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In defense of vanity...I think

Do you have one of those issues where you argue with yourself? Where you just aren't sure what you actually think because there are so many messages and opinions on the topic around you?

I have more than one like this. However, there is one topic that has been struggling to the top of my mind recently: vanity and perceived vanity.

Can vanity be a good thing?

Vanity has historically been truly reviled.

Vanity is number seven of the Seven Deadly Sins. It's the doppleganger of number seven on the Seven Holy Virtues list: humility.

There are many moralistic tales of how vanity makes you evil and brings about a spectacular downfall. Consider the lady who bathed in the blood of virgins to maintain her youth. Google Borgia+vanity and find plenty. The Brothers Grimm and Disney got in on the act too.

The Disney message seems to be: the truly beautiful don't need to be vain. They are just naturally eye-catchingly gorgeous.

And they are all gorgeous. Show me the Reubenesque Princess. Princess Flat Hair. Princess Vision 20/400. Princess Mom-had-two-kids and happily ever after involves a lifetime membership to Weight Watchers.

Ugliness is reserved for the mean people, like the step-sisters. After all, beauty is as beauty does, right?

It's not that simple. Morality and reality muddle each other.

The very very beautiful are about as rare as the very very intelligent, and no matter how natural, both require a lot of work to maintain. What you come with is really more about potential than actuality. Nevertheless, just as intelligence can enable success, so too can looks, which, like it or not, do matter.

Laura Morsch, writer, in her article, "Do Pretty People Earn More? Looks Do Matter at Work" wrote:

Good looks can have a real impact on workers' bank accounts, according to research by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle published in the Journal of Labor Economics. Attractive people earn about 5 percent more in hourly pay than their average-looking colleagues, who in turn earn 9 percent more per hour than the plainest-looking workers.

This means if an average-looking person earned $40,000, their prettiest co-workers would make $42,000 while their least attractive colleagues brought home just $36,400.

Plain-looking workers may also receive fewer promotions than those awarded to their more striking contemporaries.

So while we ought to be humble about our looks and ourselves, ought to eschew vanity, love ourselves as we are, the truth is deep down, I suspect we all suspect that pretty of manner is not always enough. I think that we all have a little crow in us and are attracted to pretty, sparkly things.

Now, I don't think this is the end-all, be-all for most of us. I also think that sometimes it might be more subconscious than anything. In the end, I don't think it's the most important thing. However, in a quick situation, a superficial situation, I think beauty can be a major factor in how your gut responds.

I watched that TV show test, using producers and then actor/models, to see how responsive the average person was to a regular looking person versus a beautiful person. Everyone was really surprised to have our deepest suspicion confirmed: people were much more likely to aid a beautiful person. I even thought the "average looking" producers were attractive. So, although all four people used in the "on the street" test used respect, courtesy and nice manners as well, the "attractive enough" people were more likely to get rude responses or ignored, whereas the pretty people got a great deal of pleasant attention and assistance.

Further, people are more likely to trust beautiful people, and are more likely to think they performed well:

Students consistently give better-looking professors higher evaluations than they give their less comely teachers, according to research by Hamermesh and Amy Parker at the University of Texas in Austin.

Except, maybe it's not the same for women.

Increasingly attractiveness in men is also correlated with perceived increasing levels of social influence, whereas this correlation does not hold for women. Cute, round faced attractive women give the impression of being warm, sincere, and honest, while attractive, sexy women are not rated as having high levels of these characteristics. Female raters may even suggest that such women are less honest than less attractive women. (Zebrowitz 1997)

Somehow, we have to strike the perfect balance between "attractive enough" and "too attractive."

But what about doing the best with what you are given? Improving what you've got?

During my weight loss journey, I have encountered criticism; sometimes the harshest bit has been from women.

I confess: I do want to look as attractive as I can. I want to get myself to a place where I look healthy, and in that find myself attractive. I don't mind if others think I look good, too. I confess further: positive attention to my looks is a nice little warm fuzzy. It's not my chief goal in life, and compliments to my brain end up mattering more to me, but I'll take flattery about how I look.

Despite the constant moral message to eschew vanity, I had no idea this desire to be attractive was so controversial. Just look at TV. The biggest marketing dollars are spent appealing to our desire to look and feel good. Of course there are healthy and unhealthy degrees of this, and marketing is often unhealthy and unrealistic.

In fact, I think the media is notorious for coining ridiculous notions, terms, concepts, and alleged values---particularly regarding looks and their importance to each of us. I often find it offensive, and frequently find it disgusting. For example, on the show Hope&Faith, Kelly Ripa's character Faith joked that Faith Ford's character Hope was "fat" after having had three children. How ridiculous. And yet, forming minds might take that comment and think, wow, I'm a lot bigger than size -1, I must be REALLY fat. It's terrible.

Regardless, it's the method advertising uses because the wish to look good is pretty universal.

And I'm all for taking back real from ridiculous. I'm also all for owning a term and changing its meaning. "Gag me with a spoon" fell out of favor (thank goodness) and hopefully so too can some really tacky terms about 30-something and 40-something women taking pride in their appearance and getting out and about in the world.

That's why I found it hilarious that Lotta of Mom-O-Matic named the online weight loss support group "Future MILFs." I'd so much rather people think of a group of moms striving for health. I'd so much rather that image than this pornographic one. I'm just naive enough to think it is possible to do.

That's also why I was so shocked to find---in the blogosphere---such tremendous offense taken to the name of that group. It's been discussed far and wide, by good, great, and famous bloggers, on personal blogs and online ezines.

A lot of people discussing it didn't do their due diligence and worked solely off the name. The assumption was made that it was a group of women striving to be hot hot hot, nasty ladies, who wanted male attention, especially that of young males. I got the impression that some people thought it was a group of "cougar" type women who qualified for MILF solely because they were still raising young children.

Few seemed to know or understand that it was intended humorously, and was actually the name of a weight loss group.

Mad Hatter did understand, and was one who wrote an intelligent objection to the name. Lotta formulated an intelligent response.

But as I read other posts, and comments to the discussion, I realized: it's not that simple. It's not just a name, or the term, that people object to.

Underneath, when you get past the talk about the name of the weight loss group, I sense an undercurrent of disdain for people who are perceived to pursue vanity.

I know in each response I made when the topic arose, I was quick to deny any pursuit of vanity. I lied. I just wanted my efforts, me, to be perceived as pure of motive. Virtuous. Not sinful.

But why?

Inherently, why are we uncomfortable with a direct pursuit of better looks? Why is wanting to look attractive problematic (between the lines of course). When I say it directly, out loud that way...of course it sounds ridiculous. Of course it is deniable.

Still, it leads to questions such as the one Kristen of The Mom Trap asked recently about women participating in the M * I * L * F group, "And why, on the other hand, are there women that look at it as something to aspire to?"

I concede the term can be problematic, as can the culture it resides within. That's another post for another day.

I also concede that "making one's self up to one's best" is a far cry from "truly vain." It's a degree, a perspective. My appearance isn't the end-all be-all for me. I'm casual. I'll go out without make-up. I don't limit my life in any way based on a concern about my looks. It's not the bottom line of my self-esteem, although I admit it affects my self-esteem, to be sure.

It hurt sometimes being "the smart one," instead of "the pretty one," growing up. But by the same token, it caused me to look deep and find my own personal beauty (just as my sister had to look deep to find her own personal intelligence).

It's a circle, for me. When I feel good, I do well by myself and I look good. When I look good, I feel like I am doing well by myself and I feel good about that.

I also think the out loud need to eschew vanity is clearly a Christianity thing. A Western Christianity thing. Do we have the concept that our body is a temple?

Perhaps I am existing in that fallacy of the excluded middle.

On the one hand, you have the whole Hollyweird obsession with every aspect of looks. Some of the most popular media outlets are based on the entertainment industry. Joan Rivers has a new career critiquing how entertainers look. You have girls like Nicole Richie starving themselves through weight disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. You have perfectly beautiful actresses like Jennifer Anniston starving an extra fifteen pounds off themselves to look thin enough next to waifish Courteney Cox.

We do have an image disorder situation, and it largely revolves around weight, but not exclusively. It also revolves around looks. Teen girls are seeking cosmetic surgery in increasing numbers. Plastic surgery is one of the most lucrative areas of medicine.

I think this extreme (which is incredibly unhealthy in general) has created an equally extreme backlash in which we remind ourselves, austerely, that vanity is a deadly sin.

We want looks to not matter.

But they do.

So how can we get to a healthy middle ground, wherein we understand and accept a healthy desire to look one's best (through healthy diet, exercise, fashionable clothes, flattering haircut, etc.)? Accept that we do like to appreciate (and be appreciated for) physical attractiveness?

Are the Beautiful People images so overwhelming that deep down, we all doubt our attractiveness? Doubt the ability of our peers to recognize our attractiveness? Are standards so unrealistic?

Or am I backwards? Is the drive and pressure to look one's best so overwhelming that we react neagtively to any attempt to do so? Is it perceived as an automatic "falling in with" an unhealthy and negative need to look a SPECIFIC way?

If so, why?

Consider this:

In Anne Zeller's Human Communication as a Primate Heritage: Lecture Eight: Functions of Non Verbal Communication Systems, you learn:

There is an appeal of familiar faces. Why do we like to look at patterns that we know rather than those we are less familiar with? Part of this has to do with understanding something better with repeated exposure. When we know someone well their non-verbal cuing is more familiar to us. This goes even to the point of individuals preferring to look at a mirror image of themselves rather than a photographic image of themselves because that is what they see most often. Their friends prefer the photographic image because it corresponds most closely with what they normally see . (Zebrowitz: 1997) As the length of acquaintance grows with people we like, we tend to rate them higher and higher on an attractiveness scale. In fact, people of similar objective measure of attractiveness are rated differently if one of them is known to have a more pleasant and appealing personality than the other. The attractiveness of familiarity gradient is a very important aspect of non-verbal communication in humans.

I'm not sure which came first: the chicken (attraction to beauty) or the egg (cultural taught need for beauty). Psychological studies seem to point to the chicken as the genesis, but the egg is certainly integral. I do believe that our natural inclination towards beauty is continually reinforced (even more today than in times past) with an onslaught of beauty images. We're trained more and more to seek beauty.

I think this is hitting unhealthy, and is a problem. That's why I understand conscientious obection to using the term "Future MILF" for a weight loss group, no matter how tongue in cheek it is intended, or how empowering it hopes to be. I'd like to be part of a change that accepts real looks, real women, real people living real lives that don't often enable us to hit the ideal, or even 50% of the ideal.

Like I said, I don't know the answers here. I do know how and when I look my best, based on me, not in comparison. I do know that when I am striving for my own personal vanity, it is striving merely for my own personal best looks all things considered. It's not a reflection---literally and figuratively---of anyone else.

I strive to have a healthy appreciation and perspective on looks, which are largely out of our control, because I know it come sthrough in how I parent my children. I also know my children are the gender---female---at greatest risk of losing perspective and doing harm to themselves in an attempt to hit an artificial standard of beauty.

And I do mean artificial. Have you seen the Dove Evolution video?

I want my daughters to take care of themselves, and their appearance, just as I do, but in a healthy way.

For me, my goal each day---with how I look---is simply to be healthy, and look as good as I can, all things considered. Looking at the people around me, I don't think I'm at all unique. I'm sure there are others who like to look as good as they can simply for looking good's sake as well as for health's sake.

Therefore, I think there can be a healthy level of vanity. If nothing else, it can drive us to good decisions about caring properly for our bodies.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

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NotSoSage said…
Amazing and insightful post!

What does it say about me that I've been coming back to comment all day and I never saw anything but a skull in the picture until the last time?

I may be playing semantics here, but I've always known the last of the Seven Cardinal Sins to be Pride, which I think is very different from Vanity. Actually, I think that being vain is different and, if I'm honest with myself, worse than being proud. It always struck me as strange that being proud was considered a sin.

Vanity is excessive pride. In other words it's misplaced and conceitful.

However, I think that we should all strive to take pride in ourselves and, yes, I think that extends to the physical. I don't think that that necessarily means wearing make-up and doing your hair just so, but I do think it means dressing and carrying yourself in a way so that you can feel confident about yourself. Confidence, I believe, is far sexier and more appealing than good looks.

I say this knowing that I struggle with confidence issues and even being proud. Back in the days when I dabbled in Christianity I had a mentor who told me something very interesting about humility. That humility does not mean self-deprecation...humility includes recognising your own talents and allowing them to be put to use, rather than acting as though you have nothing to offer.

That is one of the lessons that has stuck with me...sometimes the most humble thing you can do is admit that you are particularly talented, gifted or beautiful.
Her Bad Mother said…
So interesting. The French philosopher Rousseau distinguished between vanity and self-love (amour propre and amour de soi), and insisted that the former was toxic, the latter natural and healthy. With vanity, we indulge in excessive self-regard, and measure our own value according to the esteem of others. With self-love, we appreciate and respect ourselves, and this love, he says, does not depend upon what others think of us.

I think that it's important to have regard for ourselves, to *love* ourselves, to seek to reflect that love in our inner and outer being. The trick is to not fall prey to the trap of allowing that regard to be determined by others.
thailandchani said…
Well, I've kind of thought about this a bit since reading this post early in the day.

I like the idea of caring for our bodies. I like the idea of packaging that caring in "health preservation" rather than "package yourself for the marketplace".

The whole "love yourself" thing is a bit beyond me, not quite in concert with my way of thinking.. but I do know that maintaining health is very important. It matters that we do the best we can to stay healthy.

Big subject ~ and I have little insight to offer. :)


Unknown said…
Shoot! I just wrote a long ass response and blogger messed me up.

It started out with "very interesting post and I can totally understand your perspective."

If I get a second wind, I will try to rewrite the answer I had. Sorry!!
Julie Pippert said…
Kim, J'adore. Vraiment. As I have mentioned before, there are homes for sale in my area. Your children can be multilingual. Mine have learned Punjabi, Urban, Spanglish, Spanish, TexMex, English, Geek, French and Creative Cursing.

If I am even more honest, I have enough looks to mark attractive and enough personality to garner interest and attention. This has caused me to see the importance of both.

But yes, I will drop my kids at school in the a.m. in workout messy with no makeup, and will swim in the pool. :)

And I am intrigued and tentatively agreeing with your assessment of the young girl.

I don't know how much I ever change my appearance (I'm sort of a poster child for Target, J Jill and Eddie Bauer, regardless) but I do alter the gear of myself in some way---depending, I am in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th.
Julie Pippert said…
Oh Sage! J'adore aussi! Now I will lie awake all night contemplating the linguistic, conotative, denotative, and philosophic difference between "vanity" and "pride." And searching for a plethora of references that state #7 as pride versus vanity. You mean one of the seven DEADLY sins, right? Versus CARDINAL sins? Oh to extricate myself from Catholicism. Off to Karen Armstrong, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers for a litle light and balanced reading. ;)

I completely agree that caring for one's self doesn't per se mean coiffing and making up. That's why I said "measurign against myself" and "all thigns considered."

You will find me in powder on a good day, with lipstick (my big vanity), and with mascara on top of that on special occasions. I recall a bridesmaid at my sister's wedding---a long time friend---saying, "Oh you TWO! Get over your aversion to makeup already!" That struck me hilarious since I learned makeup in the early 80s at the latest and wore, I think, a lot!

Anyway, yes, the key IMO is the confidence you mention. And it is based, I think, on your best YOU.

Oh and yes! I think that description of humility is AWESOME. I'd love to know more about that person, for example, what he/she said about forgiveness (another tricky sticky wicket).
Julie Pippert said…
HBM aww Rousseau!

Simone de Beauvoir at next serving!

Actually, I've been reading Cato. I know. Go ahead. However, this is integral to women's history. Believe it or not. (I also read Cotton Mather, no not the band, the jerk, and his father, Increase, from whom the apple did not fall far.)

Did you read Sophie's World? If so, what did you think?

Okay enough off track.

I think that's a bit of wisdom there (little understatement). As you might guess, I agree, and I ought to have referenced that.

Had I done so, my post might have been as brief and pithy as your comment. Which was excellent. I do so completely agree that it must be an inner reflection, not an outer.

But that is so much easier said than done.

As I mentioned, so much of what we perceive as beautiful is both nature and nurture. The ideal of beautiful changes with generations, to some degree.

I know I will never look like Connie Seleca (who I aspired to once), but I do know how to make the best of me. That best, however, is dictated in some degree by what is considered attractive in the here and now.

I wonder what Rousseau would make of that.
Julie Pippert said…
Chani, I thought of you tonight!

I was watching Dharma and Greg reruns because I was (a) brain fried since I am rearing a two year old who DID NOT NAP, (b) it happened to be on, and (c) it's absurdly funny to me.

Anyway, at the beginning of the show, Dharma is talking to a baby and she says, "Remember! Your body is a temple! But it's also a bowling alley, bar, etc."

Oh I LOVED that!

You see what I said to HBM above.

I'm curious how the "love yourself" thing is beyond you mind elaborating?
Julie Pippert said…
Momish...sorry blogger ate your comment! I hope you have time to come back. I'd love to know your thoughts.
thailandchani said…
Julie, I'm glad to see you are dialoguing in here. :) It's very satisfying to be able to follow through and talk something through with you and other writers.

How is it beyond me? Okay. Here it is: I think there is way too much emphasis on self in this culture. It's all about "love myself", "get for myself", "what can I get for me", "I want", "I need", "I desire.." Me, me, me, me... bloody ME!

Pride falls into the same category. Pride is not a useful thing and doesn't serve anyone... only the ego.

It becomes an overriding worldview that consumes everything around it. Ego and selfishness are at the core and the root of many of the conflicts in the world, micro and macro.

Maybe a bit more focus outward would be a good idea. What others think *does* matter. How we choose to exist in the world *does* matter. We are not islands. Our actions, our focus and our motives *do* have a larger impact.

But.. just my view.. and as you already know, I'm a bit different than most.



Bones said…
The paradigm goes like this: (correct me if I’m wrong?) Shallow people give too much credence to beauty. Somebody less shallow properly gives more credence to intelligence, but doesn't necessarily dismiss beauty as a bad thing, and the obtuse person will only associate with the intelligent, and often looks on the beautiful with automatic disdain.

It's all vanity, when it comes right down to it. Why shouldn't beautiful people make more money than intelligent people, arbitrarily speaking? Why should intelligence ranked higher? If you think about it, they are both luck of the draw.

We all have a certain capacity for beauty (if we ate perfect foods, worked out the perfect amount, had just the right amount of sun, etc) we'd be as beautiful as possible (BAP), but its still finite. My BAP might not be as pretty as your PAB, but way more than that guy's BAP. Luck of the draw. The same goes for intelligence, right? Strictly speaking, some people are just smarter than others. Well, smart is a lousy word- I'll go with capacity. Some people have a higher capacity than others. They may or may not work hard to fulfill it, but the fact is that mental capacity, as beauty, are both luck of the draw. One can't give more value to one over the other without making an arbitrary choice.

The vanity comes when either type of person (the ridiculously beautiful or the ridiculously smart) eschews arrogance. As if they had something to do with their looks or their intelligence. It's all luck of the draw.

The argument for judgment comes in when a person fails to work to use either gift. You COULD have been beautiful if you hadn’t spent your 20’s on methamphetamine and fried chicken, and you COULD have gone to Harvard but elected to use your intelligence playing xbox. Either is lamentable.

Look as good as you can, and think as hard as you are able. Neither is vanity. Claiming credit for being either smart or beautiful is where the vanity comes in.
NotSoSage said…
Julie, I think the Cardinal and the Deadly Sins are the same. Sorry, there's my messed up raised-Catholic, dabbled-in-non-denominational-Christianity brain getting confused.

Geez, there's so much to say here. I have been mulling over Chani's words and trying to examine how pride takes in how one stands in the esteem of others. I guess it depends on how you're raised. I would take pride in my ability to understand that experiencing the privilege that I do necessitates using some of my talents to give back to people who are not in the same position. Does that make sense?

And I like the way that bones put it, that most people associate vanity with appearance but that it can apply to other things as well. At the same time, I do think that one can take pride in the accomplishment of using their gifts to the best of their abilities, whether they have been given less or more of that gift than others around them.

This is a great discussion, prompted by an equally great post! Thanks!

P.S. Did you read BubnPie's post about forgiveness? Forgiveness is one of the things I struggled with most about the teachings that I was given (well, in truth, there were a whole lot of things I struggled with, and I could go on forever)...I commented with a story about a priest at my Mom's church asking for the congregation's forgiveness on behalf of a bishop who hadn't even admitted his guilt. A sticky wicket, indeed.
Julie Pippert said…
Chani, ah ha! Excellent point! I had not considered it from that angle. You hit the cross-over between morality and virtue.

My last post on Social Justice definitely was all about how selfishness and ego are at the heart of inhumane treatment and conflict. So you know I agree there.

Okay (thanks to Roy F. Baumeister and Julie Juola Exline at Case Western Reserve University---this is from the abstract of one of their articles and says it all better than I can) if we say that:

"Morality is a set of rules that enable people to live together in harmony, and virtue involves internalizing those rules."

And if we then agree that:

"Insofar as virtue depends on overcoming selfish or antisocial impulses for the sake of what is best for the group or collective, self-control can be said to be the master virtue."

And if we concede that:

"Several features of modern Western society make virtue and self-control especially difficult to achieve."

(As you mentioned...the cultural leaning toward Me Me Me...what I want...what I deserve...what I'm entitled of me...concern of me...all to the unhealthy point of over self-interest and potential lack of interpersonal obligations)

Then you have both a challenge, and an enabling of the over self-interest that can remove guilt from the equation.

Why is this important?

Well, it is if you believe:

"Guilt fosters virtuous self-control by elevating interpersonal obligations over personal, selfish interests."

BUT! Guilt, as you can see in Her Bad Mother's recent post, might ALSO hold you back from that very same sense of interpersonal obligation, so there's a happy medium in there that's apparently hard to strike.

Unless, as I think Kyla and I thought, it wasn't guilt about the obligation that was the de-motivator so much as feeling guilty about a judgment that you suspect is inappropriate.

If you are a wicked cool person like HBM is, then you explore that, and ultimately generate a new level of self-actualization (getting back to Maslow) which internalizes a new bit of morality (or better integrates that morality) into a deeper seeded virtue.

Have I TOTALLY lost you? I'm sorry. I'm trying to summarize a REALLY long thought here in less than 12 pages, LOL.

Baumeister and Exline created the concept of the moral muscle. I like that. They say:

"Recent research findings indicate that self-control involves expenditure of some limited resource and suggest the analogy of a moral muscle as an appropriate way to conceptualize virtue in personality."

We spend our lives (hopefully) strengthening our moral muscle.

And through that, achieve a healthy balance between caring for self, and knowing when to set self aside and care for others.

Or, for the sake of this particular argument, know where the boundary is between healthy vanity (pride in self) and unhealthy vanity (measuring and judging others and valuing self through external judgment).

As I said, "The very very beautiful are about as rare as the very very intelligent, and no matter how natural, both require a lot of work to maintain. What you come with is really more about potential than actuality."

So I agree with both your point and the similar one that Bones made that the "sin" part comes when one applies an erroneous weight of importance or degree of credit.

I do think we can take some credit for our successes through development of gifts. I don't believe in handing it all over to a higher power. I can't imagine taking credit for all that my children achieve, to draw an analogy, or expect them to hand over all credit to me.

I also don't think there shoudl be self-loathing if we have made a conscious decision to focus elsewhere in life, away from a particular gift. Should every gorgeous woman grace the cover of a magazine? Should every gifted musician be a performer?

So we're back to obligation of potential.

In this, and in this entire discussion at hand (oh please tell me I'm not being too obscure or, ironically, too succinct to make sense---despite the epic length of this reply) what we think is a factor as is what others think. But neither should be out of proportion or there you run into that prurient self-interest.

And what you come with is a gift, what you do with it is YOUR gift. But neither portion should be out of porportion or you end up with misplaced pride (your point) or false self-deprecation (another sort of pride)

And while pride is good because it provides a positive consequence for a hopefully good action--although I allow that of course there are plenty of screwed up examples---out of proportion it is selfish.

I think we have to have a degree of self-actualization in order to have the proper degree of interpesonal obligation. Otherwise we are immature, and as immured on our own self-interest as children frequently are (although their thoughtfulness can also be stunning...I'm just saying they are not fully developed). When you develop this, you can love yourself.

So ALL OF THAT (pant pant pant) to explain why the "love yourself" bit is not beyond me, but well within my philosophy of life, albeit with the caveat that it shouldn't mean to the exclusion of dynamic priorities.

It doesn't mean "Love yourself first and foremost to the exclusion of all else."

It's that wisdom thing of knowing how to prioritize.

If you hung in, thanks so much for bearing with me. Maybe this should have been Post #2.

(BTW, that article is:

Roy F. Baumeister, Julie Juola Exline (1999)
Virtue, Personality, and Social Relations: Self-Control as the Moral Muscle
Journal of Personality 67 (6), 1165–1194.
Julie Pippert said…
Bones, good point! Yes, I agree about the weighting the value, not exclusive to looks, and the pride point.

The paradigm I'm exploring is the fallacy of the excluded middle (or not) when it comes to personal care and care of appearance.

Let's stick to appearance for now (although I totally agree that vanity isn't exlcusive to that---great point).

One thing I found was the negative reaction/response to a woman wanting to take action to look "hot" aka "her personal best all things considered." There's the whole offensive term thing (Cougar, MILF, etc.), but beyond that is what appears to be a widespread need to publically eschew vanity. See, I even did it in my post, in comments to other blogs, and probably even here.

I suspect I limit my makeup not solely for lazy and time reasons but also because I do not want to appear to spend too much time on ym appearance when I *know* there is so much more than needs doing in my life just now.

I am afraid of self-judgment and judgment by others.

I think there is a knee-jerk reaction to anyone doing anything that can be perceived as vanity, or, the converse, a judgment of another who is NOT doing similarly.

We come with gifts that we develop (or not) in different ways at different times. And focus on different aspects of ourselves at different times. It'd be awesome if it were alway sin balance but you'd need to be a hermit on a hill top for that I think (which is probably why there are hermits on hill tops).

So I don't think the judgment is always in the what you didn't do, but is also ladled on the what you ARE doing --> and I htink that is sometimes more about outside you, although show me the person who doesn't internalize that anyway. ;)

Hope I got through a coherent point here. I'm rushing due to out of time.

Jill!! More good stuff. I know I LOVE THIS. You guys are top drawer. I will have to come back to you. Stay tuned.
Gwen said…
Head spinning ....

I have a couple thoughts: first, I like the way Bones explained vanity, but my question is, what is the good work of beauty? I can see how using your capacity for intelligence can lead to a greater good, but where is the value in being very very good looking? I understand the value of art and literature and music, of that kind of beauty. But of physical beauty? Isn't it's ultimate goal biological reproduction? And yet, the genes of beautiful people don't always cooperate with this goal.

Bones is right that neither intelligence nor beauty is much more, at the start, than luck of the draw, but I guess I've been socialized to think that intelligence is a more worthy pursuit than physical beauty. Maybe that's wrong.

The other thing about this discussion, and this is more about me than about you, is how it is a topic for the privileged. I've been considering, in light of Gingajoy's and HBM's questions about the revolutionary aspects of blogging, just how much of what I blather on about on my blog is meaningful only to the privileged few. It's the kind of thing that my Indonesian missionary sister would roll an eye at and say, "good grief! who has time to worry about vanity and beauty when so many people are struggling to scrape together an existence."

Which doesn't mean that it's not a worthy topic of discussion for groups of people whose lower needs have been met. I just like to remind myself of how lucky I am.

The other thing about beauty that is interesting to me, is how often our denigration of it is rooted in envy. There seems to be an idea that pretty people have all their other shit together, too, and that if you ARE pretty, you'd better not complain about your life or be damaged in any way, because you've already hit the ultimate life lottery. It's as if beauty isn't just one more privilege, it's THE privilege.
thailandchani said…
Julie, I just read your response and many of the comments.

In many ways, we're all on the same page. From my end, I think it's use of language that's making it seem we are disagreeing.

I would change "self esteem" to "self-regard" and "love yourself" to "respect yourself".

That is a shifting of culturally-laden use of language to a more neutral and specific way of saying the same things.

There is nothing wrong with self-regard which is based on choices and behavior. Respecting ourselves is what keeps us from stepping in front of trucks, from putting up with abusive behavior, from destroying ourselves with drugs or alcohol and it is what causes us enough to care about our futures and what we offer to those around us.

Certainly, although it would sound like it using this culture's language, I am not a self-loathing person.

I have very strong boundaries about behavior I'll put up with from others. I try to respect my body by exercising and eating well. I respect myself enough to not give up when giving up would be easier. Example: I searched high and low for many years to find a cultural paradigm that *would* work for me. I care enough to be a good person and add to the lives of others where and when I can.

That's hardly self-loathing and it is within reasonable balance.

I won't buy into this culture's demands to be "pretty" and constantly attractive to men. I don't wear make-up and I don't choose my clothing based on how "sexy" or "hot" I will be. I won't give in to this culture's demand for perfection. There are too many more important things to be done and I'm getting old.

These are all choices we make, how we use what we have, where we emphasize our talents and gifts and where we choose to develope and grow.

Thanks for the referral. I'll definitely read the article but I suspect use-of-language issues will enter into my interpretation of it.

Thanks for the discussion... everyone! :)


Lucia said…
I came over here from Chani's blog and I agree with Kim...reading this is a true treat for the brain. I rarely read all the way through a long post, but in this case, I did.

I have always bristled against the importance of beauty in our culture, and at times it has made me really angry, especially when I feel like I am on the outside looking in.

Thank you.
Girlplustwo said…
funny, chani sent me over here and she used your new blog name which i am unaccustomed to and yet it's YOU!

i echo a lot of what's been's so narrowly defined in our culture, isn't it..this preoccupation with self...and it worsens still by that preoccupation being externally focused.

and yet it's how people know you. to say "it doesn't matter" isn't accurate, b/c it matters. how we internalize that mattering is a whole other thing.
Girl con Queso said…
Okay first of all, it's not March 20th yet. I feel like I'm reading a blog from the future.

Secondly, great topic, great video.
Julie Pippert said…
Jill I did read B&P's forgiveness post. Forgiveness is a huge topic to me, and a long-standing issue. Like you, I struggle with the meaning of forgiveness, and what our obligation to self versus other is there. I started to branch off a bit here, but cut it out LOL. That's another post for another day.

You wrote, " pride takes in how one stands in the esteem of others. I guess it depends on how you're raised. I would take pride in my ability to understand that experiencing the privilege that I do necessitates using some of my talents to give back to people who are not in the same position..."

Pride is another big issue. Maybe I just ought to tackle the sins one by one LOL.

I encourage pride in my kids. I consider it that inward, internal motivation.

But, once again, as with me on issues such as vanity and judgment, I hold up pride as good when measured within yourself, not against others. That's impossible to avoid completely, of course. But I don't want my children's pride to depend on knowing they did better than someone else. KWIM?

I think you pose an interesting point to ponder.

The esteem of others: how important should it be? must it be? ought not be? And when?

I think we all seek approval to a degree, and as Chani pointed out, this can be necessary and good. It's the sibling of guilt, I think, that leads towards virtue if employed properly.

I'm going to have to think a little deeper on the concept of attitude of gratitude and giving back.
Julie Pippert said…

I totally thought about you yeterday. I just finished Wicked. Have you read it?

Anyway that's the EXACT question (adjacent to the question of the nature of evil) Maguire poses throughout the book about beauty, which walks through his book as the charcater Galinda.

There's a line (and this is what reminded me of you because of what you wrote here) about Glinda (Galinda) the "good witch" written about her when she was 17 and off to university (it is, actually, the introduction to the character of Galinda):

"[Galinda] reasoned that because she was beautiful she was significant, though what she signified, and to whom, was not clear to her yet."

The text goes on to add, after extensive physical description of Glinda and her clothing:

"She was, after all, on her way to Shiz because she was smart. But there was more than one way to be smart."

It was interesting to have Glinda alongside Elphaba, because they were actually so much the same character in many respects, I thought.

Glinda strove throughout the book to live up to her looks, and so much of what she did was fulfilling the image she thought she should (that others had of her and thus that she had of who she thought she ought to be---if you can follow that).

It's not quite this, but to try to explain myself better:

"I'm pretty. Therefore, I must be good. I must be important. Therefore I keep inserting myself into business I shouldn't, and staying away from business that I ought to be nvolved in."

I think physical looks can be so significant because of the assumptions they lead the person and the people around the person to draw about WHO that person is.

Make any sense?

But as to what significance beauty holds in and of itself?

Sweetie, philosophers and thinkers much greater than I have struggled to answer that question since time began I think, LOL.

However, you are right. ALL of this is indicative of luxury and privilege...whether it is pondering vanity, sin, pride, homelessness, etc.

I once heard somethign along the lines of, "I don't have time to think about starving, I'm too busy trying not to do it!"

So if we do have the luxury of time for reflection and introspection---and the luxury of time and resources to pursue beauty---then what do we do with that?

But I'd also postulate that scraping together an existence doesn't rule out a drive for something beautiful. So I agree with both points you made about that.

And as for your last bit. OY MALLOY! Yes. You know, after thinking, I think you are right; it's as if beauty is *the* privilege. You hear things about "the total package." "Not fair she's smart and beautiful..." and so forth. Wow. Hmmm. And envy.

I see we need to do a seven sin series LOL.

Good comments...some things to ponder further.
NotSoSage said…
Hmm...I'm not sure whether I made myself clear. I wouldn't take pride in the fact that I did better than anyone else, but instead in the fact that my parents instilled in me the values of recognising my privilege and doing what I can to even the score a little. In other words, I'll be proud of Mme L if she learns that giving is a huge part of life, regardless of where she stands.

It's like the question of whether doing a good deed could ever be altruistic. I don't think it is for me because I feel like I have done something good, even if no one else ever knows about it. I feel guilty all the time about my position in life and I feel better if I do something about it. I suppose a good deed could be altruistic if I didn't feel guilt over the privilege that I was born into but still did something, but for me it would never be.

I guess we're getting off track here, but I wanted to clear that up because I'm struggling with how to get this concept out in the written word.
Julie Pippert said…
Chani, I've been thinking a lot about language.

You make an excellent point. I do think we are expressing similar concepts with different words.

I agree with what you write about self-respect. I definitely don't think you sound at all loathing.

I did a lot of thinking about this bit:

"I won't buy into this culture's demands to be "pretty" and constantly attractive to men. I don't wear make-up and I don't choose my clothing based on how "sexy" or "hot" I will be. I won't give in to this culture's demand for perfection. There are too many more important things to be done and I'm getting old."

I had to reflect back a lot of years to decide how much of what I have ever done was intended to attract others. I've never really done myself up to be "sexy" or "hot" or even "perfect." I'm definitely no fashionista. Clothes are a...well, you know, from my POV it's more about function than form.

In ALL honesty, I have always dressed myself in an image fulfilling way. I think of myself as a classic and smart person, with little to no tolerance for discomfort, and my style of dress really reflects that.

Those little heeled, pointy-toed shoes? I admire those as cute, but won't wear them. They don't suit me.

So, I guess every bit of my coiffing has to do with self-centeredness, in a way.

I don't really do it for anyone else. I do hope that it looks flattering, and on occasion I do myself up and am happy for compliments, but at the end of the day, it's never about what someone else expects or doen for someone else. KWIM?

Maybe it's that I never needed to. I don't know.

And, similarly to you, there are things in my day that I find more important. For example, I have a wash and go haircut. I'd rather have breakfast with my kids and read blog comments (LOL) than blowdry and style my hair.

From a motivation standpoint, you and I are on the same page.

That said, I do like to look as good as I can, and I do use some makeup, keep a flattering haircut, and dress in ways that hide the bad and flatter the good.

I hope I've managed my point. I'm getting distracted because time is up here LOL.

I think bottom line is that while I don't PANDER I also don't ESCHEW.

Chani, love your input. Oh my goodness! Thank you! Given me much to think about.
Julie Pippert said…
Lucia, so glad you came by. And Chani, thanks for the referral!

Lucia, me too. I get frustrated with the obsession over looks, and how grotesquely it gets played out.

I thought long and hard about how I might be participating feeding into it, by wanting to look my best. I ultimately decided THAT is a FAR CRY from aiming for some ideal and trying for perfect, to the point that other things that are generally considered more important are neglected.

My fashionista friends are helpful to me because they save me time by spending so much of their own considering the aesthetics and what best supports those.

Well, hey...that's a good point.


Perhaps it's like kids eating. You don't look at the toddler input for the day, you consider it across the week.

Perhaps we don't always just consider each person individually, perhaps we also consider us as a collective.

Am I starting a good point that makes sense in here somewhere?
Julie Pippert said…
Jen, you know what's funny? That has always been my blog banner from the get-go "take a lasts longer."

I never thought of it as my blog title, it was my tagline but a lot of people think it is the title because LMAO at's the BIGGEST part of the banner. This is my second banner I made, but the old one did the SAME THING!

So it has happened time and again and I like it. LOL

As usual, you brilliantly summed up my point in succinct, clear and perfect words:

"it's so narrowly defined in our culture, isn't it..this preoccupation with self...and it worsens still by that preoccupation being externally we internalize that mattering is a whole other thing."

Excellent, thank you!

Girl Con Queso, oh my goodness I feel so lost. March 20th? The first day of Spring? Second day of New Moon? Kids are back in school? Thanks for the compliment and great to see and hear from you!

Jill, I do understand. I don't think I am saying that well though, LOL. And I agree. I think we need a new blog topic now. :)
Julie Pippert said…
Oh GCQ, DUH!!!

I just saw that blogger posted some random weird future date on my blog. How weird is THAT! I hope I can change it!
kaliroz said…
Wow, I don't even know where to begin with this!

Really fascinating conversation. My brain, though, feels extremely crazed currently! :)

I, like so many others, have given into moments of vanity. And you know what, I think some vanity for vanity's sake isn't a bad thing. As long as I'm measuring myself up to me and not some impossible societal standard.

I have never really been one to ponder looks too often. I had a little dance with bulemia when I was younger after a coach told me I was "too big" to be a sprinter in high school. Until that moment I'd never really given much thought to what I looked like. How others saw me. My parents and grandparents had always told me I was pretty so I just assumed I was. But I didn't think about it, you know? And then this coach comes along and tells me that crap (I was 128 lbs at the time, btw)and all of that stuff I ignored just sort of fell on me. Suddenly I was looking around and seeing girls much smaller than I was and I strived to be like them. It was so ridiculous.

Took me a long time to heal myself. Even after I got over the purging I still had extreme moments of self-hate. Of feeling because I wasn't a size 2 that I was worth less than someone else.

You know what broke that for me? Having my daughter. Pregnancy and childbirth were just so empowering. And, then too, there's the fact that you don't have time to be wrapped up in yourself so much. You're focused on this other person and you realize that trying to meet some societal norm that's SO unrealistic is ridiculous.

I feel, for the first time in a decade, that I am me again. I wear my hair in ponytails. I wear pretty plain clothing. I adore my glasses. And I realize that my value as a human being lies within me and not without.

I'm a true believer that beauty is an inner thing. A deep, deep inner thing. You can be botoxed to the beyond, but if you lack warm and humanity, you might as well be a cyborg. Or granite. Lovely in theory but not beautiful. Never beautiful.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best version of yourself. Being able to respect yourself means you are happier and happier people are more productive and more charitable. When the desire to be the best possible you becomes an obsession that's dangerous. And when physcial beauty trumps that inner stuff it's awful.

I will never understand the people who destroy their natural selves in pursuit of perfection. I really destest plastic surgery because it erases the evidence of warmth and humanity in a person. I think wrinkles, laugh lines -- all the rest of it are beautiful. Aging is beautiful.

I think I've lost my train of thought. Surprise!
thailandchani said…
Julie.. I do think we're on the same page in many ways.

I don't want to seem like a total hypocrite and am not a purist on this topic.

After all, my Thai clothing style could be considered vanity, yes?

For me, it's an outward manifestation of a commitment I've made to a philosophy and lifestyle choice. It generates from within, so in that respect, maybe I do it for me. I don't do it specifically to be attractive to others because I know it isn't attractive to *many* others.

Yet I get compliments.

And I enjoy them.

I am invested in that image.

So in that regard, I give in to a degree of vanity in my own life as well.

I can't imagine that we don't all engage in some form of vanity. Maybe it's the form that is the issue.

Looking forward to your next blog offering. :) You generate very good and substantial response with plenty of new things to think about.


Unknown said…
Well, I'm finally going to put down a few thoughts...

1. Using the definition of vanity from (excessive pride in one's appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit), I would have to say that vanity cannot be a good thing.

2. I think that, as HBM said, it is best to distinguish between vanity and a healthy self-love. I believe that we all have our tendencies toward vanity. I, for one, have a friend on call for "chin hair duty" in case I am ever in a coma. The challenge then becomes, for me, to maintain that balance between healthy self-love and vanity. As I stride firmly down the path of my 40s, this is becoming more and more a struggle between my oft-stated principles and my vanity, which sees wrinkles, sagging and blotchy skin and tries to convince my principled self to run screaming for the plastic surgeon.

3. There are many points made by other commenters regarding the nature of beauty and vanity that I agree with so I won't repeat my own version of those comments here.

4. My thoughts on vanity are greatly influenced by the Bible. While it is clear through stories such as Rachel (the pretty sister) and Leah (the ugly sister) that looks do have an impact in this world, there is also encouragement to not place too much emphasis on that kind of beauty. Peter said, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4 (New International Version) Now, I'm not sure I will ever attain a gentle and quiet spirit ;), however, these words encourage me to focus on my character and integrity, not my appearance.

Well, I guess that's my contribution for now.
Lil said…
Found you through Jen...because when I clicked on your name in my comments, your blog didn't show. Thank you for sopping by...but I have to ask, after googling Alais Nin, I came up with only an author...if that's the case, how does my pic resemble her??

Re your topic. I used to be insecure, even though I was thin and pretty enough to model. No one saw, even me, that I was more than my physical being. It created so much havoc and more insecurities in my life. Not only did I abuse myself, but I let others abuse me as well, all the while thinking that I could survive it all because I looked pretty. Not once was I vain though...and not once did I love myself either.

Years later, alot of reading and therapy, and I now know that loving myself is what matters the most. I don't know if that's vanity... frankly I don't care (I don't live by any religious doctrine in that regard)...what I care about is that I care for the body that carries my soul through this earthwalk into the next life. If that means caring for it with nutrition, exercise and slathers of the right emollients, so be it...because I hope to live to 100 and I want to be able to see my great-grandchildren and still kick butt on the dance floor. I wear what's comfortable and yes, hip because I like the fashion, not because the mags say I need to to be "current". I don't color my hair, wear make-up unless I WANT to...and it's rare that I wear perfume or anything else odiferous. I don't consider myself plain...I consider myself doing what feels RIGHT for me, au naturel. It took 15 years to feel and say all this with honest humilty and not arrogance, and definitely not vanity.

In regards to this topic AND self-love, please go check out Deb's post on Love Yourself Monday's at Organized Chaos ( topic fits in perfectly with this one.

Lil said…
Oops, sorry Julie, it was someone else that stopped at my blog...I found you through Jen's post on children's materialism.

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