Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vanity, Vanity

One of the most vivid memories I have of my maternal grandmother is of her sitting in a rocking chair, looking askance at her teenage grand-daughters and saying “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” She was, of course, quoting from Ecclesiastes 1:2 (KJV). She was watching me and some of my cousins as we fixed our hair, smoothed our skirts, or did whatever other silly things teenage girls do. Grandmother thought us all vain and silly. The irony is that the King James Version translation (Grandma’s only version of the Bible), while it uses the word “vanity,” did not mean it in the way my grandmother did—a better translation would be “Futility of futilities, all is futile.” Or “Meaningless; meaningless, all is meaningless.”

I often think of that mental image of Grandmother. I and my cousins just giggled at her, ignored her and flounced off to do whatever teenage girls did. At that time, I could have cared less about vanity.

Some of the cousins, all grandchildren of my maternal grandmother

Now, I think about vanity. Recently, I had an eye appointment with a specialist. I had a small red spot on an eyelid, and

saw an oculo-plastic surgeon about it. When he was finishing up his appointment with me, he said—well, now I am off to give a patient Botox. With a smart mouth (and not being too thoughtful) I said—well, at least seeing me you were dealing with someone who had a medical problem, not someone who is vain. Well, the doctor, who is most kindly, said—oh no, this isn’t Botox for cosmetic reasons, this is someone has a tic (the eye would go into spasms). I felt most contrite, and shut up.

Then I began to think—despite my protestations to the contrary that I am not vain, of course I am. I think most humans are. It is the degree of vanity that matters. I have thought this through and decided that under no circumstance would I ever seek plastic surgery for the sole sake of vanity. I know there are times and reasons to have plastic surgery done: to remedy horrific birth defects, or to treat someone who has suffered a tragic injury, such as burns. But, too much of plastic surgery is geared towards tightening the faces of movie stars until their faces barely move. Some, in their quest for eternal youth, end up looking quite bizarre. Carly Simon, in her hit song
You’re So Vain, enshrines this type of extreme vanity. While she has not revealed who the subject of her song was, people still speculate.

Back to my grandmother. Perhaps part of her concern that her granddaughters not be vain stemmed from her own austerity. Of all my grandparents, she was the most severe. She was a woman who took her religion most seriously. As a convert to a small Protestant denomination, she adopted the plain dress that was typical of her church in the early 1900s. All her life, she eschewed any personal adornment, never wearing makeup or jewelry other than a wrist watch.

Hers was not necessarily the family example that I and my cousins knew about and perhaps even secretly thought about emulating. There was another example that we had heard about. My maternal grandfather had a sister who was “famous” within family circles for her unlined face. The family rumor was that every night she spent time smoothing beauty cream on her face, and massaging her neck so she would not get any wrinkles.

So, no Botox treatments for me. I will do the sensible things that I can—such as staying out of harsh sun, or using sunscreen faithfully, and not smoking. And, if I inherit the good genes of the “famous” great aunt, I will age gracefully without too many lines. Vanity? No, just common sense.


Anonymous said...

I loved this post. And I am in agreement with you..I watched a movie the other day and the actress, who I thought always had a natural beauty, had lips like a blowfish. It was very distracting..I kept wanting to get a pin and pop them for her.

Mary said...

Oh, Donna, I think we are all vain to an extent. I laughed at the description of your harsh grandmother, “Meaningless; meaningless, all is meaningless.”

I'll never have botox or plastic surgery - I'll just keep pretending the expensive face cream I used every day is making a difference. I do, however, want to have my eyelids raised as they are beginning to rest on my lashes...

Pam said...

I like to look healthy and decently groomed, but I think the media has taken us away from what a truely beautiful person really looks like. To me, that means a person with confidence, kindness and self respect. A beautiful person is not always the "prettiest" person, you just don't realize it.

Anonymous said...

I am here again - I am addicted to your site Donna!! - every post is just so wondrous to me, as I can't write such beautiful touching deep intelligent stories like yours.
As I have aged and I have grown to know this beautiful healthy body that I have been blessed to possess for a short time - I am glad that I am all me!! I think it is all driven by the huge commercial marketing machine that women/girls must all look the same. I had to learn to love myself as I am at each age and stage no matter what.

Ruth said...

You have written a terrific post! Externals are so important, to those visiting plastic surgeons, but also to those who adopt plain dressing with no adornments. Both extremes tend to judge by appearances.
I see a lot of patients after Botox treatments which is given to relieve spasticity after strokes and brain injuries.

Cathy said...

OK. Confession time. My concession to vanity is hair color. My husband and I both use Loving Care on our almost white hair. It doesn't cost much or take too much time, but it's the fastest way to push back a few years. But 'no way' plastic surgery. Have you seen Priscilla Presley? Oh boy! She went one surgery too far.