(Don’t) Take the wheel, Vanity!
Words by Winuri de Alwis
The distinguishing features of vanity from pride is that vanity is preoccupied with other’s opinions of us and is often accompanied by a feeling of superiority.
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” Jane Austin’s Mary Bennett makes an apt observation on our desire for curating a desirable image of ourselves which is particularly striking in today’s age of social media, selfies and self-advancement. The distinguishing features of vanity from pride is that vanity is preoccupied with other’s opinions of us and is often accompanied by a feeling of superiority. I did it for the likes Much like many Gen Z’s, my Pinterest is filled with boards on aesthetic outfit ideas, cocktail dresses, makeup looks, date night looks, out-with-friends looks or the classic I-just-woke-up-like-this look. I’ve enjoyed curating looks from a young age. Fashion was always an interest and I took plenty of design classes in high school. But recently, fashion has become a rather time-consuming lifestyle. I buy a new pair of jeans and subconsciously brainstorm the best angles to photograph myself for Insta. I do a cool makeup look and am driven by an innate need to post it. This year, my much cooler younger sister has begun actively helping me stay ‘on trend’ with my “fits” (younger Gen Z slang for outfit). With the realisation that at 22 I’m considered ‘older-Gen Z’, I find myself pushed into the demanding task of maintaining my youth. So goodbye skinny jeans hello high waisted mum jeans (these are trendy), goodbye scrunchies hello claw clip, goodbye funky earrings hello gold hoops! I am informed that my high-top white converse is now trendy (albeit would be trendier if it was a tan colour) and I thankfully sigh with the relief that I don’t have to spend money on a new pair of sneakers. It is shocking to reflect on my sudden dalliance with vanity. The feminist in me is appalled and my first instinct is to delete Pinterest and vow to never wear my mum jeans and golden hoops. Yet, this is a misplaced solution. Wearing cute outfits have the added benefit of making one look cute for Insta but more importantly, it brings me joy. I couldn’t in good faith go back to skinny jeans. Remember that element of ‘other people’ which separates vanity from the positive emotions of one’s self? This element was a driver for my clothing choices and Instagram posts. Allowing other’s perceptions to influence how I saw myself is unhealthy, unfulfilling and even dangerous. A good test of lifestyle choices is asking myself: does this choice bring me joy? If yes, I know I’m doing something which ensures my happiness. Taking others out of the equation is freeing. So, based on the Joy Test I’m sticking with my mum jeans and maybe I’ll pair them with my funky flamingo earrings!
When we hear the term ‘vanity’ we often associate it with excessive concern over others perspective of one’s physicality. Yet the term can be applied to excessive preoccupation with other’s opinions on one’s achievements.
Vanity drove my career Basking in the success of conquering vanity, I logged into LinkedIn and saw the myriad of notifications urging me to congratulate a professional connection on a promotion or react to their incredibly insightful article. It’s second nature to quickly check how many reactions this person’s article has gotten and compare it with the response garnered by my most recent publication. Satisfied that my article has received sufficient or greater response, I log out of LinkedIn my vanity quenched. Interestingly, when we hear the term ‘vanity’ we often associate it with excessive concern over others perspective of one’s physicality. Yet the term can be applied to excessive preoccupation with other’s opinions on one’s achievements. From a young age, I had always concerned myself with how others perceived my success. In high school teachers would say that I was sure to make something of myself, phrases like “high achiever” would become an entrenched part of my identity. As high school drew to a close, I finished secondary schooling with notable academic performance. I felt invincible. I never associated myself with vanity. Apart from vanity not being the nicest characteristic, I had believed that being vain required Narcissus-like behaviour or loud announcements of one’s achievements. For me, vanity was an internal process that silently fed off the niceties from mentors, the gleam of shiny awards, and after being accepted into Monash University the response of “Oh wow” upon hearing that I study Law. Not being one to boast and considering I had a strong dislike for narcissists, I decided that I was not vain. I had managed to manoeuvre myself out of this unattractive description. It took me a long time to realise that vanity had become a core motivator in some of my career choices. The compliments of “you’re so accomplished for your age!” or “you are just so inspiring” was so commonplace that I began to expect and rely on that round of applause. When University began, I worked diligently to secure opportunity after opportunity. The second internship finished as I was searching for the next, each opportunity needed to be more awe-inspiring than the last, worthy of standing ovations. When my friend secured an internship at the United Nations (UN), I was thrilled for her, but this was dampened when my peers and mentors began pressing me about when I would do an internship at the UN. They spoke about me securing a similar opportunity with such certainty. Driven to prove them right, I applied for the World Trade Organisation, getting letters of referral from very impressive people who I desperately did not want to disappoint. I was unsuccessful. I treated this as a personal failure, riddled with humiliation I hid my application outcome from so many. I felt that I had let down my referees who thought so highly of me and was fearful that they regretted supporting me. This was a turning point in my attitude to my career and life choices. Abysmal with no cool opportunities lined up, all I focussed on were my University subjects. This period of respite from an incessant need to overachieve gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate my approach to career development and through this evaluate my sense of self. I realised that when I measure my self-worth through the paradigm of vanity, I distort my sense of self. If vanity is my motivator then I will spend my entire career floating from one invigorating complement to the next, constantly seeking the next-best-thing, searching for the opportunity that is most praiseworthy and at the end of my career, I’d just be a person that did a lot of amazing things for all the wrong reasons. Accomplished but devoid of fulfilment and no genuine personality. It was time to get off the dizzying roundabout of following other people’s choices and chasing dreams that were not my own. Shifting the internal monologue The word vanity stems from the Latin “vanus” meaning empty. Ultimately, the praise which others give us is just an unfulfilling, unsustainable shot of dopamine. Long term joy and satisfaction with my life can only stem from choices and behaviours which are authentic and a true reflection of my genuine passions. Allowing other’s opinions of my appearance or of my success to be a motivator for my life’s choices is a dangerous path that is likely to lead to a complete loss of self-identity. I thought of my younger self, whose hobbies were an honest expression of her interests. The possibility of losing that little girl and all the hopes she had for her older self was alarming. In my attempt to remain true to myself, my internal monologue has shifted and the vain need to be superior has slipped away. My new thought process is less of “what do other girls do/wear to look pretty? What do other people in my field do to advance their career?” and more of “What outfits makes me feel joyful? What opportunities fulfil me?”. Taking vanity out of the driver’s seat saved my life from autopilot and will hopefully allow me to create a life I can take pride in rather than be vain about.
Winuri is in her Penultimate year of Law (Hons) and Global Studies, specialising in international relations at Monash University in Melbourne. A Sri-Lankan born Australian, Winuri has called Australia home for a decade and suffers from a small identity crisis when she holidays in Sri Lanka. She is a bit of an international relations nerd and loves travelling, so a job in diplomacy is what she dreams of! When not balancing a few too many commitments, you’re likely to find her re-watching early 2000 rom coms (the only rom coms worth watching), sharing amateur political commentary and occasionally updating her illustrations account @illustrationsbywins
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