Vanity is unquestionably a gender issue. Female-identifying bodies have to constantly defend themselves against the male gaze. Men have enforced ideas of how and what women should look like throughout history, and society has pushed us to perform a role whereby we exist as objects to be admired.
I think a lot about the performance of self and my obsession with obtaining “feminine” beauty. Somewhere along the line, I learned that my beauty was central to my worth, and that sucks. Even though studies show men are the vainer sex, women are always blamed for being self-obsessed, curated and fake.
“Women constantly meet glances which act like mirrors reminding them of how they look or how they should look. Behind every glance there is judgement.”
John Berger in Ways of Seeing
As millennials, we have been called the most narcissistic and self-obsessed generation of them all, spending more time looking in the mirror and taking selfies than any other.
“The mirror was often used as a symbol of the vanity of woman. The moralising, however, was mostly hypocritical. You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, you put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting ‘Vanity’, thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for your own pleasure.”
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
So, mirror, mirror, on the wall – who is the fairest of them all?
It’s herstory time now. Do we really give a crap about what men think? Presentation of self is about personal power and confidence – not about finding the perfect mate. But how can we cultivate a sense of self-love and an appreciation of beauty that is no longer male centred?
Start by fostering the idea that opinions of attractiveness and enjoyment of self aren’t negative. Identity is shared with the world through the presentation of beauty and self; being “vain” and taking pride in our appearances allows us to scream out, “THIS IS WHO I AM!” And that’s what really matters – that it’s coming from a place of love and for self, not other.
Can taking selfies be the new way of telling the world you love yourself?
Selfie has become a nasty word, and I too am guilty of judging people who take obnoxious pictures of themselves in public places. But what is the difference between a self-portrait and a selfie? Very little, really: selfies are just the modern incarnation of the self-portrait – a way of taking control, curating your personal image and presenting yourself in a way and light that you like.
Have a read of this killer essay entitled ‘The Fairest of Them All: Selfie Culture, Gendered Vanity, and Art’, and all these quotes by John Berger. Also wrap your eyeballs around Selfies Are Good for Girls, which suggests we think of all those photos women post of themselves as tiny bursts of pride. Finally, we recommend you watch this old-but-still-very-relevant BBC show.
Now, let’s play with ourselves!
Create Art With Your Appearance
This week’s artistry challenge is to create art with your appearance. Explore ideas of vanity, identity and self. What is it about the way you look and your identity that makes you you?
We challenge you to draw, write, scribble, sew, collage and paint on top of your own portrait. Perhaps you could whip something up in Photoshop, or take a pair of scissors to a printed snap and a pile of magazines. Accompany your work with some writing or no writing. It’s all up to you – you are in your power!
Be sure to journal about the experience of making art out of your own image, as writing things out helps us to concrete any ideas and feelings that may arise.
If you’re feeling ballsy, or as we like to say at Anaerkillik, if you’ve got big flap energy, submit your creations via firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share them on our website and social media next week.