulite would make me depressed. I assumed that they were viewing me under the same harsh lens they viewed themselves. I spent a lot of time judging myself and feeling that every other woman on earth judged me too. Pretty self-absorbed.

    I once read an interview with Julia Roberts where she described being made into a “fat person” for a movie and falling asleep while the prosthetics were being applied. She said that when she woke up “fat” it was like waking up to “every woman’s nightmare”. This stayed with me for a long time because I began to feel that women saw me that way…I was their worst nightmare come true.

    However, after witnessing a close friend fall to pieces over five remaining pounds of baby weight and hearing her husband’s unkind words and threats, I had an awakening. I understood that to her, those five pounds mattered as much as my 100 pounds. It didn’t matter what I thought or if they should matter…they did. I didn’t see her as overweight, but as her friend I needed to honor the fact that she did and it caused her pain. I had thought she was vain and it annoyed me, but all at once I felt compassion.

    It changed my view and allowed me to see beyond myself and to see how pervasive “other body/beauty” worship is.

    I have begun to address my weight and diet (again) and was shocked when someone close to me accused me of being “into myself/vain”. I assumed I needed tone down my enthusiasm about exercising again. Then I realized that for once, it wasn’t me or my deal.

    It was her deal…even though she is a fit CrossFitter and very attractive she said that my determination made her feel lazy. Lazy? I’m congratulating myself on adding 5 non-consecutive minutes of jogging to my walks three times a week and she’s feeling threatened (she’s also a marathoner)? Years ago I would have been angry, but now I just feel sad because she isn’t making it up…she really does feel like she can’t take a day off from exercising without becoming fat and lazy. That’s a lot of pressure. It may be insensitive of her to not realize how unsupportive she sounds, but she’s that deep in her pain…she doesn’t get it.

    It also goes the other way. I have a friend who is at least 250 pounds overweight and she thinks that I have it easy only needing to lose 100 pounds. It’s all so relative.

    Also-and sorry this is so long. I have nice hair…and have been accused of being vain because I really like my hair…it is so strange to me to have to defend myself on this issue when for so many years my hair felt like the one nice thing about me. I held onto the idea that at least I had nice hair and yet in a world where women can’t say nice things about their appearance, an obese woman with moles all over her face is called vain for finding one thing to like? Jeez.

    This is when I realized that I had to come to terms with myself and be independent of the good and bad opinions of others or else I would be forever miserable.

  8. Erin responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    First of all, I love how you tied the Victoria’s Secret Show with the wicked queen in Snow White (btw, wasn’t Charlize Theron amazing?!). Second of all, I really like how you’ve ever-so-subtly tied vanity with eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge – apples anyone? Or maybe that’s just me.

    I have a mirror infatuation because I’m always terrified that I look horrible. I need to check just to be sure I don’t, at least a little bit. To me, that feels vain, even though it has more to do with putting insecurities to rest than with admiring myself – “oh, yes, I look quite pretty today, now where’s the mirror?” is not the thought process. It’s more “am I invisible? I feel invisible. Oh, there’s my reflection, I guess I’m not invisible after all…”

  9. Trish responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    I have been reading your blog for about a month now, and I want to tell you that I appreciate your writing so much.
    This post has compelled me to respond because just tonight I had a conversation with my boyfriend about women and their perfection. I have to start off by saying that my boyfriend is Italian, and I recently moved to Italy from Philadelphia to live with him.
    Anyway, I am not sure if you have ever been to Italy, but everywhere you go in this country you can find a naked woman, whether it’s a statue, a painting, a billboard, or on television. Women here are worshiped for their bodies. In Italy, women are expected to have an amazing curvaceous body (round behind, big boobs, and no belly!!). I have always known that in Italy women with perfect bodies are looked at as goddesses, and it hasn’t really bothered me TOO much (of course a little bit, because I am in no way a size 2…or 4,6, or 8 for that matter) but since I started living with my boyfriend it has really started bothering me seeing all of these naked women because I have noticed how much my boyfriend is hypnotized by them. And there is no escaping it either, as I said there are perfect, naked women EVERYWHERE. I mentioned to my boyfriend that it would be nice to see a male body every once in a while, since you RARELY see a sexy naked male body, and his reply “Why would people want to see an ugly male body when the female body is beautiful and perfect”.
    I have had self-esteem and weight issues my entire life, and in the past couple of years I have actually started considering myself pretty since loosing some weight and I have started accepting myself even though I do not have a perfect body (I have a muffin top with certain paints, my boobs are big but their weight makes them not-so-perky, i don’t like my thunder thighs, etc).
    My boyfriend tells me all the time how beautiful I am, but I can’t help but get jealous and feel self-conscious when I see beautiful women everywhere around me, especially when my boyfriend enjoys looking at them. I sometimes bring it up to him that I don’t like how he looks at these supermodels on TV and in magazines because it makes me feel like I can never be as beautiful as he wants me to be (which is so stupid, I know), and he tells me that yeah, they are beautiful, but I am his and he doesn’t want anyone else.
    The pressure that we face that comes from these supermodels is just ridiculous. I wish that men and women alike (including me) would learn that not everyone is going to look like a supermodel and it’s really not realistic at all, everyone has flaws – even the models, but what they have to their advantage is Photoshop and camera tricks.
    I wish it was easy to not get jealous and to accept myself but it is hard when we are constantly bombarded with perfect female nudity.

  10. Acad responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    “I write about body image and beauty not because all I want to think or talk about is the way I look (god, no!), but because I think there’s so much more than we can think and talk about. Because we should claim all the rest of ourselves.”

    Thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyou — for articulating this, and for writing what you write.

    I’ve been following your blog/sifting through some old posts for about a month now, and so much of what you say resonates with me. This topic of “vanity” is interesting because admittedly, I sometimes feel guilty for even reading about/being concerned with body image. As if just being interested in this topic – so often relegated to the dismissive realm of “women’s issues” – makes me “vain” or “frivolous.” I mean, I already allocate so much head space to how *I* look; now I’m going to give head space to how other women think *they* look? Yeesh!

    When I think of “vanity,” I don’t think of appearance exclusively. For me, it has more to do with self-involvement, ego, and wanting to have it all, INCLUDING appearance (i.e. it’s not enough to possess a shiny degree, good job, and amazing partner — you should be conventionally attractive too!). Well, guilty as charged… My fear is that wanting to have it all (or at least feeling the pressure to have it all) makes me vain/egotistical/a failed feminist/a bad person.

    But then I read Eat the Damn Cake, and I feel a little bit relived. Because you’re intelligent and funny and kind, and you are obviously NOT vain/egotistical/a failed feminist/a bad person. That goes for the other commenters here as well.

    So, in that “vein” (har har), keep it up lady. Ladies. All of you. Me. Unroasting, eating cake, talking body image, living life, etc.

  11. R responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 5:09 pm #

    “My boyfriend tells me all the time how beautiful I am, but I can’t help but get jealous and feel self-conscious when I see beautiful women everywhere around me, especially when my boyfriend enjoys looking at them. I sometimes bring it up to him that I don’t like how he looks at these supermodels on TV and in magazines because it makes me feel like I can never be as beautiful as he wants me to be (which is so stupid, I know), and he tells me that yeah, they are beautiful, but I am his and he doesn’t want anyone else.”

    It’s funny how illogical emotions are. There are certainly men on TV whose bodies are aesthetically impressive and catch my attention. But I wouldn’t trade in my boyfriend for them because aside from being perfectly handsome in his own right, he’s kind and funny and we just FIT. That’s so obvious to me. And so why is it that, when we see our boyfriends admiring lovely young girls with perfect abs on TV, we don’t turn that logic around and realise that they wouldn’t trade us in either?

    Laura makes such a good point–it’s all relative and we judge ourselves much differently than we judge others. I expressed some concern over my weight a few weeks ago and my boyfriend said, “I would be happy if you would never worry about your weight ever again. You look great now, and I think you’d look great ten pounds heavier than this, or ten pounds heavier than that! Eat what you want and be happy.” And then, only a few days later, I saw him stressing over the fact that he’d gained half a centimetre of padding on his infuriatingly lean frame.

    We don’t have to look like this or that to be pretty. Pretty is a lot of really different things.

  12. claire responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Mooshie, I will be brief and only say there is a light at the end of the tunnel. CRF

  13. morton responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 7:11 pm #

    “…..the human urge to attack the vulnerable.” People hate in others, what they despise in themselves. That is, not knowing how You feel, they hate what they Think they see in others. So they punish you with a guilt trip.
    V V thought provoking article.

  14. Person responded on 13 Dec 2012 at 9:18 pm #

    Kate, I’m so sorry to read that you are unwell – I hope that you get better soon.

    I’d also like to say congratulations on being published on an Australian news media website. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and was really pleased to see one of your articles pop up yesterday during my daily news trawl.

  15. Caitlin responded on 14 Dec 2012 at 8:36 am #

    I wish my mother had been a bit more like yours. Mine always bought the magazines, and tried every diet, and simultaneously encouraged me to drink diet pop and eat McDonalds…and my father told me “Don’t be fat like me. It’s the worst thing in the world”, hoping that it would keep me from gaining weight. Along with the “what will people think?” comments about everything we did. I got primed at a young age to hate myself and it would have been nice to have someone tell me the magazine covers were silly.

  16. BJ responded on 14 Dec 2012 at 9:06 am #

    “Have you ever felt guilty for feeling bad about your appearance? Like you should just get over it?”

    *Constantly.* I’m torn between crippling shame at the way I look and total indifference. In either state, I’m berating myself. I should care about how I look, but only so much.

  17. Sheryl responded on 14 Dec 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Having opinions on your body is a no win situation; someone who thinks about or takes action to care for her body is “vain” and someone who is more carefree in that respect can be loaded with lots of other untrue labels (among those I’ve heard: frumpy, lazy, etc).

    I don’t know that I’ve ever been accused of being vain, but there are certainly times that I’ve felt I’m indulging my own vanity. Those days when I feel stunning and it somehow seems like my physical appearance matches that feeling and I find myself looking in the mirror more than usual. Or when my body is in a state of change and I’m paying attention to it in a general sense of just trying to keep up with what’s changing and understand and relate to myself. I feel like I’m being vain in both those situations.

  18. Janet T responded on 14 Dec 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    @Caitlin
    I too was raised in the house of “what will people think?” and even at an early age I thought, “Who cares, see me for who I am”. I vowed to never use those words to my children or have that attitude, and I’ve done really well with it. My kids and I remain close; my mother chose “those people” over us kids and is fairly alone.
    My daughter has her own body issues- media enforced, but we didn’t push her and now she is making her own healthy food choices and exercising and feels better about herself and her life, still fighting the body issues but feeling empowered to do something healthy about it.
    Kate hope you feel better soon. Even sick you write a great post.

  19. Wren Wrew responded on 14 Dec 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    Your writing grows in leaps! Shame and anger is expressed here frankly – yet without apology OR wallowing – a fine line to walk. Visceral, heartsick, and most of all, smart-funny. That’s what I like about your site.

    Unfortunately, I only seem to cruise over on low days:
    “Maybe Kate is putting a thoughtful spin on feeling ugly today,” I subconsciously think. Your writing is bolstering on levels other than that, though.

    My line of the day that I hope to get to use: “That’s the lingerie talking.” Hopefully tonight when my partner and I are recounting our day to each other and I’m walking around in my frayed Fruit of the Looms.

  20. Cinthia responded on 14 Dec 2012 at 5:15 pm #

    Once, while I was getting highlights in my hair (it is all about vanity, no?), I read an article in one of “those” magazines about an actress with an amazing body. She talked about her fitness and food schedules, and it was dreadful. She mentioned that her assistant wouldn’t let her have a cookie and would even take one away from her if she found one in her hand.
    Imagine!
    So when I see VS models I do feel stabs of insecurity and yes, even envy, but then I think: I’ll be they’re hunger. I’ll bet they want a cookie.
    And so I eat a cookie or muffin. I eat very slowly. I savor.
    I don’t have a “perfect” body, but I’m not hungry. My bones don’t jut out. And I eat cookies (!!) whenever I friggin’ well please (I’m eating one right now, as a matter of fact).
    Thanks for your wonderful posts, Kate!

  21. morgaine responded on 14 Dec 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Kate, how do you reconcile disgust for society with respect for individual models? I’m not accusing you of anything – I just very often see cultural critics stepping over that fine line. Do you think there’s anything inherently wrong with models presenting themselves the way they do? Or do you just object to the way it seems mandatory?

  22. T.K. responded on 15 Dec 2012 at 12:59 am #

    I love this post more than words can say. One of my all time favorites. You have a truly beautiful mind, especially when it strips down. It is the best! :)

  23. Sara responded on 15 Dec 2012 at 4:43 am #

    Love this post, love the comments :) Feel better Kate! And I mean that in every sense

  24. Mara responded on 15 Dec 2012 at 10:08 am #

    I really, really, really love this post. This “you’re so vain” thing is a huge part of why I deal with the world the way I do. Sometime between middle school and my sophomore year of high school, I got really sick of hating the way I looked, of just agonizing over it and always thinking of what I had to get rid of to be pretty. I can’t pinpoint when it happened exactly, but I stopped taking shit from other people and from myself, and I accepted that I was pretty.
    Because I am pretty, and fuck anybody who wants to argue with me about it or insult me for it or insinuate that it’s all I am.
    Anyway, as soon as I stopped dragging myself down, the bullying in my life roughly doubled. I heard so much about how arrogant I was and how I wasn’t that great and how I needed to get over myself and one girl, I kid you not, told me to my face, “You think you’re all that, but you’re not.”
    Just like Dr. Drakken.
    And I just took it, all of it, and I was annoyed for the duration of the class period, and then I forgot about it. (I like to think that my teachers admired my composure in the face of general douchebaggery.)
    So here’s the thing. I don’t think I’m vain or narcissistic, not really, not anymore than most people are, but I pretend that I am. I make jokes about it all the time. I say, loudly, in rooms full of people, that I’m sexy, dammit, and also really modest. I don’t know the human psyche well enough to analyze this particular habit, but I do think that it doesn’t matter. It seriously does not matter. Maybe I’m vain, maybe I’m not, but either way it’s a product of me deciding to stop hating myself and be happy.
    Vanity, perceived or actual, pales in comparison to that.

  25. Hayley responded on 16 Dec 2012 at 6:49 am #

    I have nothing to say other than thank you, thank you, thank you, for continuing to write about things that make me realise I am not alone in the way I feel about myself. I am so thankful for the day I discovered this blog.

  26. Ellen* responded on 17 Dec 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    There’s a trend with girls I know (all between 16-25) where they take photos of themselves all the time. It’s either on their phones, cameras or laptop webcams but occasionally you’ll see a photo of these girls posing, looking good (pretty or sexy) but obviously in a self shot photo.

    I will admit now, I have a folder on my computer full of these photos that I have taken of myself over the years. I don’t look at them and god forbid I show them to anyone (out of embarrassment to admitting that I have them) and yet, when I see my friends post these photos online I find myself being quick to judge, which I then feel awful for doing. I look at them and think “wow, they must be so full of themselves.” or you’know vain. Then I remember how I have taken these photos of myself too but I just don’t post them up and I think how foolish I have been to judge these girls. It’s not vanity that makes a girl do that – it’s insecurity.

    We are so in need of reassurance of how we look, that it fits in with modern ideals, that we exhibit ourselves like this and allow others to ridicule us.

    To anyone who ever is naive enough to call another person vain, ask yourself why they are doing this. It all stems from insecurity – even the person who is calling you vain is insecure (and probably about their appearance too). It’s just naivety that sets the two apart and an unwillingness to understand human emotion, that other people are probably suffering just as much as you but in a different way.

    As always Kate, I love your posts.

  27. danitza responded on 18 Dec 2012 at 2:25 am #

    Sometimes I think about the sheer amount of pictures and video I take of myself when nobody else is around, and think it’s vain. But for me, it’s an attempt to see myself as others see me, so that maybe I can lessen the self hatred.

    I think I used to judge people as being vain, but as I’ve gotten older and have come to understand society and insecurity, I’ve let go of the concept (for the most part).

    I think you made a lot of excellent points in your post – thank you for writing it.

  28. maureen responded on 26 Dec 2012 at 12:08 am #

    See the thing is, I try really hard not to be vain. The only makeup I wear is tinted lip balm, I dress casually in jeans most days, and I would never have cosmetic surgery. Problem is people – family, friends, coworkers, and literally random strangers on the street – are constantly pointing out my flaws to me. It is impossible to not think about your flaws when they are constantly shoved in your face. By not complaining about my body, I give off the impression of being confident, which leads other women to tear me down by pointing out what’s wrong with me. Otoh if I complain a little, then they’ll reassure me “Oh no, you’re not (insert negative trait)” and I won’t get picked on. Sad, but true.

  29. Lena responded on 19 Jan 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    I feel out of place in this comment conversation, but I had a fairly opposite experience with this.

    I never cared how I looked until someone said -I should-. I always let my hair get a little out of place, and I absolutely hate spas and salon treatments – they’re uncomfortable and unecessary in my opinion, and I never wanted anything to do with hot wax on my fingers and other people touching my feet! Egh! I was fine how I was, and there were better ways to spend my time.

    Then around the end of highschool my parents, probably getting worried that I wasn’t girly enough – and had never been girly enough, between the skateboard, the sports, and the videogames – told me I had to like these things and care more (a lot more!) about how I looked. It wasn’t just about keeping clean and tidy, it was that I had some kind of serious mental issue if I didn’t love being fussed over and having other people pull my hair and cut my nails too close because I was supposed to WANT the minute and insignificant difference of professional attention, and more attention, and trying to be beautiful.

    I used to think I had everything figured out, but after that particular campaign of parental guidance, I am insecure and perpetually unhappy with myself. I understand that the way I thought about things before was better, and better for me – but where this one time my parents were wrong, every other time they have been right, and I can’t help but think that I’m wrong, and that I’m not good enough because I can’t make myself spend hours trying to hide every little flaw that never mattered before. I’m convinced every failing that I can’t explain is the fault of my face, and my less than perfect waistline.

    It’s a few kinds of awful, and I don’t know why it happened.

  30. Eat the Damn Cake » how you should feel about your body when you’re pregnant responded on 04 Feb 2013 at 10:52 am #

    [...] have spent a lot of my life caring about the way I look. Not because I am fashion-obsessed or concerned with being extremely beautiful or spend hours pouring…. It’s just there, this quiet anxiety, in the background as I’m studying, working, falling in [...]

  31. Melinda responded on 14 Feb 2013 at 9:56 pm #

    I can kind of remember the first time somebody called me vain. I was about 12 or 13, which is usually a very awkward time for most girls.

    Anyway, I was in this phase where I felt extremely self-conscious about my body (and I still do) but mostly because of all the changes that had come with puberty. People weren’t shy about letting me know that they noticed my looks and my development, although I wasn’t busty or anything. But at the same time, I would sometimes look in the mirror and see a pretty girl in there…or maybe a girl who had the potential to be pretty.

    I didn’t look at myself like, “oh, I’m hot shit”. Sometimes I simply thought I was just pretty in a girl-next-door type of way. I liked the fact that I was thin, although I hated my thighs and wished my boobs would come in. I liked my long dark hair and the cute little beauty spot by my mouth because it added an exotic touch. I liked wearing dresses that I could twirl in because I felt like a free spirit. I knew I wasn’t gorgeous, but there was none of the extreme self-loathing that would come later.

    But one summer, my cousin who was a year older noticed my somewhat carefree attitude and she didn’t seem to like it. Nor did the other females around me, for that matter. It seemed that being part of the crowd meant hating one’s body or being openly self-deprecating. I was confused at 12. Why did I have to dislike myself in order to be liked by others, especially other girls/women?

    Anytime I would glance at my reflection or comb my hair, my cousin or my aunt or somebody else would scoff: “There she is, looking in the mirror again. She’s in love with herself. Can’t walk by a shiny surface without checking herself out”. It made me feel terrible, especially since my cousin was (and still is) the type to brag about having large breasts and constantly showing off. I went from a healthy feeling about my looks to being very insecure when I looked in the mirror.

    It is also tied up with race for me, too. Being a very light-skinned Black woman (actually biracial) with long hair and delicate features can be difficult. In mostly Black communities, some people admire light skin and long hair but there is also a hatred of the perceived privilege that comes with having these features. Some Black men like you for the wrong reasons and some Black women won’t befriend you due to preconceived notions.

    So it was considered fine for girls with brown skin, like my cousin, to look in the mirror at themselves and openly declare that they were beautiful or even to voice whatever insecurities they had. It wasn’t OK for me to do that because of the notion that light-skinned women are “stuck-up”. I even remember adult women chiding me for thinking I was better than everybody else because of the way I looked. That was, of course, their perception and it was being unfairly projected.

    I remember one lady who used to be a family friend saying in this annoyed tone, “Your hair isn’t that long, Melinda. Stop flipping it around”. I was taken aback by the venom in her voice. I also remember my cousin demanding to know why she never heard me calling anyone pretty. That struck me as really odd, because I did see the beauty in other girls/women, but I was more focused on inner beauty. I didn’t care about who was thinner or who wore better clothes…I just wanted to be around genuinely nice people who made me laugh. It was almost like she was implying that I was full of myself because I didn’t constantly compliment people in a shallow way.

    She would literally stand in front of the mirror talking about how sexy and hot she was, how she had the best pair of boobs, and no one called her vain. But if I so much as fixed my hair in front of the mirror and applied lip gloss…I was a vain, shallow slut. It did a number on my self-esteem.

    The only time I feel comfortable looking in the mirror now is when I’m alone and there’s no one around to tell me to stop being vain, conceited, etc. I’m not skinny anymore and my hair isn’t as long or full. But I can put on mascara and primp and pretend that I’m still that hopeful 13-year-old girl who didn’t always hate herself. My vanity isn’t about thinking I’m better than others. It’s about trying to accept who I am and find beauty in myself, because I’ve been put down for so long.

  32. Eat the Damn Cake » why aren’t we allowed to think we’re pretty? responded on 19 Feb 2013 at 9:13 am #

    [...] Women are sometimes dismissed as vain or superficial for being concerned about their appearances, even in a world that seems unable to stop thinking about feminine beauty for the short span of a city block or a TV commercial. [...]

  33. Eat the Damn Cake » guys deal with body image issues, too responded on 25 Mar 2013 at 10:24 am #

    [...] voices, in more public spaces, and guys are often just not supposed to care, so they keep quiet. Girls and women are actually not supposed to care, too, but when we do, it seems to be more forgivable. But boys and men are also struggling with the way [...]

  34. Men Body Issues, Men are insecure too, Men and women are human responded on 30 Mar 2013 at 1:23 pm #

    [...] and in more public spaces, and guys are often just not supposed to care, so they keep quiet. Girls and women are actually not supposed to care, too, but when we do, it seems to be more forgivable. But boys and men are also struggling with the way [...]

  35. Women’s News: Men Have Body Image Issues, Too – LadyRomp responded on 01 Apr 2013 at 7:01 am #

    [...] and in more public spaces, and guys are often just not supposed to care, so they keep quiet. Girls and women are actually not supposed to care, too, but when we do, it seems to be more forgivable. But boys and men are also struggling with the way [...]

  36. Link Love (2013-04-23) | Becky's Kaleidoscope responded on 23 Apr 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    [...] voices, in more public spaces, and guys are often just not supposed to care, so they keep quiet. Girls and women are actually not supposed to care, too, but when we do, it seems to be more forgivable. But boys and men are also struggling with the way [...]

  37. Samantha responded on 30 May 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    I saw this horrible story of a woman who injected her face with cooking oil because she couldn’t get collagen treatment or something. I immediately felt so sorry for her and was taken aback by the amount of people bashing her for being “stupid” and that she “deserved it”. I don’t think she deserved it. But it did get my attention when someone blamed it on the woman’s “vanity”. There is a fine line I suppose and it’s amazing how differently people will sway in opinion. I hate to say it now…But I still feel sorry for that woman since she has a body dismorphic problem obviously…But the thing about her is that she was known for her beauty in her youth and it got to her head perhaps that she couldn’t stand the natural process of aging. But then again, she was a famous singer, so people were watching her…To think she was still never happy enough I don’t know what to make of that. You can say that she was so humble that she hated herself, or that she was so vain she wasn’t enough.

  38. Samantha responded on 30 May 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    I will add to the point I made earlier that there is a “fine line” between vanity and esteem and there is a difference. Leaner people are more healthy, as is a better complexion, and confidence. So it’s a give in and normal to want to better yourself.

    Although…It is always vain in my opinion to want to look better just for the sake of attractiveness…It’s just that it’s not as bad as people make it out to be! There’s normal healthy vanity and then then there is bad vanity, like the Snow Queen.

  39. Eat the Damn Cake » Jennifer Garner and me responded on 12 Jun 2013 at 4:59 pm #

    [...] look in the mirror a lot not because I’m vain, necessarily, but because I’m constantly forgetting what I look [...]

  40. Meghan responded on 21 Jun 2013 at 8:54 am #

    I have to tell you I couldn’t agree with you more. It is the historical truth that women have been valued (more often than not) for their looks first, and everything else second. Whether its right or wrong it just is a fact. Thinking of paintings or sculptures of women for centuries that highlight either beauty, shape or some other physical feature. Greek goddesses that can start wars or lure men to their death…the feature that usually was responsible for these events was their beauty and desirability. Flash forward to now, models, actresses etc. are always in your every day life either on TV or magazines with a very exaggerated physical appearance that took a team of people a few hours to create and are contantly being retouched throughout the day to look perfect. (Imagine if you had a team following you around all day touching up your hair with a comb or reapplying your lipgloss if you were looking dry…handy!). I know a lot of women will insist this pressure doesn’t exist or women should be strong enough to overcome this “perfect woman” pressure, and I agree on both sides. I think it does take work to overcome whatever your insecurities are and realize when you’ve done the best you can to look how you personally want and be happy. It took me a LONG time and a stable loving relationship to let go of a lot my girl insecurities and realize I can just live and know I do care about my looks (not in a I am so important and vain way as discussed in this article) but its the truth, I am a woman I do care about my hair and skin and body shape, BUT there is a line I draw when I say this is good enough and go live my life happily. I will never judge anyone for admitting they care about their looks or maybe they’ve cried before going out because their skin is broken out (been there!)…we are human beings and its in our nature. :-)

  41. Eat the Damn Cake » losing my hair responded on 18 Dec 2013 at 11:20 am #

    [...] It’s fear. I am afraid on some level of not being good enough. Or maybe this is just semantics. Vanity, I think, is when you preen and primp and fuss in constant attention to a façade that you al…When my hair started falling out in college, I was afraid that I was falling, too. Falling down on [...]

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