In defense of Vanity

Benjamin Franklin has his fair share of unusual ideas, such as the benefits of having affairs with old women and how keeping an insanely accurate diary in graph form can help one become the perfect moral being. But perhaps the most interesting quote I found when reading his autobiography for class was on his views of vanity:

“Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of his life.”

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The first thing I think of when I hear the word “vain” is Vanity Smurf, the little gay stereotype with a flower and a mirror who can’t shut the smurf up about how hot he is. The second thing I think of is that Carly Simon song: You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you…even though it is. But that’s beside the point.

Vanity isn’t something people usually think fondly of, but here is a beloved father of America saying that it wouldn’t be crazy to thank God for vanity.

Well, I thought it was crazy…until I looked closer, and slowly I began to realize that I spend a lot of time thinking in terms of “I.” That’s what this “magical land of quiet introspection and peaceful alone time” is about, after all. An introvert playground. A place to think deeply and enjoy one’s own presence. Is it so bad to like yourself?

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Think of the mirror scene in Mean Girls, when everybody is picking apart the minute imperfections of their gorgeous bodies, and then look to Cady for her input. It’s expected to think poorly of oneself, even if you think you’re rather fine (as those girls clearly do). It’s my firm belief that if you say or think something enough times, it is sure to become true…whether that thing is positive or negative is up to you.

I agree with Benny Franks…to a point. Certainly we wouldn’t want to be so vain as to seem obsessed with ourselves or to think that we are the most important thing in every situation, but we could afford to have a bit of self love. To pat ourselves on the back every now and then, and to allow a bit of healthy pride into our daily diets. After all, we accomplish great things every day. We deserve to be happy with ourselves.

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This is especially important with introverts. We may not spend as much time with other people, and therefore have to give ourselves the extra love we might be missing. Also, since we tend to like to be alone, we spend a lot of time working on ourselves to make ourselves better. This time that we spend thinking about ourselves isn’t self-indulgent—it’s self-improving. It’s looking honestly at our strengths and weaknesses, evaluating how we might improve, and then doing that. We are breathing examples of how thinking about yourself isn’t a negative thing, outright.

Vanity is something we all try to hide, to the point where it’s strange to hear someone indulge in it, even to a small amount. I say, smurf that. If someone says you look nice, or did a good job, or some other compliment, don’t deny it, thank them. We spend  a lot of time on our appearance and on our accomplishments—enjoy them!

Vanity can be extremely helpful in small doses; as Franky Ben said, it is “often productive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within his sphere of action.” So go on, my beautiful people, and feel good about yourselves. You deserve it.

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