08 March 2011

On vanity, prejudice and beauty (part 1)

A friend recently asked me why I take so much pride in what I wear and love fashion so much when I dislike me and others being judged on appearances An interesting question.

As I wrote on DiVine, and then Mamamia, my dad once told me that I should always take pride in myself. He said I should always present myself in the best way possible. I should be well dressed and groomed. Walk with good posture. Always smile. Be a nice person. He told me this because he believed it would help people look past my confronting chronic illness.
I love fashion as much as the next girl. And I enjoy being photographed - you can probably tell from the amount of photos I post of myself here. I don't follow trends religiously, and know I'm not supercool, but I love flicking through fashion magazines and blogs, and shopping is my religion. Sometimes I plan my outfits like someone would plan an important project - I probably devote far too much time on thinking about clothes. But dressing well makes me feel good, and I also receive lots of compliments. And what woman doesn't want that? A pretty dress can take my mind off my scaly scalp. And wearing a nice outfit after a week of hanging in my trackies while off work sick is a great pick me up. And dressing well also makes me feel like others are looking past my redness - and seeing me for my personality, interests and creativity.

I don't think my interest in fashion and yearning to dress well is vanity. I hate that trait. To me, vanity is ugly.
I hate the homogenisation of image, and the need to look perfect at all times - just like the models in magazines. People look the same - and fear difference. They associate bad looks with failure. But I think individuality is beautiful. Why would you want to look like everyone else?

When people start talking about how ugly they look in person or photos, or talk about their bad hair-day or minute pimple, I tune out. Boring. Superficiality is boring. As I wrote the other day, I hate the fishing for compliments when they post 'bad' pictures of themselves online. I regard it as self obsessed, insecure and disrespectful to greater issues. It's like they think their looks are the only thing they have going for them. Well, in some cases, it may well be...

Get this - I was once told that I wouldn't know what it's like to be teased because I'm beautiful. Because this woman was teased because she was beautiful. I know. Difficult times. Because it's not like I know what it's like to be teased because of my appearance. (And as karma would have it, the person who said this to me is in an extremely bad place now, a place I wouldn't wish on anyone.)

Call me harsh, but in all honesty I can't fathom the comparisons 'beautiful people' make between the ridicule they receive compared to the insults people with disabilities and disfigurements receive. It may be naive or small minded, or perhaps judgemental of me, but I don't get these comparisons. I don't get the desire to change image 'for the better' through surgery or cosmetic treatments. And perhaps by my commentary here, I am being judgemental towards those genetically blessed people.

I recently saw a video of the UK TV documentary/reality TV show Beauty and the Beast - The Ugly Face of Prejudice. While I completely disagree with the term 'beast' used about someone's appearance, I agree with the premise of the show, and need to showcase the reality (if a reality TV show can be deemed a reality) of the prejudices faced by people with disabilities and disfigurements, and changing peoples' perceptions and value of appearance.

Beauty and the Beast pairs up self obsessed, vain beauties with people born with disabilities or acquired disfigurements, and helps the 'beauty' do away with the importance placed on image.
Hosted by Adam Pearson, the show deals with the invisibility felt by people with disabilities or disfigurements, and discrimination experienced - surprisingly by both the pair. Discrimination due to image is just as difficult as discrimination due to inaccessibility. One of the most important statements in the show is "Imagine if I'd been turned away because I was black, or I simply just wasn't good looking enough? Where do you draw the line on discrimination by looks?"

There are no YouTube videos of the show that can be embedded on my blog, but you can watch the videos from here. I really felt moved by this video - the interaction between Leo and Yasmin.
But there is a good vlog providing a commentary of Beauty and the Best that I want to share:

Great thoughts, Mike. And I can hear Savage Garden in the background!

While I haven't been obviously directly discriminated on due to my appearance, I'm sure it's happened. Maybe I didn't get a job because there was a perception I'd be too much of a liability. I have certainly been told that it's great I'm out in public and not locked away somewhere.

And of course, there's the staring and comments. Sometimes I position myself facing away from people - particularly kids - at cafes, just to avoid being stared and pointed at in public.

I often tire of peoples' vanity. I once told someone who didn't want a photo taken of themselves due to a bad hair day that "if I can be ok with my appearance after being called ugly by a group of five dwarfs in public, then you can be ok with yours".

Yep, I'm always telling it as it is. Hopefully to make people realise that looking good isn't everything.

There's more of this that I want to cover - but I've written heaps here, so look out for future blog entries continuing the topic.

I am so passionate about this topic - please spread the word!


  1. Great post, Carly. I agree with you and your feelings on vanity. I've never seen the show beauty and the beast - confronting title. Sounds v interesting. & I love that you love fashion - I get to see all your outfits!
    Heidi xo

  2. I'm glad you're calling it out like it is, because I certainlly couldn't have done it. I love this blog.

    I too hate the fishing for complments era of today's online world. If there is a bad photo of yourself that you dislike, why on earth would you post it on facebook or twitter? So you can be told how truly awesome you look instead? Looking good isn't everything, yet you take pride in your appearance without being vain. I wish I had your additude growing up. Oh sure, my parents taught me to be a strong, confident young woman on the inside and to not view my disability as something that would hinder me. But they never went as far as to instruct me on how to carry my outward appearance. (That I should always be well dressed, well groomed and take pride in myself.) I think it was in fear of hurting my feelings. I was a tomboy. A little scrapper who dressed in clothes too big for my frame and kept my hair long, straight and unstyled. I used my clothes (or lack of fashion) to hide rather than take pride in my outer appearance. I thought I wasn't "worthy" of looking like the other girls in school because of my back brace and stiffened legs.

    Today, it's a world of a difference. I'm more confident, but the world of fashion is still very new. In my late twenties, I'm discovering clothes for the first time and putting on makeup through trial and error. Recently, I discovered I (REALLY) love hats. I'll be coming back here to read more on this topic, and be inspired by YOUR fashion, because I truly do love your clothes.

  3. You are putting into words things I was only aware of but not fully thought out. My ex husband never wanted anyone to see our wedding photos because his hair wasn't perfect in his opinion. Never mind being proud of his marriage and his little bride. It wasn't even possible to tell what was wrong with his hair. Must be very traumatic to be beautiful! I've always been an indivdual but spent most of my marriage conforming with slim looking clothes. Now after 6 years of being free I've decided I might grow old being an eccentric. I can't be any worse off in the compliments stake than I was before and I'll enjoy it heaps more. Cherrie

  4. Very insightful post. When I read your first paragraph, I was smiling cause it could have been writing that about myself. You have read my post on my outfit spreadsheets!
    Thanks for visiting my blog by the way. Love meeting new people.

  5. hi carly,
    i agree with lots of what you say. however, in my own life i make a distinction between superficiality ("wah, i have a tiny tiny pimple! we have to cancel coffee." when i have like 9274791033 pimples at the time) and vanity (don't photograph me whilst i look like this). i tend to think vanity is acceptable, whereas superficiality is tiresome and and evil and should be punished. vanity wouldn't be so necessary if people had the good sense to refrain from posting every single picture on facebook.

  6. Nothing wrong with taking pride in your appearance and putting forward a particular self-image.
    I try to get dressed in "street clothes" and put on my funky jewelry every day no matter how tired or sore I am. It makes me feel "better."
    Looking forward to reading the rest of your series.

  7. Great post, Carly!

    You have a great way of putting things in perspective, being honest and being considered.

    SSG xxx

    Sydney Shop Girl blog

  8. I love this entry! Your thoughts on vanity are very interesting &, in my opinion very wise.

  9. Loved this post Carly. Just brilliant!

  10. Carly,

    This post was amazing. I relate to you so much I can't even form the words, but I'm sure you understand. I wish I had as much confidence and assertiveness to call people out as you do. I find it VERY annoying when people who appear perfect to me are complaining about their appearances. I don't think they have any clue how hard it is to hear it. Especially comments like "I'm so pale, I need to go tanning," or "My hair looks so ugly today." Little comments people don't think of really affect other people, and I'm glad there is someone else out there who understands that.

    I think we have more of a perspective. Something others will never have. That is just one of the many positives to having this disease, but it is something we have on others. As long as we take the positives to outweigh the negatives, it makes it all worth it.

    I love your posts, Carly. I'm thankful I have come to know you through this.

  11. Maybe we should also note that taking pride in one's own appearance is a sign of respect for self and others. If I didn't know you on the internet and read your blogs, and I just saw your photo, I probably would be able to tell by the clothes you wear and how you wear them, that you, Carly, have not let the icthyosis take over your life even though you have to live with it. You make the best of what you've got.

  12. Great entry! My parents drilled into me from an early age not to be vain, and not to care what anyone else thought or said. I was called moonface in primary school, they thought it was an insult but I quietly took it as a compliment as I loved Enid Blyton books haha! Anyway, going off on a tangent haha, just wanted to say I love your opinions and your honesty and I look forward to hearing more about this topic. Also I love your style and outfits!

  13. Love this post. There is dressing up for vanity and there is dressing up for feeling good about yourself and presenting yourself in the way that gives you confidence. Nothing wrong with the second one.

  14. “When people start talking about how ugly they look in person or photos, or talk about their bad hair-day or minute pimple, I tune out.”

    Unless someone is clearly fishing for a compliment (and those people exist), I don’t think someone commenting on how bad they look in a photo or some such is an indication of vanity – I think it’s the opposite.

    Vanity is when someone takes EXCESSIVE PRIDE in their appearance (style, looks, what-have-you) or accomplishments (whatever form they may take).

    Being unhappy with the way one looks in a photo actually sounds more like an indication that they have some INSECURITY about the way they look. And, given the image/youth obsessed culture we live in, they wouldn’t be alone in this. I wouldn’t pass judgement on them for that.

    It may well be an indication of narcissism, self-obsession… but not vanity.

    As for superficiality... a superficial person passes judgement on things/people based solely on their looks or initial impressions of them (i.e. without really knowing them). That judgement could be positive or negative. For example, liking someone attractive even though they have a horrible personality or lack character. Or not wanting to be friends with someone because they look a certain way.

    Re: your love of fashion - I think it's all good, if it makes you feel good! A good rule of thumb for fashionistas concerned they may be tipping into vanity/superficial territory: if you're in a public place, and you are judging negatively how other people are dressed... you are being superficial/vain.

    A topic close to my heart. I'm going to writing a lot about body-image, the pros and cons of fashion, body-esteem in the coming weeks. So thanks for posting! :-) x

  15. It's absolutely outrageous that someone would actually curse their so-called beauty and bemoan the fact they've been teased because of it. Were they expecting sympathy? I hope not.

    I wish people had more confidence to be themselves and to have a bit of fun with the clothes they wear. On the other hand, I know that it can be difficult to take the risk to look a little different - but it's so much fun when you do! I hope you can encourage some people to take that step and have a lot more fun with their lives. :)

  16. It took me a long time to see my own beauty, because the inside and outside become so intertwined, and I felt like I was a bad person, who should be perfect, but had failed, and therefore, as photo of myself was capturing this badness for everyone to see. I can tell you love yourself--the camera captures that, confidence, energy, passion.


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