Having my photo taken puts me on edge. I am torn between my vanity, and my desire not to be seen as vain. It makes me uncomfortable. I don't know how so many bloggers take pictures in public places without cringing, I can barely bring myself to pose alone in my living room, let alone in front of an audience.
This is a by-product, no doubt, of coming from the MySpace generation but never having been a MySpace kind of girl - I didn't practice enough putting my face *just so* so I know how to get the look I want. I'll have to work on that. This is also the reason, I'm sure, why I am bad at applying eye liner.
Why is it seen as vain to have your picture taken? We are not supposed to want to look at ourselves, and yet we are expected to want other people to look at us (but not too much). The rules of being a person are very complex, and do not make a lot of logical sense.
Vanity has a bad reputation in my humble opinion. To be vain you need some semblance of self-esteem; to be successfully vain requires a degree of self-care above the norm. These are not negative things to partake in, and indeed, there are many people who could use a good dose of both (myself included some of the time).
Yet, we hide our vanity, or at least try to. I pretend not to care in front of the camera, but later spend time untagging all the unflattering photos on Facebook and carefully editing and selecting what goes on this blog. Behind the scenes vanity, because public vanity is unacceptable.
When we spend time on our creations, on our work and our art, on our writing and our photography, our degrees and our projects, it is praised. Being a perfectionist in this sense has a lot in common with being vain. Wanting to do a good job so that people will judge you favourably. But when it comes to our bodies, our faces (and photos thereof) we are expected to care less, or else be so naturally beautiful and photogenic that no work is needed.
It is seen as shallow, an antithesis to intelligence, to care about what you look like. Why is that? You live in your body every day, you look at your face in every reflective surface. It is both the self you present to the world before you get a chance to open your mouth, and something which houses you for your whole life. It deserves care and attention, just as much as your brain.
I am not ashamed that I do spend quite a bit of time thinking about how I look. Okay, I actually am a little bit ashamed when I tot up the amount of time that I could have been working towards world peace instead, but that's the point I am trying to make. Whilst there are certainly nobler pursuits than considering what clothing to wear or how to improve your skin and nails, and indeed more important ones, this is not time wasted. Self-care is a valid part of being a human, too often neglected; not least because it enables you to go out there and do your awesome thing much more productively.
The products of vanity are not always positive, of course. Time spent in self-criticism is not productive in any way, although it is harder to shake out of than it appears. I figure, personally, that if I spend more time smiling at myself and considering what excellent outfit to wear next, than I do berating my skin and hair for being greasy, or my tummy for being too podgy, then that is an overall win.
Like everyone, I have that constant battle between good and evil thoughts when it comes to my appearance. And I do think a little bit more vanity can be a useful weapon in the battle against forces of evil. If I like the way I look, and pose a bit in photos to show that off, that is surely better than the alternative?
In my line of study, and of course in the various feminist groups that I am and have been a part of, there is a lot of talk about 'the media', this abstract force, and how it influences people (particularly women) in negative ways and gives them body image issues, and self esteem issues, and all manner of other issues. The pressure to be young and beautiful (within a very narrow definition of beauty, of course) is ever present.
I do sometimes wonder whether the goal is for beauty to no longer be a valued thing in society, or whether it should just be robbed of its power - to be beautiful should be as valued as being a good violinist or a good listener - those other skills and talents should not be consolation prizes but equally valuable. Sometimes I think my desire to be beautiful comes as much from my perfectionist nature as it does from this media pressure and the historical need for women to be beautiful because they weren't allowed to do or be anything else, but who can tell?
I will confess that part of the reason I wrote this overly introspective blog post was to have an excuse to share the photo above, and to not be ashamed of it. To be vain for a moment (on a blog named after myself, how droll). I like that photo. I want to like more photos of me, both portraits and photos I can share on this here blog, but also photos of memories that I can smile fondly upon when I am old. That might mean embracing my vanity, or it might mean putting it to one side. What do you think?