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Thursday, 3 March 2011

Fraudulent Feminist no. 3: You're So Vain

Of all the dreadful things you could accuse me of, I never imagined that vanity would feature very highly on the list. To be vain flies in the face of the narrative I’ve weaved for myself.  At an early age I was cast as the funny, interesting but less attractive friend to some properly fit girl and that persona kinda stuck, if not always in reality then at least in my internal world. Of course I would always like to think of myself as above vanity; that I lived my life in a way that focused on more worthwhile concerns. And the not so worthy, like being able to down a pint faster than my husband.

But actually, recently, I wonder if I haven’t grown increasingly vain as I've lurched toward my thirties. My wedding started these musings, because, as I’ve said before, planning a wedding is a huge vanity project. This is something I struggled to keep under control in the twelve months that wedding bells dominated my life.  With a dose of red-faced self-examination, I began to assess the place of vanity in my life.

So here’s my litany of vain indulgences:
  • I hardly ever leave the house without make up. Even on long walks trampling through country mud there’ll be a lick of mascara.
  • I spend a lot of money on keeping my curly, frizzy, unruly hair under control
  • I pay £17 a pop to have some nice ladies at Selfridges pull tiny hairs from my eyebrows.
  • I always think about what to wear each day. It’s hardly ever left to chance.
  • I’ve become obsessed with my nails -  I now pay to get them shaped and painted. I’ve been late to parties because I was sorting my nails out.
  • I check my reflection in windows, just in case my make up has melted or my hair has gone big (it can go very big indeed.)
Here I am, a (marginally) successful, intelligent, confident independent woman and somehow along the way, I’ve fallen victim to the vanity of excessive female preening.  And the truth is, I know I won’t change because I can’t bear the thought of going about life less attractive than I could be.

It’s a total rejection of some of the founding principles of the feminist movement, where women were called upon to reject the pressures to shave, wax, thread and paint ourselves so that we conformed to conventional ideals of beauty.

But is all this plucking and preening really letting the side down? Does trying hard to conform to (male constructed) ideals of female attractiveness really detract from the more powerful choices I make in life? Would women really be in a stronger position if I went around looking a little less pretty? Well, of course not. But I’d like to feel a little more comfortable in my own skin, without effort, from time to time.

So, what image to include with this post? Let me introduce unwashed, unkempt Kate, having fun at a festival and not caring about the look.

Gosh, that was a lot of talking about myself, which is probably a vanity itself. Less of that next time.