What is vanity, or what is it to be vain? I was in my dermatologist office yesterday to have a couple of things looked at, and as the nurse was preparing me to have a spot biopsied, I thought to ask about the impact of the results and my pending abdominoplasty surgery. While talking I immediately had to add why I was having the procedure. I had to justify it. Then it struck me, “why do I have to justify myself”? What is this idea that having cosmetic surgery is automatically labeled “vain”, for which you owe people an explanation? In reality we are all vain to some degree. That’s not a bad thing – we ought to care to some degree about how we look. (My wife has a lot to say about this!) There is a problem though, when we assuage our conscience by rating our own vanity on a scale, against our perceptions of others around us. We also rate our vanity on the degree or length we will go to fix what we do not like about ourselves. We all have an image in our heads of what we look like, and an interpretation of what we think others look like. That is life and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that.
It all goes wrong when we spend time trying to live up to our idea of what other people think we look like. At the end of each day (and frequently throughout it!) you have to look in the mirror and have to face you. The emotional side of this is very important, as my wife will tell you. She helps others dress to reflect who they are on the inside, appropriately on the outside. This is her passion. For a very long time looking in the mirror was not something I did with any regularity. I was large and uncomfortable in my own skin. Since I lived with low self-esteem for so long there are times when I still see myself as heavy and ugly. The build up to having this surgery has been a struggle in my head; will this surgery change my perception? Or will my brain continue to see Fat-Pat? Part of me says I am being vain. The other part says “no, you deserve this”. So what wins out in the end? Neither. Neither argument comes close to why I am having it done.
When I walk out the door every morning I feel good and I look good. The image I see when dressed makes me smile. The mirror when I am not dressed is a reminder of who I was. I do carry my new slimmer weight well. I know this because people cannot believe that I was ever 360 pounds. Do I need the surgery for medical reasons? No. The mental aspect is another story. In the end the skin will be removed and I will still be who I am. I am more than the skin around my body. This surgery will help me to move past the old me and mark a milestone on the journey, a line in the sand that says I will not be heavy again. I remove the skin to rid myself of what could happen in the future, and let the future write itself.
A Note from Amanda
My training in the language and psychology of dress has taught me a couple of things worth directly commenting on with reference to Pat’s post.
Pat talks about looking in the mirror and having a perception of what is there. Have you ever been to the hairdresser and noticed that few people actually look in the mirror at themselves? Our tendency is to look through the mirror, past ourselves – at the hairdresser, the product on the wall behind us, and the clients either side of us. So my first point is that whatever the reason, we are all somewhat uncomfortable with ourselves and the mirror. We probably don’t know what is there at all! To that point, research has repeatedly shown that what we do see when we look in the mirror is most often not what is really there. Let’s say I take a photo of you in a swimsuit or swim trunks, and photoshop it to make you thinner in one picture and fatter in another. When I present you with all three and tell you to pick out the “real you”, most likely you will pick the fatter picture.
So our first problem is that we hate to look in mirror and our second is that if we do, we don’t see reality? What is it with the wiring in our brains? I am told that the pictures of the world we physiologically see through our eyes, are actually received by our brains upside down. Our brain processes them and flips them the right way up. I wonder what distortions occur during that process that causes us to misinterpret our own physical reality, or whether our issues with body image are primarily a sad reflection (excuse the pun) of the influences and attitudes of society around us.
I explore this thought a little further in my post Mirror Mirror on the wall. http://www.honor-me.com/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall/