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My 14-year-old-stepdaughter once rather graciously--and completely inadvertently--provided me with a wonderful illustration of the power of vanity.  When I first met her when she was in fifth grade, she had no vanity to speak of.  She was still a kid and she enjoyed things; she didn't care at all about things like clothing brand names or whether she was seen wearing certain jackets.  She wore what she liked, and she didn't worry about what other people liked or didn't.

Unfortunately for her (and her mom and me), that all changed when she hit middle school.  She became so caught up in what she was wearing and how she looked that she caused herself many miserable moments and hours, and caused those around her a great deal of frustration and annoyance.  If she got a new shirt, it had to be a certain brand name or she moped around for hours sometimes.  She deliberately disobeyed her mother's order to wear a heavy winter coat on a day that was below zero, because it was somehow not cool to be wearing a heavy coat--she wanted to wear her windbreaker.  She was willing to risk getting sick and to be extremely uncomfortable just because of what she thought her friends would think of her.

Just two years earlier, she had been very outspoken in criticizing the older girls who were doing exactly what she's doing now.

Don't get me wrong--she was a great kid, with many wonderful traits.  But her vanity got in the way of her relationships with others, and at times it was almost unbearable to be with her.

Even the way she talked changed--she was more willing to use words like "geek" and "nerd" to describe people who didn't dress as "cool" as she did, and she effectively closed off the possibility of contact with a large number of people.  It was very sad to watch, and we could only hope that she would grow out of the phase soon.

I know many adults who do the same thing--they're so caught up in the way they look that they obsess about their clothing and their hair and their make-up.  They spend hours on these things when a few minutes a day would do.  They've bought into the idea that looks are everything, and they're doing their best to impress others with the way they look.  And they accomplish that in the short run.  They're missing the bigger picture, though.  Most people see through the looks and the clothing rather quickly, and realize that they're dealing with people who aren't addressing the substantive part of their lives, people who are so caught up with the outside that they're neglecting the inside.  They're unhappy and stressed out if they don't look just right (and sometimes even if they do), and they're much more likely to lose their peace of mind over a stained dress or shirt or coat than other people who may attend closely to their looks, but who don't make them the major focal point of their lives.

The other side of vanity is the false impression that one gets of oneself because of their exaggerated evaluation of themselves and their looks and/or abilities.  They may be constantly in the company of admirers or wanna-be's, but they fail to acknowledge the fact that these people around them are in serious need of help to find their own identities.  The vain person is at best annoying, at worst, useless to others.  There's a certain arrogance that comes with vanity, and that arrogance keeps the vain person from seeing the needs of those around them.  While they may be quite happy about themselves, that happiness comes at a cost.  Self-satisfaction on one level can keep us from trying to improve other aspects of our lives.  How many of the high-school beauty queens end up not even going to college or trying to start a career, for they've let their vanity carry them through their high-school years, and haven't done a thing to try to improve their minds or cultivate friendships? 

The vain person is to be pitied, for that person has a very unrealistic perception of just who he or she is.  That person may bask in the admiration that comes because of his or her looks or clothes, but that admiration is fleeting and insincere.  The bottom line is that the person is a human being, with wants and needs and desires just like the rest of us.  That person needs to learn about him or herself and about life, but is probably neglecting both areas.  Other people have heaped praise upon the person about one aspect of his or her life, and that person has focused all his or her energy on that one aspect.  Their feelings of success, their self-esteem, their feelings of accomplishment all stem from that one aspect of themselves.  And we all know what happens when that one aspect goes bad.

(And as a postscript, the young lady did grow out of the phase rather quickly and became one of the least vain people I've ever known--a truly loving and caring person who I believed learned a lot from going through that particular phase.)



A knowledge of thyself will preserve thee from vanity.

Miguel de Cervantes


We are so vain that we care even for the opinion of those we don't care for.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach


Those who live on vanity must, not unreasonably, expect to die of mortification.

Anne Ellis

The inner vanity is generally in proportion to the outer self-deprecation.

Edith Wharton


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Some people are so intractably vain that when they admit they are wrong
they want as much credit for admitting it as if they were right.

Sydney Harris

Most of us would be far enough from vanity
if we heard all the things that are said about us.

Joseph Rickaby

The vain being is the really solitary being.

Berthold Auerbach


Vanity makes people ridiculous, pride
odious, and ambition terrible.

Richard Steele

Vanity is the result of a delusion
that someone is paying attention.

Paul E. Sweeney


The only cure for vanity is laughter. 
And the only fault that's laughable is vanity.

Henri Bergson


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Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often
used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain.
Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves,
vanity to what we would have others think of us.

Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice

There comes a time when you look into the mirror and you realize
that what you see is all that you will ever be. And then you accept it.
Or you kill yourself. Or you stop looking in mirrors.

Tennessee Williams


Curiosity is only vanity. We usually only want to know
something so that we can talk about it.

Blaise Pascal

If you spend your life sparing people’s feelings and feeding their vanity,
you get so you can’t distinguish what should be respected in them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald
Tender Is the Night and the Last Tycoon

Or, rather, let us be more simple and less vain.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau


What people regard as vanity—leaving great works, having children,
acting in such a way as to prevent one's name from being forgotten—
I regard as the highest expression of human dignity.

Paulo Coelho
The Pilgrimage

Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants
to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this.

Blaise Pascal

Cure yourself of the affliction of caring how you appear to others.
Concern yourself only with how you appear before God, concern
yourself only with the idea that God may have of you.

Miguel De Unamuno


Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it
themselves; but I give it fair quarter, wherever I meet with it,
being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor,
and to others who are within his sphere of action: and therefore, in
many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank
God for his vanity among the other comforts of life.

Benjamin Franklin


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