Some days I feel conflicted about my own vanity. One part of me says, “Yes! Lean into it. It’s a woman’s choice to choose how she wants to look, age, be,” and then another part of me says, “But vanity stems from inner insecurity. Reject it, deny it, rise above it!” Some days I feel sure one way or the other, but as the days pass and I continue writing for my beauty blog – BOND EN AVANT – the path seems less clear.
I think back to when I was a preteen, when social media, the blogosphere, and iPhones had not yet infiltrated every corner of our world. It was a simpler time. Only the mirror stood as my judge and the comparisons I made of myself to others was limited to the pretty girl who lived three houses down.
Now, I have selfies in addition to a mirror and I can compare my life to unknown Instagramers across the world thanks to an ever intensifying globalization. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. Sometimes I find myself trolling through Instagram before bed. The mindless barrage of images puts me to sleep each night, along with the desire to look a little better, have a little more, be a little more.
My dad always tells me that life is about perspective. The small things, like acne prone skin or fine lines, looking or not looking a certain way, only being able to afford a Coach bag, not a Chanel bag, or petty arguments with frenemies don’t matter when you have – perspective.
So what is this elusive perspective he’s always citing? I’ve mulled this question over the years, sometimes thinking I know and other times knowing for certain I do not. But this most recent Thanksgiving gave me the greatest taste of what I think he’s talking about.
There were twenty of us at Thanksgiving dinner at my uncle’s house this year. My uncle went to the trouble of renting two large rectangular event tables and positioned them end to end so we could all dine together. Sitting around the table were my parents, my cousins, their significant others, their parents, distance cousins, my uncle and his new wife, her daughters, my husband, and for the first time ever – my in-laws.
Though I’ve been married for almost two years and with my husband for seven, my relationship with my in-laws, particularly my mother-in-law, was very difficult until this past year and a half. My liberal, Jewish, midwestern perspective unsurprisingly clashed with their traditional, conservative, Taiwanese outlook. I never fully understood in-law humor (or rather horror) portrayed in movies, like Meet The Parents until I entered a relationship with my now husband. Scenes of awkward introductions, perceived insults in subtleties, and cultural misinterpretations are now all too familiar.
The first few years getting to know each other were rough. But with perseverance we have made it to a wonderful place in our relationship. Now, I call my mother-in-law more than my husband. We talk for hours about her childhood in Taiwan, meeting her husband, family tragedies and accomplishments. We cook together, laugh at each other’s jokes, poke fun at our husbands. It’s the relationship I longed for in the beginning and am now grateful it took so long to build. There’s something special about the tumultuous journey. (Probably because it’s now in the past…)
As my in-laws, husband and my mother sit across the Thanksgiving table from me, my father on my left, my extended family all around, I feel happy. I feel calm. I feel the absence of self consciousness, doubt, worry, anxiety, and fear. I am not focused on my deepening “eleven lines,” hormonal chin breakout that decided to pop up last night, or whether my skin looks dull or not. I am not wrapped up in my own critical mind. I am focusing on people I love. And I think to myself, maybe this is what my father means by perspective. Where your most cherished values push to the forefront and everything small, insignificant, and seemingly unimportant in comparison fades away.
While my passion for vanities – skin care, spas, makeup, and cosmetic treatments – will always be a part of who I am, I’m starting to realize that keeping a healthy dose of perspective is the key to leaning into one’s vanity. And of course the key to not ending up looking like the cat woman.
Image source: Fantine & Simon