Monday, May 11, 2009


It's always been a mystery to me why people accuse each other of vanity, or lack thereof.

I don't mean, obviously, the hardcore extremes like somebody making sure the makeup is quite right before leaving a burning building. I don't mean expression of dislike for some particular article of clothing, either. I mean the animosity that some people show to others for adorning themselves, or failing to do so.

Market value theorists will probably point out that it does make sense, as far as the market value theory goes, to encourage self-adornment in the opposite sex and discourage it in one's own (for heteros, anyway. I am not even going into gays.). They will undoubtedly be right, too. It doesn't however explain why people do it just as cheerfully the other way around. For every Finnish woman saying that Russian women dress up too much and use too much makeup, there is a Russian woman saying that Finnish women dress up too little and use too little makeup.

(This phenomenon is fairly common both ways, among all nations whose languages I understand, and among both sexes, but the worst offenders tend to be men disapproving of other men trying to stand out of the crowd. Men doing so are of course a small minority, but a rather vocal and occasionally violent one. I am not sure whether they know how pathetic they sound.)

The accusations of vanity and lack thereof usually involve a lot of amateur psychology, usually accusing the other party (whoever they are and whatever they do) of lack of self-esteem, and, in case of dressed-down women and dressed-up men, guesses at their sexual orientation.

The reason the whole thing came to my mind was the truly weird dimensions the conversation takes when talking about facial transplants. (The first facial transplant in the US, and its owner, were revealed a few days ago.) Now, like during the time the first facial transplant was planned, there were discussions about whether this is worth doing "just for the sake of vanity" and how everything is the fault of our evil, evil society that judges people based on their looks.

What the hell is wrong with those people? Can't they for once leave the poor buggers who need a transplant in peace, and the society as well?

One can discuss endlessly in which ways the society pays too much attention to appearances, but I certainly don't think that the reason one is not comfortable living without a face is the fault of any particular society. I think people have evolved to recoil and stiffle a scream at the sight of a person who does not have most of his or her face, and I don't think any amount of societal change is likely to do anything about it.

An adult person should obviously do their best to suppress the visible reaction, but one really cannot. One can and should try to be polite, but there is really no way to act naturally around those people, and it is quite obvious to them. And yes, young children do get scared. And no, people without a face should not have to apologize for being so vain as to want one.

That said, the woman in question said that she used to get nasty comments from (I assume technically adult) people. What the fuck is wrong with those people? Are they sociopaths or just plain stupid?

While we are on the subject of really stupid sociopaths: the dumbest thing I have ever heard on the subject of vanity was "beauty isn't on the outside, it's on the inside", said by a woman whose son was on trial for throwing acid into two people's faces. In court, at the sentencing hearing.

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