Posts Categorized: body image

What is Vanity?

Here’s a topic we’ve discussed before, but that definitely merits re-visiting: Vanity.

I take photos of my outfits and post them to a public blog. I am constantly encouraging women to find clothing that they adore, learn to express themselves through personal style, and embrace outer beauty as an integral component of holistic self-love. I write about figure flattery, fun shoes, shopping, hair care, and the power of compliments. I believe that loving your own body, just as it is, is absolutely vital.

And I’ve been asked, on occasion, if any of these behaviors or beliefs might be perceived as vanity. And they might. But not by me.

In my opinion, a behavior or belief becomes problematic when it impedes normal functioning. The dictionary definition of vanity is excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc. Excessive being the key word, there. Enjoying clothing, playing with makeup, deriving pleasure from looking at your own reflection, feeling genuine love for your physical form are all healthy, normal behaviors. Doing any of these things to the point of obsession, feeling compelled to impose your views of your own beauty or importance on others, or sapping your personal resources for the sake of furthering efforts to either beautify or glorify your own image? Entering Vanity Territory, perhaps. It’s imbalance, fixation, and strong feelings of superiority that tip the scales.

But in the grand scheme of things, I see vanity as a relatively benign “problematic behavior.” Our society vastly prefers that women bathe in vats of self-concocted self-loathing, and any sign of body- or beauty-related pride creates an excuse to vilify the culprit. Truly vain people are irritating and tiresome, but since they are so self-focused any damage they might do is to themselves. And I’m inclined to believe that a little public vanity by some strong women might help those of us who struggle to merely ACCEPT ourselves feel a little bolder.

At least, that’s my opinion. What is vanity to you? Do you feel that exercises in self-love or lessons in personal style verge on vain? Are there any times when you, yourself, have felt vain? What were the circumstances? Did you feel shameful afterward? Any idea why? Does vanity irritate you? Anger you?

Image courtesy gotnc.

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Your Style, Your Call

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A few weeks ago, a lovely reader reached out to me over e-mail. She said many kind and supportive things, but one stood out in my mind and is still rattling around in there. She’d just finished my book, and said she was so grateful that I hadn’t forced her to donate the contents of her closet or make drastic changes to her dressing behaviors. She loves neutrals and muted colors, and had been toting around an inferiority complex for AGES, convinced that her disinterest in bold, bright colors constituted a shortcoming. It was such a relief to her to read that she could wear those neutrals and muted colors forever if she wanted. I was thrilled to hear that my book had been helpful to her on her personal style journey, but also dismayed to hear that she’d felt pressured to dress in ways that didn’t resonate with her personally.

We’ve talked about fashion and permission before, but allow me to repeat myself: Most style rules give you permission to wear some things and forbid you to wear others based on your shape, size, age, and other factors. But you should feel free to ignore those rules and make up your own. You will always feel best about your body and self if you dress in ways that make you happy. And that means you will always look your best if you dress in ways that make you happy, because happiness radiates outward. For some of you, that will mean abiding existing rules about figure flattery, proportion, color, scale, and such. For some of you, that will mean picking which rules to follow and which ones to bend or break. For some of you, that will mean pretending there are no “rules” at all. Ever.

DON’T wear color if you don’t want to. DON’T wear fitted clothes if you don’t want to. DON’T worry about “stumpy” legs or a balanced silhouette or elongating your neck if you don’t want to. You are the boss. You make the calls. Wearing clothing that aligns with your personality and aesthetic preferences and inner desires might not give you a socially sanctioned set of curves or proportions that align with the current beauty ideal. But wearing clothing that resonates with you as a unique individual will help you feel centered, confident, powerful, and real. And that has value.

Follow the rules that work for you, discard the others. And never let anyone convince you that you’re doing it wrong. There is no one right way to be stylish.

Image courtesy Sameer Vasta

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Speak to Your Body as You Would to a Friend

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One of those little nuggets of body image wisdom that floats around a lot is this: When you find yourself berating your body for its shortcomings, mentally scolding it for its faults, shaking your head in disappointment at your own physical form, ask yourself if you’d say those same things out loud to any other living being. Your best friend? Your mom? How about a colleague? Or even a total stranger? If you’re being harsher and more judgmental toward yourself than you would be toward other people, it might be time to reconsider how you conceptualize your body.

And it’s an imperfect idea, of course. Many people are naturally harder on themselves and more critical of themselves than they are of others, and this can be beneficial. It can tie into ambition, motivation, and the ability to feel awake and aware throughout our lives. Expecting the same levels of diplomacy and care to be used in your dealings with yourself as get used in dealings with your daughter or sister isn’t terribly reasonable, and might prove a bit counterproductive.

Then again, we’re not talking about EVERYTHING you think and ponder and level at yourself. We’re talking about how you conceptualize and address your body, which can be a slightly more toxic and slightly less productive situation for some. My self-talk about career and relationships can be a little nagging and tinged with disappointment, but most of that internal monologue centers on behaviors that I can control and change, so the negativity has a natural, controllable end. My self-talk about my body is more likely to include regret, frustrations that cause me to dwell in the past, and thought patterns that are cyclical in nature. It can also get cruel and comparative and feel incredibly difficult to stop. And I’m me and you’re you, so your self-talk about your body might not be as negative or harmful. But many of the women I’ve talked with and clients I’ve worked with have confessed to a pretty dark, angry internal monologue when it comes to body image.

So even if the idea seems flawed and even if it doesn’t work in every instance, consider how this tactic could work for you. Your body is the home of your soul, and it’s the only one you’ll ever have. Your relationship with your body is unique and complex, but hopefully you are working to make it constructive and positive. You and your body are trying to be friends. Friendships take work and time and energy. But one of the ways you could pave that path a bit would be to speak to your body as you would to a friend. Be constructive and insightful, but also kind and supportive. Be truthful and real, but also caring and forgiving. Befriend your body as best you can, and talk to it like the friend you want it to be.

Image courtesy Rodrigo David.

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