Skip to main content

Perspectives on Vanity

Who's the Fairest of Them All...?

MSN Images

"There's something ugly about a pretty boy who knows he's pretty and assumes everyone else knows it too."

Nova Ren Suma

Growing up with Vanity....

Vanity is defined as taking great pride in one's appearance and accomplishments. A synonym for vanity is conceit.

For most of my life, I have been a perfectionist. To me, this is the equivalent of taking great pride in my appearance and accomplishments.

I went to grade school in the 1960s - 1970s. My classmate, Melissa, stood out to me. Today, she would very much have reminded me of Jon Bonet.

Melissa was a natural beauty, not terribly smart. I had never seen a young girl wearing nylon stockings, full make - up and the latest designer accessories with the standard, tartan plaid, Catholic school uniform. The rest of us were wearing knee socks with freshly scrubbed faces.

I grew to feel sorry for Melissa. She never smiled much. In Latin, the word vanity is translated to irritum.

Mom introduced me to literature and mythology as far back as I can remember. When we discussed Melissa, Mom read me the story of Narcissus, a perfect metaphor for vanity



The Alchemist

“The alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he found a story about Narcissus.

The alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth who knelt daily beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus.

But this was not how the author of the book ended the story.

He said that when Narcissus died, the goddesses of the forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.

'Why do you weep?' the goddesses asked.

'I weep for Narcissus," the lake replied.

'Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus,' they said, 'for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand.'

'But... was Narcissus beautiful?' the lake asked.

'Who better than you to know that?' the goddesses asked in wonder. 'After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!'

The lake was silent for some time. Finally, it said:

'I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected.'

'What a lovely story,' the alchemist thought.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

"He had the vanity to believe men did not like him - while men simply
did not know him."
Gustave Flaubert

Vanity or Insecurity...

Through my early adulthood, I was painfully shy. If someone complimented my appearance or accomplishments, I was uncomfortable.

Today, I see where introverted people can be unjustly perceived as self- absorbed, superior, even conceited.

As a Nursing Instructor, I observe students of all ages feeling very preoccupied, stressed, even self - absorbed. Both extroverts and introverts feel as though all eyes are on them. They can be unduly harsh and critical of themselves, for example with an oral presentation.

Things that are of glaring concern to others may not even be noticed by others.

I am reminded of an Aesop's Fable from my younger days: "The Gnat and The Bull".

The Gnat and The Bull

The Gnat and The Bull

The Gnat and the Bull: Aesop's Fable

Once there was a silly gnat who kept buzzing about the head of a bull.
Finally he settled himself down upon one of the bull's horns.

"Pardon me, Mr Bull." he said, "if I am inconveniencing you. If my
weight in any way is burdensome to you, pray say so, and I will be off
in a moment."

"Oh, never trouble your head about that," replied the bull. "It is all the same to me whether you go or stay. To tell you the truth, I was not even aware that you were there."


Scroll to Continue

"Pride does not wish to owe and vanity does not wish to pay."
Francois de la RocheFoucauld

Vanity and Vulnerability...

In 1999, I was 37 years old. I was in great physical shape and felt comfortable in my own skin.

As a Nurse Executive, I believed that confidence was demonstrated, even if not felt, when there was not a hair out of place.

After a life - altering incident in June, 1999, I appreciated what is was like to be totally vulnerable and dependent on loved ones.

Yet, along with my vulnerability came clarity. I slowly became strong again and was finally able to shed my belief that perfection is possible or even desirable.

I know today that living every day to the fullest is my priority. Life experience, both the good and the bad, has taught me the most valuable lessons.

I know that one's appearance is a direct reflection of how they are feeling about themselves. Make - up and accoutrements are no substitute for inner beauty and strength. Without a solid core that comes from within, the exterior is essentially a facade.

Another Aesop's Fable, "The Tortoise and The Eagle" reminds me of the person who tries way too hard to be someone they are not.

The Tortoise and The Eagle

The Tortoise and The Eagle

The Tortoise and The Eagle: Aesop's Fable

The tortoise once upon a time was not the contented fellow that he is today. There was a time when he wished with all his heart that he could fly. As he watchd the birds disporting themselves in the clouds he felt sure that if he could get up into the air he could soar with the best of them.

One day he yelled to an eagle who was hovering overhead: "Friend eagle, you are the best flier among all the birds. If you will teach me to fly I will bring you all the treasures of the sea."

The eagle replied: "But you are asking the impossible, friend tortoise. In the first place you have no wings and, in the second, nature never intended you to fly."

But the tortoise kept pleading and promising greater and greater rewards. So finally the eagle said that he would do the best he could. telling the tortoise to hang on, he bore him high into the sky. Then he loosed his hold upon the now thoroughly frightened tortoise and cried: "All right, start flying."

The poor tortoise was dashed to pieces on the rocks below.


"Vanity is becoming a nuisance. I can see why women give it up eventually. But I'm not ready for that yet."

Margaret Atwood

Vanity and Aging...

Today, I still take pride in my appearance and accomplishments.

However, I have accepted the changes to my body that comes with middle age. I also appreciate age - appropriate attire with simple, classic lines.

I tend to wonder what makes some people try to look and dress much younger. Despite outward appearances, these individuals don't look any happier than Melissa did in grade school.

I believe that 'high maintenance' people have an increased need for 'going to the shop'. I would rather spend my precious time doing things I enjoy with family and friends.

This final fable from Aesop, "The Bald Knight" seemed the perfect closure to the subject of vanity. May we never forget to laugh at ourselves in life...!

The Bald Knight

The Bald Knight

The Bald Eagle: Aesop's Fable

A certain knight observing himself in the mirror one day noted that he was growing old. His hair no longer grew as luxuriantly upon his head as once it had. Indeed, he had become quite bald. To conceal such a noticeable imperfection he ordered a very handsome periwig.

One day with a group of his friends he went riding to the hounds. He was dressed in his gayest apparel and on his naked head he wore his brand-new wig. A suden gust of wind snatched off the knight's toupee, exposing his bald noggin much to the amusement of his companions. He
himself laughed as loud as anybody, saying: "How was it to be expected that I should keep someone else's hair upon my head, when my own would not stay there.


© Maria Jordan (revised October, 2014)

Right Said Fred: I'm Too Sexy


Maria Jordan (author) from Jeffersonville PA on June 05, 2014:

A most insightful point, Joe.

Thanks for stopping by and very nice to meet you!

Joe from north miami FL on May 31, 2014:

It's difficult to know if those that are most vain are truly vain or if they are just insecure. Very informative article.

Maria Jordan (author) from Jeffersonville PA on February 17, 2013:

Good Morning, Sista Peg,

I always love seeing a heartfelt and insightful comment from you. I agree about society's preoccupation with appearance and hanging onto youthfulness at all cost, so sad when others issues are much more pressing.

Hope you have a peaceful Sunday and will catch you soon at the Cafe!

Love, Maria

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 15, 2013:

Hi Maria,

Reading these timeless fables was a good reminder why they have lasted through the ages: they bring an important lesson to each of us. I enjoyed learning about your schoolmate whose early fascination with make up and nylons illustrated her key focus on appearance. It seems at times like the current fascination with the looks and clothing of stars and celebrities have taken center stage over much else of importance. Thanks for the great music and insightful stories told in such a captivating way. Love.

Maria Jordan (author) from Jeffersonville PA on November 22, 2012:

Hi Jools,

Well, well...something else we have in common...jeans are definitely my uniform and make-up is feeling less and less necessary most days.

Hope you are having a peaceful day and thank you so much for stopping by. Hugs, Maria

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on November 21, 2012:

Maria, really enjoyed reading this - not sure how I missed it first time :o( My friend is quite vain and is always mentioning things about me to me that I could improve but I've told her I am not worried about things like that. She will keep trying though I'm sure :o) I have always been a jeans and teeshirt kinda gal and I don't wear make up or dress up too often. I respect anybody's right to do their own thing but I can see that vanity can sometimes be destructive.

Maria Jordan (author) from Jeffersonville PA on October 19, 2012:

ABSOLUTELY marvelous when you stop by, AAZ...thank you.

Augustine A Zavala from Texas on October 18, 2012:

Fascinating thoughts and conclusions regarding vanity and the pitfalls of being vain. And from all the fables shared, a topic for the centuries. Thank you for sharing.

Maria Jordan (author) from Jeffersonville PA on October 18, 2012:

Good Afternoon, Y'all,

Ironically about 60 hours ago, we lost electricity (generator issue).

If I 'had' much vanity, she would have been seriously vexed at some

major inconveniences. Fortunately, what I lack in vanity I make up

for in my sense of humor. I wish to now thank each of you, albeit

belatedly, for your heartfelt comments:

Fiddleman-- appreciate your FAVORABLE FEEDBACK

Mickey-- don't be MISTAKEN, I will always MESS with you!

Becky-- You are a BLESSING!

Rasma-- Your presence REGALES my comment stream.

Mike-- You are a MASTER of MAXIMS to me.

Sha-- Appreciate your STRAIGHTFORWARDNESS...!

Martie-- Thanks for the MELODIES and the MEMORIES, Sista.

Ruby--You are RESPLENDENT in your RADIANCE.

Rosemay-- You RAZZLE dazzle me with your presence.

Faith-- You are FAITHFUL in your FRIENDSHIP.

Frog-- So glad you are FANCY this and your delivery.

Paula--You are a PANORAMA of PLEASURE when you stop by!

drbj-- Your remarks are DAZZLING!

ishwaryaa-- Your comments have great IMPACT.

eddy-- I am ELATED to see you!

Svetlana-- SINCERELY glad you STOPPED by. Hugs, Teresa

Tom-- THRILLED to see you, my friend.

thelyricwriter-- Touched at your remarks and for TAKING the TIME to read.

Genna-- I am GLADDENED to see you.

LORD-- My comments have necessary LEVITY but are nonetheless sincere.

Rich-- For the RECORD, you are becoming a favorite!

Brenda-- Your comments BRIGHTEN my day.

I promise to catch up with ya,ll as soon as humanly possible, but it

may take awhile.

Hugs, Maria

Brenda Barnes from America-Broken But Still Beautiful on October 18, 2012:

This is full of great advice and eye opening stories to alert one that vanity can be dangerous. I did feel very sad for Melissa. I hope she went on to have a fulfilled and happy life. Thanks for this perspective on vanity. It makes me very thoughtful today.

Rich from Kentucky on October 17, 2012:

Maria - How in the hell did I miss this? Arrgh! This is an excellent hub in every aspect. Self acceptance is something that we all must hope to come to grips with. At first, I thought you were interviewing my old Regional Manager. (A perfect individual who would tell you that in a second's notice. lol) Then, the fables came into being and and you drew me in further. The self reflections and decisions kept be involved, as well as your music choices (we really do have very similar tastes). And finally, a bit of humor at the end. Absolutely fantastic! Voted! (PS: Give Dylan's new song, "Early Roman Kings" a listen. I think you'll enjoy!)

Joseph De Cross from New York on October 17, 2012:

Darn! This was a journey for all! I agree with billy; this might be your best hub yet with so much learned from Aesop as a kid. Love the videos and my right said fred was one of my best one hit wonders from 1992. Your friene Melissa represent so many friends that we all had. With age comes wisdom and gray hair. Vanity is part of nature, and depend on us to confront it. I see your students attitude toward perfection that is expected in the medical field. 129/85 is not the same as 180/102 when we check blood preasure. Thanks Maria Couchara! Sorry for the lateness!

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on October 17, 2012:

Hi Maria;

I used to be a perfectionist, but this was out of insecurity. I never believed the compliments I received – especially compliments about my looks - and hated being the center of attention at any point in time. I’ve since given “perfection” the heave-ho, and grew into myself, if that makes any sense. I think perfection is a self-absorbed attempt to validate oneself out of insecurity.

Vanity comes in all forms, shapes and sizes, and I think we suffer from it a tad bit in some way. Especially in a commercial world that exalts youth and beauty in the American society. The trick is not to let it become exaggerated. I loved your insights in this wonderfully perceptive and candid hub, Maria, and your excellent use of fables.

This is a brilliant! Hugs. :-)

Richard Ricky Hale from West Virginia on October 16, 2012:

Mar, powerful article. Very well written. Great idea on this series. You always do such a great job working with everyone. Thumbs up for that. In this day and age, your appearance means everything. So many women and even men concentrate on their looks. I know we all do but they take it too another degree. A lesson can be learned here, time to pay attention too what is inside and not outside. Awesome writing Mar. Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, and shared.

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on October 16, 2012:

Hi my friend great hub and so well written enjoyed reading every bit of it. Loved all the videos has well great music !

Vote up and more !!! Sharing !

kallini2010 from Toronto, Canada on October 16, 2012:

You wrote a very insightful piece, Teresa. Unfortunately, I feel more like those characters that fables are about - a gnat rather than a bull, a tortoise rather than an eagle. I don't even have the wisdom of a bald Knight... to laugh it off!

At the height of my own vulnerability ... I think I am like Narcissus looking at his own reflection, only I stare at the pool of time and see nothing there, no reflection, yet the magnetism of that void is the same as the magnetic power of a train wreck - you cannot help it but stare.

Not being happy about one's looks does not help.

I agree that Vanity is one of the most sensitive topics. It is easier to admit one's insecurity than vanity. And I think we are all vain, only to different degrees.

It's a very fine line between self-love and vanity (I am not quite sure that they are not two sides of the same coin!)

Eiddwen from Wales on October 16, 2012:

Brilliant and I vote up and across the board.


Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on October 16, 2012:

Here you presented your perspectives clearly. Vanity is indeed a negative quality - 'Pride always come before a fall'. I enjoyed your illustrations and remembered them too - like you, I read Aesop's fables and the story of Narcissus when I was a child. Thank you for sharing your wise insights.

Thanks for SHARING. Awesome & Interesting. Voted up & shared

drbj and sherry from south Florida on October 15, 2012:

Excellent exposition about vanity, Maria. Thank you for reminding me of those inspiring Aesop fables, and outstanding vanity quotes. Here is my favorite quote about vanity by Eugene O'Neill:

"When you're 50 you start thinking about things you haven't thought about before. I used to think getting old was about vanity - but actually it's about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial."

Voted up, m'dear.

Suzie from Carson City on October 15, 2012:

Maria...I love your inclusion of Aesop and the lessons learned....The story of the turtle who insisted he would fly is perfect to express the futility of human beings trying desperately to be something or someone they were never intended to be...

No doubt, my dear, you needn't be concerned with spending hours at the salon. Mother nature has been very generous with you! Magnifico, amiga buena...............UP+++

The Frog Prince from Arlington, TX on October 15, 2012:

Now a little vanity is necessary. My college sweetheart associated Carly's song with me. She was sometimes right about the connection. Nice write and the postman was good today.

The Frog

Faith Reaper from southern USA on October 15, 2012:

As I stated earlier on Gypsy's hub, one can tell the true beauty of a person by the words that are coming out of his or her mouth, as it is the heart of a person that determines that innermost beauty, whether that person is lovely or not on the outside in the world's view. Well done Maria. We are all made in His image, and so we are all beautiful and it is one's heart that determines that true innermost beauty and it will shine through in a person.

God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

Rosemary Sadler from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand on October 15, 2012:

Maria I enjoyed reading your perspective on vanity and the way you incorporated fables to get the point across. Your own life experience is a great message of what is important in life. Inner strength and beauty far outweigh any surface vaneer.

As a teenager and in my early twenties I was very vain, nothing but the most fashanable of clothing and I never went anywhere without make-up. But then living in extreme heat altered that, High fashion changed to 'comfort' and make-up just clogged the pores, and who needed make-up with a tan anyway.

Now my only vanity is keeping my hair from growing grey which I am not ready for yet.

You did an awesome job of finding music to suit this topic, but then I knew our music lady would :))

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on October 15, 2012:

Boy, Did this ever hit home with me. There was a time when i was vain. Everything and everyone had to be perfect. Nothing could be out of place in my home and I wouldn't go outside without makeup on. I never thought i was the most beautiful, just one among them. After losing my husban to my best friend who BTW was rather plain, I slowly began to think differently. Today, I am content and imperfection is allowed. I do dislike aging. I guess in a way that's a type of vanity. I loved your fable stories..Cheers.

Martie Coetser from South Africa on October 15, 2012:

Mar, my brilliant sista, you perspective on vanity is such an eye-opener. You've broaden my own with miles. I think I was at a time like the tortoise, but miraculously I found myself to be an eagle jailed in the shell of a tortoise. So maybe some of us have to be vain for a period of our life just in order to discover our own potential. "When Pride comes to a fall," we do realize who we really are. Well, some of us do, the others - the true Narcissists - will fall over and over again and maybe they will never even realize this.

What a lovely story about the lake and Narcisis! Absolutely thought-provoking. And so are all the fables you've used as references in here.

Ref: Nova Ren Suma quote - "There's something ugly about a pretty boy who knows he's pretty and assumes everyone else knows it too." But then there is also something pathetic about a pretty boy/girl who refuse to acknowledge and appreciate themselves and the compliments they get from others.

I think I am vain when it comes to aging. I am not yet ready to be 'old'. Not that I want to stay young - Oh, just hear me lie! Fact is, I was old when I was supposed to be young, and now I have the desire to make up lost time, experiences and simply happiness. Maybe this is not vanity, but just enjoying life as hard as I can. Mmm, to be pondered.

Maria, I am in awe of you and your perspective on vanity. Voted up, awesome and to be pondered.

Oh, and the music in here is awesome!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 15, 2012:

Maria, this is wonderful! It's ironic how you and I touched on a few of the same 'perspectives' regarding vanity without even discussing the subject. Great minds, right?

Your incorporation of Aesops Fables is creative genius! People tend to relate to lessons or morals intertwined in stories. You certainly drove the lessons home.

Love the Bob Dylan choice - and later day Dylan at that! He is one of my favorite lyrical poets. I've seen him in concert four times, once with Willie Nelson. Talk about awesome! Sorry, I got side-tracked.

You did an awesome job on this one my friend. Voted all but funny.

mckbirdbks from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas on October 15, 2012:

You use the universal knowledge found in myth and fable well to highlight the symbolism of vanity. The song selections are just right. The 'Perspective' series is a big hit.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on October 15, 2012:

Voted up and awesome. Maria I loved this the fables, mythology and videos. Fantastic and enjoyed much. Hugs

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on October 15, 2012:

Wonderful insight into vanity. I have seen some of the same things and always wonder how someone can think that they are perfect in any way. We all have flaws and they show to anyone who looks.

MickeySr from Hershey, Pa. on October 15, 2012:

. . . thank you, genuinely - but, "jabbing" me from time to time is probably not a bad idea.

Fiddleman on October 15, 2012:

Very skillful writing coupled with imagination and fables. You are so gifted.

Maria Jordan (author) from Jeffersonville PA on October 15, 2012:

Car51-- Thanks for being so quick to stop by with your support. Mythology and fables have long held a special significance for me.

Mickey-- Having just read your perspectives on vanity, I can honestly say that you are a profound and philosophical thinker. I am honored to be in your company despite the jabbing I give you on a routine basis.

Janine-- I have had you on my mind all day today for very good reason. I know in my heart that your sweet little girls would never be raised the way poor Melissa was. "See" you tomorrow!

Bill-- I am humbled by your most kind remarks. I have come to respect you so much and regard you as a dear friend. Thank you!

Sunnie, I believe in many ways we are two peas in a pod. Thanks so much for your supportive remarks.

Linda--I am not at all surprised that you love these songs and I love you!! MM

Mohan-- I am absolutely in awe of your creative and beautiful take on vanity. You rock, darling!

Hugs to y'all, Maria

Mohan Kumar from UK on October 15, 2012:

Mar- your fables and fertile imagination feeds minds and infuses us with wisdom and insight. Your elegant erudition combined with personal insights make this a marvel to read... it is good to see we both approached the narcissus myth with our own take... your video choices are impeccable as always. Hugs, my dear. Another triumph.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on October 15, 2012:

I love your video choices, I was singing You're So Vain as soon as I read your title! Traveling throughout your years with you allowed me to get to know you better. I also had issues accepting compliments, but like I said before Oprah said to accept them with a smile, so I do. We all know Oprah knows best. Haha!

Sunnie Day on October 15, 2012:

Mar this is such a great hub . Vanity comes in so many ways and effects us all in different ways...I also had trouble taking compliments and felt very uncomfortable.. You have given back so much making you a very special person.



Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 15, 2012:

A wonderful job Maria! I don't know, but this may be the best work I have read by you. Great insights and personal touches. I think in some way we are all vain; having said that, I am so tired of the vanity in today's is excessive and boorish, and reeks of insecurity.

Have a great week; you deserve it after this great hub!


Janine Huldie from New York, New York on October 15, 2012:

Wow, this was yet another 'Perspectives' hub article Maria. So very true about vanity being in the eye of the beholder. I really enjoyed your whole article, especially I loved how you included the story of the young girl you went to school with and the story of Narcissus. Have of course voted up and shared all over too!!

MickeySr from Hershey, Pa. on October 15, 2012:

Maria, I love your use of mythology & Aesop to 'flesh-out' the nature and consequences of 'vanity' . . . the story of Narcissus - D'oh! Perfect, and it never even crossed my mind!?

Car51 on October 15, 2012:

Mar, what an excellent hub! Insightful life lessons supported by the timeless fables. Always love reading your "perspectives"!!

Related Articles