Van·i·ty [van-i-tee]; noun, plural van·i·ties.
1. excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.; character or quality of being vain; conceit: Failure to be elected was a great blow to his vanity; 2. an instance or display of this quality or feeling; 3. something about which one is vain; 4. lack of real value; hollowness; worthlessness: the vanity of a selfish life; 5. something worthless, trivial, or pointless.
Wait! So it’s a bad thing to care about how you look? It’s a negative to check yourself in the mirror before you go out and face the world? Is caring about your looks mean you are arrogant and vain?
Of course not. In our civilized society, it is important to care about grooming, hygiene, and, yes, sometimes even appearances. Societies around the globe dictate a decorum and formality (or not), and appropriateness is never to be underestimated.
For me, attention to physical aesthetics comes directly from my youth: I grew up in the Los Angeles / Hollywood area — where vanity was arguably invented. I learned at an early age which magazines, celebrities, and media outlets were to be admired and emulated, and I did my part as a girl growing up in the 80s to be heavily influenced by pop culture, magazines, and the older girls at school. My focus on looks was not without inspiration — there were role models and examples all around me.
After graduating college, I worked in the entertainment industry, where clients hired our talent for their appeal, looks, and ability to entertain consistently. Value, as I learned it, was placed on their entertainment factors, yes, but also on appearance and looks. Later, I spent a few years in the public relations and communications field with cosmetic giant, Max Factor, a division of Revlon, where again the emphasis was on beauty, appearance, youth, and appeal. At Max Factor, our office was in Hollywood, and we spent our days surrounded by models, makeup, and photos of retouched and airbrushed beautiful faces. This certainly reinforced in my mind that there was value in appearance and even in vanity.
So is Vanity a Bad Thing?
Today, as I build and manage the personal brands of executive clients around the world, the concept of vanity continues to rear its head — because the reality is that how someone looks does, in fact, play a role in how we perceive and judge them. If the CEO of a global corporation shows up in a t-shirt and flip flops to a shareholder meeting, he will be evaluated differently than if he dressed in decorum with the situation. Similarly, if an attractive senior executive enhances her good looks with makeup, well-coiffed hair, and whitened teeth, she is seen as confident, powerful, and effective. Is that vanity?
I often have to bring a client’s professional image into alignment with the reputation they desire to consistently communicate. Sometimes, this means having to redesign their wardrobe or look. Often times, it is critical to understand the role vanity is playing in their image — are they neglecting their appearance (lack of vanity) or putting too much weight and stock in how they look (lack of credibility) to be effective? Are they motivated to be judged for their appearance because they lack confidence in their skills? Or, are they using all available assets (brains AND beauty) to gain a wide audience and following for their message?
Beauty is Skin Deep
How we see ourselves often drives how we show up to others. If we feel that we look good, we tend to walk into a room with more confidence and positive energy. This isn’t to say everyone should adhere to unrealistic standards of beauty but rather that we can find that beauty within ourselves and bring it forward in ways that make us feel better ourselves, where our external image matches our internal vision of how we wish to portray ourselves to the world.
Many studies pro port that attractive people have more friends, are more popular, and earn higher salaries. This Wall Street Journal article from 2012 points out that, “…Attractive people are likely to earn an average of 3% to 4% more than a person with below-average looks.”
Using Vanity to our Advantage
If we can we become more mindful of our appearance, and bring our style and looks into alignment with our vision for how we’d like to be viewed, can we actually affect our attitude and our earning potential? I believe we can. I believe that the confidence, sexiness, and positive response we get from dressing, grooming, and looking our best makes us more influential and impactful in our work.
The focus should be here: On days when you feel at your worst — your hair isn’t cooperating, those extra five pounds seem to have decided to show, and your skin is less than “smooth and silky,” try smiling. Instead of shrinking behind potted plants as you move through the day, enter each room with excitement and enthusiasm. Greet every person you meet with energy, a positive attitude, and a smile. Show up as if you just got the greatest news you’ve ever received and you can’t contain your happiness.
The power of self-confidence is attractive. It draws people towards us. It repels negativity and illness. Try exuding happiness and see if the response and reaction you get is more positive and upbeat than if you hid from others.
The Makeup of Makeup
And that brings me to makeup. Having spent time in the cosmetics industry, I grew to love the colors, textures, and formulas of makeup. I simply can’t get enough! For me, makeup is a playful, creative, and expressive way I can enhance and accentuate my positive attributes and downplay my facial flaws (we ALL have them, trust me!). I don’t see makeup as a way to hide or erase what life has given me over the years, I see it as the time in the day when I get to relax and be my most creative self.
Yes, we all know people who use makeup to make themselves look different, who “hide” behind a lot of color and distraction. That could be vanity turned negative.
The focus should be here: As you stare at your clean face in the mirror, decide on your best feature. Do your eyes get compliments? Are your lips the envy of every Botox-seeking celebrity? Do your cheekbones seem perched perfectly on your face? Start by accentuating those positive features that make you feel like your best you. Then, use the colors and contrasts of makeup to draw out your beautiful eyes, add a soft lipstick to your lips to make them the focal point, highlight your cheeks with pretty colors that make you happy. Enjoy and revel in your beauty. Celebrate that there is one of you and that you are beautiful! Then, use other makeup to soften the rest of your face and balance out the look.
Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall
I do not think it’s insane to be vain, actually. I see vanity as a way we monitor and evaluate our personal sense of self-worth, confidence, and value. We might measure ourselves against the appearance of others (“is my rear as big as hers?”), but that’s ok. We will always strive to see where we fit in the world. Sometimes, if our evaluation goes askew and our vanity takes over and takes us to an unhelpful place, we can fall back on the values and intention of our personal brand to realign our appearance with our desired reputation (Who are we? What do we value? How do we want others to feel about us?) and allow us to right-size our ego when necessary.
The focus should be here: When the insanity of vanity creeps in and you are tempted to hide from yourself by putting pressure on external things like unrealistic expectations of your appearance, give yourself a pep talk. Sound simple? Yes. Easy? Not at all.
Vanity is not a bad thing. Focus on appearance can certainly be taken to extremes, but paying attention to your looks and how you present yourself to others is not inherently negative. My advice is to keep moderation: Be mindful of the external presence you bring to the world, but find YOUR voice and YOUR style to make your appearance personal and consistent to you. Magazines and role models offer ideas, suggestions, and trends, but what is in your heart will be your greatest asset — internal and external.
Try this mantra:
I am enough. I am just where I am supposed to be. This is the one body I get in this lifetime, and it is exactly the way it should be right now. I can improve and always strive to be my best me, but for right now, I am perfect! When people know the real me, they love me and respect me. I am enough.