Is It Okay To Be Vain? | A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

Is It Okay To Be Vain?

mirror

Like I mentioned before, I’ve been writing a lot about compassion because it’s been heavy on my mind. It’s become a big part of me becoming who I am without chastising myself to an excessive degree, and it’s been a big part of me letting go of the “I’m going to judge you for not being as [insert description] as me.” Compassion means a lot to me.

For a long time, I criticized the fact that people would say they didn’t need to “lose weight” because they already looked good, because since people are often conflating “losing weight” with “health,” it’s safe to assume they’re saying they don’t want to address their health because they don’t want to change the way they look. I mean, I don’t take that criticism back – I still mean every word of it – but I wonder.

When I let go of that mentality, I also let go of my desire to be vain in regards to my looks. When I have some place to be, I make sure that I’m respectably presentable, but I changed my mentality. I kind of fell to the background – instead of trying to be the always present, unavoidable, funny “big girl” – and really, with good reason. Losing 50, 100, 150lbs can play a big strange role in regards to comfort. Let’s just say that it does a number on how you see yourself, and a lot of the things we think of ourselves change immediately, because our bodies change… sometimes, immediately. I can’t be proud of the fact that I’ve got racks on racks on racks if my boobs are gone. I can’t love all on my “thick thighs” if they’re shrinking. You just have to change the way you see yourself, and for me, it was best to do that out of the spotlight.

I also had to think about the vain people I know, and what I think of when I think of “vain people.” Honestly, I think of jerks who down other people in order to make themselves feel better. I think of people so entranced by their own image that they don’t see you standing next to them. I think of a lot of extremes, but I ignored the nuances to vanity.

Here is how vanity is defined:

Vanity: [n.] excessive pride in one’s appearance, abilities, qualities or achievements. Character or quality of being vain; conceited.

Excessive pride in one’s appearance? Hmmm.

I mean, I’m not going to lie. Am I proud of what I’ve accomplished? Absolutely. Excessively proud? Yes. I’m also excessively proud of the child I’ve raised, the community I’ve built around this blog and my cooking skills. Oh, my cooking is awesome.

In other words, I question whether the pride is the problem instead of the problem being how that pride manifests itself in how we treat others. I think I’m awesome, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t awesome as well… and my thinking I’m awesome shouldn’t come at the expense of your self-esteem in the process. This goes in reverse, too. I shouldn’t take offense to someone else feeling good about themselves… unless they’re highlighting an insecurity within me that makes me uncomfortable, and even then, that has everything to do with me. Not them.

That may be more important than I think it is, though. Think about it – if I can be vain about my hair, my shoes, and my clothes… why can’t I be vain about my body? It’s taken as an affront to mankind if I praise my abs, my hips or my arms. Immediately, someone would feel compelled to take it upon themselves to sling arrows and throw insults if I started to praise my arm work. “You’re about to look like a man in a minute.” “Girl, men don’t want an ass like that. They want one like this!”

These experiences have taught me that the “problem” with vanity, so to speak, is expressing it publicly. I can be proud of myself – excessively proud, even – without verbalizing it to everyone else, especially people who may not understand. I believe that’s where compassion comes into play. When we talk about our bodies and realize that not everyone has had their “come to fitness” moment, some people may feel like talking about your changing body openly is a form of chastising them or making them feel less than… especially since we are a society where we’re always comparing ourselves to someone else [unnecessarily]. A little sensitivity might be hard to muster when we’re so excited, but then again, no one said compassion was an easy concept to master.

Really, this is where I rest with it. I’m just as vain about my body as I am about anything else. I’m proud of it – what it tolerates, what I put it through, and how it grows and changes because of it. I don’t need to be vainglorious about it and hold it up in your face, though. My pride shines through in how I care for myself. I don’t need to compound it by constantly talking about it, too.

I know that my opinion differs greatly from others on this, so I’d like to know what you think. What role do you think vanity plays in a weight loss journey? Is there a place for vanity? Is there a point where it’s no longer vanity and simply narcissism… or are the two the same for you? Let’s hear it!

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

22 Comments

  1. Tatiana

    May 31, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    My single stance on vanity is to never call someone else vain because at that point, you’re projecting your own values onto someone else, which is ridiculous and unfair. I hate it; I’ve never called anyone vain or shallow in my life. In fact, to call someone else vain or shallow is the surest sign of superiority because you’re suggesting that what they value is meaningless or outlandish.

    That being said, I think what you’re talking about is pride, not vanity (though in many situations, vanity is the child of pride). You take pride in what your body looks like, your cooking skills, your daughter. Pride is something that should be flaunted because if it’s something you value, it’s one of your virtues. And we’re living in a world where our virtues make other people uncomfortable, so we’re forced to flaunt our flaws instead. Which is horrific to say the least.

    The thing about pride (in healthy, non-annoying doses) is that it’s a sign of personal confidence is whatever it is that gives you pride. It’s unusual to be prideful for something that you didn’t create yourself. Personal confidence is something every person should strive for because it creates an inner sense of self, when you realize that your friends/co-workers/randoms on the street are upset with you because of their own unhappiness or insecurities. It’s about not taking it personally. So if having pride about training and honing your body gives you personal confidence, then there’s nothing wrong with that.

  2. Serenity

    May 31, 2011 at 10:28 AM

    I am a self-proclaimed vain woman. I come from a long line of vain women. But my vanity does not come at the expense of others. I love how I look no matter what size I am, because I love being me. That comes from inside. I don’t need validation from other people nor do I make others feel bad to make me feel good.

    BUT… For the people whose self esteem is contingent on other people… meaning they get offended because I love myself so much or they want me to hate myself because I represent something they see in themselves as a flaw… i.e. the haters…. I can’t be responsible for how they feel.

    I see nothing wrong in healthy vanity.

  3. Keelah

    May 31, 2011 at 11:06 AM

    I believe vanity in all its forms is ok. As long as you are loving on you and not putting anyone else down in the process! It plays a huge part for me, because the better I feel about myself, the more likely I am to do make GOOD CHOICES for me as well. So I try and keep myself on swole! I am complimenting and motivating and praising myself ALL.DAY.LONG. “I’m so proud of me that I chose sugarless coffee!” “Look at me not even BLINKING at all those danishes!” “It feels so GOOD to eat raw veggies!” I am starting to notice that people dont like that. But I do it for me, not you so….

    I believe narcissism has a feeling to it thats undeniable. You get that feeling that that person and their world are all that truly matters to them. I believe that being heavy on self motivation and esteem can seem that way, but theres ususally an empowering energy that comes with just being full of yourSELF!!! People who feel great, and make an effort to keep it that way often times are motivating to others. Not from a place of ‘you are bad’ and ‘I am good’ but from…”look at what i’ve learned works for me!” and just living by example of possibility!

    I lost my FIRST SIX LBS last week…and my cup runneth over!! I feel TOO in charge, becauase while its only six…I worked my ass off for them. I changed my mind to accomodate the option of better food choices. I worked out, when I could have been getting more sleep and I used the resources and tools available to help keep me accoutable. I’m damn proud of my efforts and simply amazed to see what CONSCIOUS ATTENTION can do for anything in your life! Yes, passing up the pizza and danishes and bagels and treats were frowned upon. But when people tried to run that game… I simply gave them the eye! Not an eye roll, but the eye of determination. You can do what you wish, and I will not judge. But I am on a mission. A mission where failure is not an option. And I have choices, and my choice is ME!

    Nah, call dat whatcha wont! :)

    • CurlieGirlie

      May 31, 2011 at 4:41 PM

      Lol, what do you mean “only six?” Six pounds in one week?! Congrats girl! You must have been working!

    • Johnnie

      June 3, 2011 at 8:32 AM

      Six pounds…you GO!

    • CoCo

      June 30, 2012 at 7:43 PM

      Your post made me smile, Ms. Keelah! You’re right, conscious attention can work wonders for your life. Keep up the good work! =)

  4. Daphne

    May 31, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    I do think there a distinction between pride and vanity, although they are always conflated. I think publicly expressing pride is frowned upon because the perception is……you’re not “relatable” if you have a sense of pride about something(s).

    Personally, I see nothing wrong with being proud of accomplishments. Especially for those who have lost several pounds, and have sculpted their bodies into lean, mean, strong machines – why WOULDN’T you be proud of this? Especially in this culture, where body image is constantly scrutinized. It’s only natural. Sure, the improved health is a bonus and should be paramount, but I ain’t mad at those who may enjoy how they look and feel in their new bodies, with well-fitting clothes, etc. Work it!

    I’ve found that the most confident people don’t shout their pride from the rooftops anyway. They just ARE, and it shows.

  5. JoAnna

    May 31, 2011 at 12:35 PM

    I have a girlfriend who has lost over 80lbs since November, and might drop to below 400lbs by next week. I’m proud of her success but I get tired of her constant declarations that she’s beautiful, and losing weight to get the husband of her dreams, and her how beautiful her children will be because she’s so beautiful. She earns a bit more money than me, and sometimes I go with her to her bi-weekly appts for eyebrows and nails because girly maintenance is necessary. I can’t get a manicure because I play piano, do yardwork, cook, etc and it won’t last longer than 2 days max. I also arch my own eyebrows. It just irks me sometimes ’cause she’ll start on how beautiful she is while wearing sweat capris, a too tight t-shirt and her hair in 2 cornrows, and we’re out going to the movies, or something. Or when I do meet her after work, she knows that certain men at her job are admiring her clothes (her work clothes are nice) and her.
    And sometimes she asks me how I can work outside in the sun ’cause I’m getting darker… She also prides herself on her paperbag complexion. I told her being able to lift and tote 40lbs of compost is more important to me than staying indoors all summer. And the extra water I drink because of my exertions help my skin stay clear. (She does have some facial acne and HATES to drink plain water.) Sometimes I wonder how we stay friends when she goes on her vanity tangent but I’m sure she thinks the same when I start to preach about the evils of processed foods and the benefits of fresh veggies.

  6. Eva

    May 31, 2011 at 7:38 PM

    I don’t think anything is wrong with being vain. I hate to say it but you’re not responsible for anybody else’s feelings (Al-Anon speaking). So many people have had to walk on eggshells for fear of hurting Mommy and Daddy or whoever. If I feel bad because someone is proud of their accomplishments, the issue isn’t with them, it’s with me.

  7. Andrea Plaid

    June 2, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    I think it’s perfectly fine to be vain over things that you’ve worked for and are successful in achieving, such as working hard in achieving and maintaining your health goals, obtaining a degree, writing a great blog (and especially receiving accolades for it), rearing great children, learning to dress to your shape and personality (the essential elements of ‘style, IMHO), and so on. You did it, so you have every right to be vain about it.

    The trick to vanity is, as stated in the OP and by some other commenters, is how it’s expressed. Do you need to be on Twitter, Facebook, and your porch hollering about your every accomplishments every minute? Good grief, no. However, if someone comes up to you and notices that you lost some weight and asks how you did it–especially if you know you did it by following Erika’s advice of clean eating, portion control, and exercise–I say do it and add how many pounds you lost. (I always say, “I did it with three things: what I eat, how much of it I eat, and exercise. That’s always been and will be the formula for weight loss. Anything else, and you’re asking for trouble.” Then I smile, thank them for the compliment, and walk away. Or if someone asks me why I “look so young” (I’m 42), I tell them, “Naw, this is what 42 looks like. My secret: lots of water, Noxzema, and St. Ives Lotion.” Again, smile, give thanks, and walk. I’ve expressed my vanity, but I hope in a way that says that I worked at it and am proud of the results.

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      June 2, 2011 at 1:50 PM

      42???????????????????????

      **drops dead**

      You’re reminding us just how gorgeous a well-kept 42 can look, Andrea. :)

      • Andrea Plaid

        June 2, 2011 at 4:23 PM

        :Hugs::

        Awww! Thanks so much for that. I’ve said to you before, and I’ll say it here: you’ve been an incredible part of my new health path, and I’m so grateful to *you* for standing up for what’s right and what’s real.

  8. Earth Angel

    June 2, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    “In other words, I question whether the pride is the problem instead of the problem being how that pride manifests itself in how we treat others. I think I’m awesome, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t awesome as well… and my thinking I’m awesome shouldn’t come at the expense of your self-esteem in the process. This goes in reverse, too. I shouldn’t take offense to someone else feeling good about themselves… unless they’re highlighting an insecurity within me that makes me uncomfortable, and even then, that has everything to do with me. Not them.”

    Perfectly written!

  9. Alasha

    June 8, 2011 at 10:16 PM

    I’ve been letting this post marinate in my reader all week, and I finally got the nerve to click today, and I’m so glad I did. I really needed it. Thanks!

  10. Nasha

    September 18, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Am I vain? I’m inclined to say yes…..do I still have some issues with self confidence? Um, yes…I’m 34 and I’ve learned more about self confidence in the last 2 years than in my entire life…and I’m STILL learning. It has not been without a high degree of pain…I’ve been called “pretty” and “gorgeous” for most of my adult life..but I never FELT that way…I felt ugly on the inside..(yep..I had some issues)…so now, yes, I’m vain..but it’s about so much more..I feel more pretty on the inside..and I’m proud of that..and if I pass another lady on the street, and she seems proud of herself, and maybe even a little vain, who am I to say otherwise?…..

  11. Stefanie

    September 19, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    In my idea of vanity, I think one should compliment themselves, no matter what stage of the game they are in. If I was beginning a weight loss journey, it doesn’t help for me to say ‘I’m ugly because I’m fat’. I usually say ‘I’m getting even sexier’ or ‘I’m working on revealing an even better body under here’. Whatever I got to do to keep going. And as I see results, I do compliment myself; but I do my best to be mindful and not throw it in other people’s face. I have a friend who did very well with losing 80 pounds in a year. And she made it KNOWN how sexy she was, how she was the queen. And, while I was happy for her weight loss and she did a very great job, I was annoyed because it could be uncomfortable at times. I did check myself and ask was I envious of her weight loss? Not at all. Her weight loss made me want to step my game up. I was tired of the over usage of her vanity. Unfortunately, she gained the weight back because she thought she no longer needed the gym but did not have a back up plan on staying active. But she is still confident, and for that, I can appreciate. She had to make me understand something though: she must give herself compliments. If she doens’t do it, who will? And after that, I let her be. I do want her to get back to working out because she did such a great job with her former weight loss.
    So, I guess to answer your questions, should vanity be included during weight loss efforts? To a degree, yes: it helps keep us going – this is not an easy process. Is there a point where it goes from simple vanity (confidence in one’s beauty or abilities) to narcissism? Yes, when it begins to make everyone else around feel uncomfortable and no longer focused on your efforts but on how much you talk about yourself.
    I hope I don’t even get like that. I know we are all capable of going overboard.

  12. Modest mom

    January 1, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    I think we need to look at the definition again. The key word is “excessive”. It’s fine to set a goal, reach it, and then congratulate yourself and receive kudos from others for your hard work . But we have to be careful that it does not become excessive. Anything in excess can have a detrimental effect.

    Who we are and what we do are all a reflection of God in us. If someone compliments you, in actuality it belongs to the Most High for blessing us. Confidence is different than conceit (a synonym for vainity).
    We must remember to be humble in all our achievements.

  13. Sadie B.

    June 28, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    On the other side of vanity is the possibility of self-loathing and/or avoidance. At my current weight I don’t feel uncomfortable with my body, so I don’t take time to do my hair and look nice – which only makes me feel worse. I tell myself that I’m being self-less, focusing on my family, on my work, not on myself. But, what I really need is a little more vanity!

  14. Lee

    February 24, 2013 at 11:08 PM

    I have very vain family members who would pick at me when I was a kid because I wasn’t “slim”. I have known vain ppl who haven’t turned a nose up to someone who wasn’t “perfect” in their eyes. I would say it is a very thin line between being confident and being annoying/hurtful.

  15. Anggie

    May 10, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    I have to say vanity actually played a large part in my weight loss journey. Short version [kind of] I’ve had a number of medical issues over the years that could have been mitigated by reducing my weight. But it wasn’t until the I had an allergic reaction that exhibited itself on my face and neck in 2/2012 (determined later to be caused by wheat in a hair product; now gluten free) that I made a definitive – and lasting – change in my weight loss journey in 3/2012.

    By changing my lifestyle —detoxing (as well as pampering myself), eating cleaner -little to NO sugar, and having more energy to move; within 8 months after starting I had removed up to 80 lbs. Currently, I’m holding at -90lbs but my face is clear and has a healthy glow.

    My vanity – being too embarrassed to actually show my face – finally motivated me to make a positive and long lasting change that has been EXTREMELY beneficial in my health and attitude. My husband is proud of me, my doctor was EXTREMELY proud and supportive, and my family and friends are amazed at the change.

  16. Madamemiao

    August 9, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    Hi Erika , I’m too trying to practice compassion towards myself… But from this piece it’s no clear to me the link between compassion and vanity. Could you say more?

    • Erika Nicole Kendall

      August 9, 2013 at 9:10 PM

      Because I want to be proud of myself, my hard work, what I’ve accomplished and the fruits of my labor – i.e., looking the way that I want MY body to look, and patting myself on the back for it – but I don’t want to get to a point where I lose the ability to be respectful of others and their journeys, you know? I don’t want to be “the former fat person who loses weight and then hates all fat people,” but I want to be proud of myself. There aren’t enough examples of people who’ve successfully achieved both, you know?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>