The Trouble with Being Beautiful: Beauty, Vanity, and the Catch-22 of Body Positivity
When you looked at the title of this article, what did you think? Did you think, “Oh, lord, not another person talking about how hard it is to be beautiful. Aren’t there more important things to worry about?”
Truth is, if I happened upon this piece, I might have– and that response just what I want to talk about. I’ve been mulling a version of this piece around in my head for months, but it was the post “I’m pretty/smart/nice but…” by Braless in Brazil that prompted me to write about the constant struggle I have between accepting the body positive mandate to believe in your own beauty and still avoid the dreadful label of being thought of as “vain.”
The images in this post are all of bloggers who do manage to balance style, vanity and blogging in a way I admire. Also they are gorgeous, so it seemed appropriate.
I have struggled with insecurities about my own appearance– it’s pretty difficult to be a 23-year-old woman in the United States of America and not have suffered from a feeling of crippling inadequacy at some point. For example: 8 months ago I felt like I was hideous and now I feel pretty awesome, although I actually look basically identical. When I’m at a low point I try to embrace body positivity and embrace the things I like about myself– at a high point I am constantly telling myself that primping in the mirror is vain and that I must temper my own self-love by remembering my flaws. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle.
One thing I worry about is why being beautiful is so important to me. Part of me is constantly saying that it’s shallow, that I should be caring about making people’s lives better or improving the world or think deep thoughts or whatever it is that good people do. And yet, and yet, I can’t avoid the feeling that I’m letting down the world a little bit.
But beautiful things make me happy– and sometimes that beautiful thing is me or the clothes that I dress myself in, especially the lingerie. I can’t rationalize away my love for the pretty or the sparkling or the inventive. Is making myself happy a worthwhile goal? Is beauty a valuable enough thing to make me happy? I love the joy of owning and touching and wearing something beautiful. Twice as wonderful is making something I think is lovely (although much, much more rare).
I see actresses and models who indulge in self-criticism and airing of their insecurities described as ‘relatable,’ like it’s a good thing. I mean, they might be relatable, but is self-criticism really what you want to have in common? Sometimes I feel like we are rewarding insecurities as something that connects all women without pointing out how toxic that is. Compliments are hard to take because you’re supposed to pooh-pooh them, to point out all the ways you don’t live up to the image someone else has of you.
One reason I haven’t been able to try the fashion blog staple of ‘outfit posts’ properly even though part of me would love to style some lingerie as outwear looks is the paradoxical fear both of not looking beautiful enough and for appearing vain if I think that people would think that I looked good. And the thing is, I know that vanity would be a part of what drives me: I like praise, I like affirmation, I want people to tell me I’m beautiful and amazing. And when I look at bloggers I love doing their outfit posts, I think they look amazing and brave– I don’t see vanity at all.
I want to promote self-love, body positivity and self-acceptance. But if I’m afraid of falling in love with myself and punish myself when I do by reminding myself of all the things I do poorly, the ways I don’t look beautiful or behave imperfectly, what kind of hypocrisy is that? If vanity, not humility, is the ally of body positivity, maybe a little bit of ‘vanity’ is what we need.
But, I really want to know what you think: have you struggled with finding the balance between loving yourself and avoiding vanity? Do you think I’m totally off base with my assessment of this dilemma?