Monday, August 31, 2009

The Importance of Vanity

Monday, August 31, 2009

To put it more bluntly (and to riff off that Hollywood icon of vainglory, Gordon Gecko), vanity is good. Vanity is right. Vanity works. You may not like it (or perhaps you do), but caring about one's appearance, in the right way, is no character flaw. It is actually an essential trait in a world that lavishes its attention, money, jobs, respect, and all-around deference on good-looking people (and, perhaps more important, on those of us who are less prepossessing but who better our looks through hairstyle, grooming products, diet, and exercise).

The dirty truth is that everyone -- everyone -- cares about their appearance. It has always been so, from the first time a caveman dyed a pelt and wore it over his shoulder instead of that so-last-season loincloth. Those who say they don't care are lying, says Anne Hollander, Ph.D., a cultural-fashion anthropologist who has written several books on the social, historical, and spiritual implications of fashion. "Of course men and women care how they look. There's no way not to, unless you're invisible." She suggests putting such claims to the test. "Tell them, 'Here, wear this tutu and go shopping.' They'll care."

Still, raised eyebrows are understandable. Society ranks vanity right down there with lust, sloth, greed, gluttony, and envy. In Western art, the trait straddles a steed as the Whore of Babylon. Embracing it is, in a word, a sin.

But what if it were defined differently? What if vanity were simply knowing that attentive hygiene, a healthy body, confidence, and clean, white teeth could actually pave the path to a happier, healthier, more-fulfilling life?

The wisest among us, even history's sages, believe that it just may be possible. "Most people dislike vanity," Ben Franklin wrote, "[but] I give it fair quarter, wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor . . . therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man or woman were to thank God for his/her vanity."

As it happens, "productive of good" could summarize the findings of nearly every major study on vanity. The benefits of caring about one's appearance are real, they're spectacular, and they're quantifiable.

The kicker is that although we all have vanity, and to some extent indulge it, we have been conditioned to reject it, scorn it, make fun of it, avoid it, and underrate it. To act otherwise would open the door to admitting the unthinkable: that the most self-centered of sins could actually be our salvation.
~Nikki (portions of article courtesy of Men's Health Magazine)


Post a Comment