When do self­ies and self-care cross the line into nar­cis­sism?

In our cur­rent selfie-ob­sessed cul­ture, where do we draw the line be­tween self-love and van­ity?

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Souzan Michael

When it comes to iden­ti­fy­ing “good” and “bad” qual­i­ties in peo­ple, some are eas­ily cat­e­go­rized (gen­er­ous ver­sus miserly, trust­wor­thy ver­sus deceitful), some are de­bat­able (af­ter all, who hasn’t been charmed by a bad boy’s an­tics?) and some, like van­ity, ex­ist on a slid­ing scale, con­stantly evolv­ing with so­ci­etal norms.

Once upon a time, the word “vain” sim­ply meant empty, void or fu­tile. In the 14th cen­tury, it mor­phed to mean self-in­volved, con­ceited and nar­cis­sis­tic. Since then, there has al­ways been an in­her­ent sex­ism to its mean­ing and use, says Dr. Ju­dith Orloff, an L.A.-based psy­chi­a­trist. “Van­ity isn’t taken as se­ri­ously with men; it’s swept un­der the rug,” she says. “Whereas with women, it’s used to make us ap­pear self­ish and like our pri­or­i­ties are off.”

Per­haps it’s time to re­de­fine van­ity now that we live in a cul­ture in which self­ies are mon­e­tized and self-care is a con­cept that has its own hash­tag. To­day, so­cial me­dia’s in­flu­ence—and use­ful­ness for more than broad­cast­ing one’s breakfast choices—is un­de­ni­able. It has changed the way we cre­ate, com­mu­ni­cate and present our­selves.

Only a few years ago, it would have been dif­fi­cult to imag­ine un­box­ing and GRWM (“Get Ready With Me”) videos as pop­u­lar forms of en­ter­tain­ment, yet to­day millions watch them. (A sin­gle one of YouTu­ber Beau­tyyBird’s re­cent un­box­ing videos has racked up al­most half a mil­lion views.)

Un­der the ex­ist­ing def­i­ni­tion of van­ity, hav­ing an In­sta­gram feed could be con­sid­ered an in­dul­gent, vain act—es­pe­cially if some­one spends an in­or­di­nate amount of time labour­ing over how to present an edited and Face­tuned ver­sion of them­selves.

So­cial me­dia has made us very aware of—and pre­oc­cu­pied with— how we look in pic­tures, but does that make us clin­i­cally self-ob­sessed? “It’s a spec­trum,” says Orloff. “Ev­ery­one wants to look in the mirror and like what they see. That’s nat­u­ral. But van­ity is an ob­ses­sion with mak­ing sure you look bet­ter than ev­ery­one else.”

For those who fall on the health­ier side of that spec­trum, the de­sire to both de­mys­tify and cel­e­brate beauty rit­u­als ex­plains the pop­u­lar­ity of sites like Into the Gloss. The beau­ty­fo­cused web­site, which was founded by Emily Weiss in 2010, pro­vides read­ers with lengthy and de­tailed de­scrip­tions of the makeup prod­ucts that celebri­ties use to trans­form into the beau­ti­ful peo­ple we (think we) know and love.

Sites like Into the Gloss, Vi­o­let Grey and Coveteur have loyal fol­low­ers who are drawn to con­tent that doesn’t make them feel they have to be se­cre­tive about their sup­posed “vain” rit­u­als (hours-long makeup rou­tines, weekly man­i­cures, expensive lash ex­ten­sions).

Makeup artist Char­lotte Til­bury— who once joked “I’m so vain that I never want to age and I want to look fab­u­lous un­til the very end”—has a day­time look (smoky eye, nude lip­stick) and a bed­time look (softer smoky eye, just a cou­ple of coats of mas­cara). In fact, her hus­band has never seen her barefaced be­cause she feels bet­ter with makeup on. “I be­lieve in the power of beauty,” says Til­bury. “Makeup can change a woman’s life for the bet­ter—give her con­fi­dence, make her happy, more em­pow­ered.”

Women like Til­bury, who are con­fi­dent and hon­est about the mea­sures they take to main­tain an at­trac­tive ap­pear­ance, are of­ten con­sid­ered vain, says Han­nah Johnson, beauty writer and for­mer con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor for xoVain, Jane Pratt’s beauty-cen­tred off­shoot of xoJane. She says it’s a term used to make women feel guilty for par­tic­i­pat­ing in acts of self-care, “es­pe­cially if that process re­quires time, ef­fort and money.” “Women are re­al­iz­ing that we can craft any im­age we choose for our­selves,” she adds. “We can use our free time and hard-earned money to help cre­ate those per­sonas.”

So, how about we pro­pose a new def­i­ni­tion:

van·ity noun The self-ac­tu­al­ized de­sire to present your­self to the world any way you wish.

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