There are Worse Things Than Being Vain
In a world that wants you to hate yourself, it’s rebellion to enjoy your own reflection.
As a young girl, I did everything I could to avoid having my photo taken. I didn’t like my chubby cheeks, or my toothy grin, or the way my arms looked. And I wasn’t alone. School photo day at an all-girls school was a drama waiting to happen, with everyone queuing up frantically brushing their hair and re-powdering their T-Zone. When the photos got given out in form time a few weeks later everyone would clutch their envelope and take only the most tentative little peek at their own face, unable to even bear pulling the photo all the way out of its little brown paper prison. Muttering would then take place, with everyone complaining about their hair or their skin or whatever other minute imperfection they’d fixated on. It was almost a ritual, a twisted bonding experience with a set of rules. You weren’t allowed to say “I actually think I look good” or even just “It’s only a photo” because the unspoken rule was that self-hatred is a virtue.
It goes beyond school photos, we live in a culture which is fundamentally based upon making people (especially women) hate themselves. How would companies make any money if they couldn’t convince you your body is riddled with flaws in dire need of correction? If you fixate on your wrinkles, you buy anti-ageing creams. If you’re repulsed by a single stray leg hair, you’ll buy ridiculously over-priced pink ‘Jasmine Bali Dolphin Goddess’ razors. Every ‘flaw’ makes someone, somewhere, a fortune. Beyond money-making, it’s also a means of making sure young girls don’t get ‘too big for their boots’. Women who love themselves unconditionally and don’t think about what they look like don’t just make poor customers, they make challenging citizens, girlfriends, daughters. They have the time, energy and confidence to unleash their full power and push for change.
This pressure is even more stark when you take an intersectional view of things. Black women, particularly dark-skinned women, are taught they’re even less attractive. Same goes for women who don’t abide by traditional expectations of gender, be they lesbians, trans women, or just girls who chose to dress in a more masculine style. Convincing marginalised people they’re ugly and worthless means you can control them not only from the outside but by turning their own brain against them.
I’m a shameless Instagram bitch now. My feed is just an endless stream of photos of my own face, and I love it. I can’t go out to brunch without asking one of my friends to take a photo of me because I genuinely enjoy capturing those experiences. I have scrapbook after scrapbook filled with photos. In some of them, I look beautiful, in some I don’t, but I love all of them. I no longer worry about whether I look good in every photo, because they don’t exist to prove to other people I’m attractive, they exist to remember all the joyful, wonderful moments of my life. My body is my home, not someone else’s art gallery. I love my legs and their stretch marks because they carry me everywhere I go. I love my nose because it’s the one I share with my brother. I love my small boobs because I never get back pain. I outright refuse to hate myself because frankly, it’s exhausting.
That’s the main thing I noticed is that hating yourself is this constant suppressing weight. To look in every mirror and pinch at your tummy, or poke at your face is so so draining. To constantly worry about losing that extra kilo, or obsessing over dress sizes means less time to enjoy your life. It’s a process, there are still aspects of myself that I find more difficult to love, but I refuse to ever criticise my body again — either out loud or in my own head. Even when it doesn’t feel real, compliment yourself. Look yourself dead in the mirror and say “I’m so cute today!”. You don’t have to believe it at first, because you will eventually.
At first, liking yourself can be met with resistance. Often other women are deeply insecure themselves and see it as unfair that you’re no longer playing by the ‘rules’ of society. How dare you like yourself, and refuse to take part in the shame-circle of talking about diets and poking at cellulite. It’s like you’ve broken some sort of code, by refusing to take part in the self-destruction. But, with time, people with either get on-board your self-love ship or swim themselves away. Not everyone is going to have the same journey as you, and that’s okay, let them take their time, but don’t let anyone try and pull you back down to the dark pit of self-hate.
Choosing to like yourself is an inherently radical thing. To ignore the messages that have been shouted at you since you could walk and talk, and accept yourself. I’m aware that I come from a place of privilege on this. I’m white, thin, and able-bodied. Society already deems me as attractive, so choosing to view myself that way is less of a challenge. But it’s still life-changing to just decide that enough is enough, and start liking yourself.
When you start to worry you’ve gone too far, that you’ve become ‘vain’, push further. Love yourself more, take more photos, laugh more, wear more outrageous outfits, throw all bloody scales off of the face of the earth. What’s so wrong with vanity? Arrogance, I understand. It’s an anti-social trait, one that puts you above others. But vain? There are far worse things you could be.