In the era of social media and selfies, the pursuit of beauty and validation is becoming the norm and so much of it is tied to public sharing. You share pictures and videos of yourselves or what you do. When you think of it, social media has become a little personal platform to market yourself, but how does this play a role in our vanity? Most importantly, does vanity have the same implications as it once did?

Technically speaking, vanity refers to excessive self-admiration. However, today, vanity is something that seeped in through our culture. It is a manner of being, perceiving, and processing. People these days care about the way they look and they are not ashamed of it as looking good would help them value themselves better and boost their morale. 

But is there anything wrong with wanting to look pretty? Well, there are always two sides of a coin, of course there are all these negative impacts but that doesn’t mean that it is entirely bad. The first thing that comes to mind is the myth of empowerment that’s been sold to many women via Instagram i.e. the idea that looking hot and posting thirst pics on Instagram is somehow empowering. The second thing that comes to mind is how many people have had the opportunity to celebrate beauty outside mainstream convention on Instagram. I remember that when I was a child, I enjoy staring at myself in the mirror and one day my mother caught me and jested “Why are you so vain? “. Maybe she was joking, but she also sneakily reminded me to not care for my looks so much. But nowadays, isn’t taking a selfie the same thing? You take a selfie because you know you look good and want to admire yourself. I believe that self-admiration is a way of loving yourself, and isn’t that something everyone is preaching about these days? Self-love?

Prior to this movement, we were taught to poke fun at ourselves. We would make a self-deprecating joke, but then we fail to realize that when you’re hard on yourself, you can argue that you’re doing the same thing as when you’re high or up on yourself, which is making it about you. Let’s face it, admiring ourselves isn’t a new thing. It’s not only recently that confidence and knowing that you look good was invented. So perhaps the way we feel vain hasn’t changed so much as how we express it. It used to be that you could only obsess over your looks privately. And now it’s more normal for everyone to express their relationship with their aesthetic self very publicly.

Then again, the rules of vanity is so much looser online than off. Be honest, have you ever caught yourself gawking at someone staring at themselves in the mirror and thought could they be any more narcissistic? But don’t bat an eye when you see that someone posted a selfie of themselves on holiday? It’s essentially the same thing. But we can’t blame ourselves for thinking that way. Vanity, after all, is still the modus operandi of social media, not so much in real life as vanity online serves a direct purpose — more likes, more affirmation, etc. It’s currency, which is why there’s more leeway for it. Although we still find ourselves peg people as self-obsessed if their whole page consists of just selfies, it’s actually really rude and something that we should remember to stop doing.

But, does it matter if the version of yourself you’re celebrating is true to you versus catered to what others will like? We think that Instagram is effectively making vanity accessible by giving everyone a platform to celebrate themselves — even if it is not a version that may not be completely true to who they are offline. What matters, ultimately, is not the outcome but the access. However, we also have to weigh in about our intentions when doing so. Are you celebrating yourself to celebrate yourself, or to brag? That is when “self-appreciation” is more like a competitive nightmare that you can’t get out of.

So, maybe what we are describing then, is simply self-admiration. And what defines “excessive” has drastically changed, what used to be considered vanity is no longer vanity because it’s not excessive — it’s the norm. To gaze at oneself can be one way to recognize the worth of the self, and the worth of individuals everywhere. It’s from this ethos that self-admiration can blossom into something resembling freedom.

“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity”, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.” – John Berger, Ways of Seeing

Written by:  Carina

Picture credit : Vogue