I’ve always been vain. It was a trait passed down by my grandmother and further reinforced by both my step-mom and my mom. We are women; we are supposed to look good. At least, that’s certainly the message I received growing up.
As a teenager, I poured over magazines like Glamour and Cosmo. In addition to learning “5 Better Ways to Wear that Top” and the “10 Moves for Flatter Abs You Should Be Doing Now”, I also gained an unhealthy body image and an ongoing need to be thinner. In my early 20s, I read The Beauty Myth and for a few short years did my best to redefine what beauty meant to me. At 30, while I still didn’t read fashion magazines, I found that despite Naomi Wolf’s best intentions I wasn’t immune to the socialized part of us women that examines each deepening line in the mirror and pinches the extra skin on our hips each time we sit down. In short, while I no longer fell victim to the mind-numbingly dumb antics of the fashion industry, I was still vain. And the internet did little to help.
Pinterest, in particular, ramped-up my female fears that I wasn’t toned enough or small enough or big in all the right places. In those first few years on the platform, I pinned moving gifs of the newest Hollywood butt workout and tutorial after tutorial on shaping and contouring (which, to be fair, I never planned to actually try let alone master). But now, just a few years later, those things no longer hold my interest. Instead, I find myself scrolling past the pin after pin showcasing the perfect eyebrow, the trendiest smokey eye, and the women doing repetitive fitness moves in all their gif glory. Somehow those things are no longer important. So what changed?
I got sick.
Life alteringly sick.
And what I found was that when you are that sick — when you can’t eat without dropping your spoon or fork in frustration, when you can’t put on your bathrobe without wincing as you raise your arm, when you can’t walk without assistance or limping — a tighter stomach no longer matters.
Don’t get me wrong; I still look at those lines and sigh. I still don’t want to be too big or too thin. I still pinch that roll when I sit down. But the pins I’m focused on now have more to do with how to write when you can’t type and how to cook dinner when you can’t hold a spatula or stand for more than a few minutes than they do with fitness and beauty trends. And when I see other women my age pinning posts on winged eyeliner, celebrity hairstyles, and achieving a rounder butt I can’t help but think: How quaint.
For I remember when the size of any one body part was one of my most pressing bodily concerns. And while in some ways I appreciate this newfound freedom from socialized vanity, I sometimes long for the days when I was saving articles on new thigh workouts rather then searching for a rollator that doesn’t scream 90-year-old grandma.
But, then again, maybe I’m not too different from the other women my age because that not-looking-too-old part definitely still matters, even if it is geared more toward my assistive devices than my forehead. After all, I may have multiple autoimmune diseases but I’m still my granny’s granddaughter. Vanity, I guess, exists in all forms.