Saturday, 20 February 2010

Why is vanity a bad thing?

I care about my appearance, I think that most people I know do and I also would agree that society places a lot of pressure on us to care about what we look like. That said, the term ‘vanity’ takes this a little bit further. Defined as ‘that which is vain, futile, or worthless’, vanity is that friend who won’t go out because she got a spot. Vanity is that person who you really wish would just get over themselves and most of all, vanity is that trait in a person which makes them utterly inconceivable as a friend, what with being so self-involved all the time. It is possible to be self-confident, attractive and opinionated whilst not being vain. There is truly nothing worse than someone who can’t quite tear themselves away from the mirror, or is so self-indulgent that they can’t see past their own flaws. Not completely alien from a social epidemic, vanity consumes us. Vanity is encouraged by the media, Al Pacino even described it as his ‘favourite sin’, the fashion industry and it wreaks havoc on the self-esteem of those weak enough to imbibe it.

The second term in my definition is ‘futile’; that which is pointless, false and wasteful. Through futile acts we dilute the purpose in our lives to the extent that they are rendered meaningless. Vanity’s negative connotations can hereby extend beyond appearance and engulf our lives; there is no value or profit to be gained in it, and even fewer friends will tolerate it. The vacuous minds of those worthy of the term ‘vain’ are centered around the pivotal ‘I am’. Conversations don’t normally entail the need for other people’s input, they’re merely soundboards upon whom the aforementioned person can ingratiate themselves. The worthlessness of vanity is sadly only perceived by those that are not afflicted by the trait.

But we must look back and beyond the image of the mirror to understand the damage that vanity has done to society for hundreds of years. The ignorance of man has perpetuated the inferiority of women throughout our history. Vanity gives rise to ignorance, as recognized by Samuel Butler when he said that ‘The truest characters of ignorance are vanity and pride and arrogance’. Male supremacy has dined out on these reprehensible traits for long enough, but that is not to say that vanity doesn’t afflict women in other ways. We know that vanity sells because celebrity sells. Isn’t it a little despicable when a mere month after an earthquake kills nearly 200,000 people in Haiti, with a worldwide rescue operation still going on, that John Terry parades across the front pages of our bestselling publications? That public humiliation as a result of one man’s vanity is what we are concerned with? Are we not an inherently vain society when this kind of story is what sells? We take pleasure in criticizing the acts of others which have been induced by pride, arrogance and vanity, yet all we are really doing is glorifying ourselves in comparison to the demise of others.

So next time you look in the mirror, don’t feel bad, but next time you feel secretly happy that you’ll never end up on Jeremy Kyle, know that you’re doing what every other human in the Western world is doing; indulging in that fantasy of self-worth, which is futile, worthless, and ultimately the reason why vanity is a sin.