Perspectives on Vanity
Who's the Fairest of Them All...?
"There's something ugly about a pretty boy who knows he's pretty and assumes everyone else knows it too."
Nova Ren Suma
Growing up with Vanity....
Vanity is defined as taking great pride in one's appearance and accomplishments. A synonym for vanity is conceit.
For most of my life, I have been a perfectionist. To me, this is the equivalent of taking great pride in my appearance and accomplishments.
I went to grade school in the 1960s - 1970s. My classmate, Melissa, stood out to me. Today, she would very much have reminded me of Jon Bonet.
Melissa was a natural beauty, not terribly smart. I had never seen a young girl wearing nylon stockings, full make - up and the latest designer accessories with the standard, tartan plaid, Catholic school uniform. The rest of us were wearing knee socks with freshly scrubbed faces.
I grew to feel sorry for Melissa. She never smiled much. In Latin, the word vanity is translated to irritum.
Mom introduced me to literature and mythology as far back as I can remember. When we discussed Melissa, Mom read me the story of Narcissus, a perfect metaphor for vanity
“The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he found a story about Narcissus.
The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus.
But this was not how the author of the book ended the story.
He said that when Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.
'Why do you weep?' the goddesses asked.
'I weep for Narcissus," the lake replied.
'Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,' they said, 'for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.'
'But... was Narcissus beautiful?' the lake asked.
'Who better than you to know that?' the goddesses asked in wonder. 'After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!'
The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:
'I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.'
'What a lovely story,' the alchemist thought.”
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
"He had the vanity to believe men did not like him - while men simply
did not know him."
Vanity or Insecurity...
Through my early adulthood, I was painfully shy. If someone complimented my appearance or accomplishments, I was uncomfortable.
Today, I see where introverted people can be unjustly perceived as self- absorbed, superior, even conceited.
As a Nursing Instructor, I observe students of all ages feeling very preoccupied, stressed, even self - absorbed. Both extroverts and introverts feel as though all eyes are on them. They can be unduly harsh and critical of themselves, for example with an oral presentation.
Things that are of glaring concern to others may not even be noticed by others.
I am reminded of an Aesop's Fable from my younger days: "The Gnat and The Bull".
The Gnat and the Bull: Aesop's Fable
Once there was a silly gnat who kept buzzing about the head of a bull.
Finally he settled himself down upon one of the bull's horns.
"Pardon me, Mr Bull." he said, "if I am inconveniencing you. If my
weight in any way is burdensome to you, pray say so, and I will be off
in a moment."
"Oh, never trouble your head about that," replied the bull. "It is all the same to me whether you go or stay. To tell you the truth, I was not even aware that you were there."
THE SMALLER THE MIND, THE GREATER THE CONCEIT.... lesson learned.
"Pride does not wish to owe and vanity does not wish to pay."
Francois de la RocheFoucauld
Vanity and Vulnerability...
In 1999, I was 37 years old. I was in great physical shape and felt comfortable in my own skin.
As a Nurse Executive, I believed that confidence was demonstrated, even if not felt, when there was not a hair out of place.
After a life - altering incident in June, 1999, I appreciated what is was like to be totally vulnerable and dependent on loved ones.
Yet, along with my vulnerability came clarity. I slowly became strong again and was finally able to shed my belief that perfection is possible or even desirable.
I know today that living every day to the fullest is my priority. Life experience, both the good and the bad, has taught me the most valuable lessons.
I know that one's appearance is a direct reflection of how they are feeling about themselves. Make - up and accoutrements are no substitute for inner beauty and strength. Without a solid core that comes from within, the exterior is essentially a facade.
Another Aesop's Fable, "The Tortoise and The Eagle" reminds me of the person who tries way too hard to be someone they are not.
The Tortoise and The Eagle: Aesop's Fable
The tortoise once upon a time was not the contented fellow that he is today. There was a time when he wished with all his heart that he could fly. As he watchd the birds disporting themselves in the clouds he felt sure that if he could get up into the air he could soar with the best of them.
One day he yelled to an eagle who was hovering overhead: "Friend eagle, you are the best flier among all the birds. If you will teach me to fly I will bring you all the treasures of the sea."
The eagle replied: "But you are asking the impossible, friend tortoise. In the first place you have no wings and, in the second, nature never intended you to fly."
But the tortoise kept pleading and promising greater and greater rewards. So finally the eagle said that he would do the best he could. telling the tortoise to hang on, he bore him high into the sky. Then he loosed his hold upon the now thoroughly frightened tortoise and cried: "All right, start flying."
The poor tortoise was dashed to pieces on the rocks below.
VANITY CARRIES ITS OWN PUNISHMENT.... lesson learned.
"Vanity is becoming a nuisance. I can see why women give it up eventually. But I'm not ready for that yet."
Vanity and Aging...
Today, I still take pride in my appearance and accomplishments.
However, I have accepted the changes to my body that comes with middle age. I also appreciate age - appropriate attire with simple, classic lines.
I tend to wonder what makes some people try to look and dress much younger. Despite outward appearances, these individuals don't look any happier than Melissa did in grade school.
I believe that 'high maintenance' people have an increased need for 'going to the shop'. I would rather spend my precious time doing things I enjoy with family and friends.
This final fable from Aesop, "The Bald Knight" seemed the perfect closure to the subject of vanity. May we never forget to laugh at ourselves in life...!
The Bald Eagle: Aesop's Fable
A certain knight observing himself in the mirror one day noted that he was growing old. His hair no longer grew as luxuriantly upon his head as once it had. Indeed, he had become quite bald. To conceal such a noticeable imperfection he ordered a very handsome periwig.
One day with a group of his friends he went riding to the hounds. He was dressed in his gayest apparel and on his naked head he wore his brand-new wig. A suden gust of wind snatched off the knight's toupee, exposing his bald noggin much to the amusement of his companions. He
himself laughed as loud as anybody, saying: "How was it to be expected that I should keep someone else's hair upon my head, when my own would not stay there.
THY PRIDE IS BUT THE PROLOGUE OF THY SHAME....lesson learned.
© Maria Jordan (revised October, 2014)