Jaded Hearts & Shattered Mirrors
04 May 2023
On Vanity and the Art of People-Watching
I enjoy people-watching. I’m jaded right now and feel bored just because I’ve realized (or maybe remembered) that every story seems the same when you look at it from a distance. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end. Stepping back far enough from anything at all, the details become fuzzy. But even though we’re clearly not that special or interesting, we’re still so obsessed with ourselves. When I watch people go by, I’ve seen far too many of them be absolutely captivated by every opportunity to stare at their own image. Walking past the slightest reflective surface, they can’t help but stare. At least it’s not as bad as walking down the street taking pouty selfies… I mean, I’m not against taking selfies because I do see the value in capturing the memories you experience even when you’re alone, but— and maybe this is just my boredom and jaded heart speaking— but your face shouldn’t be as interesting as your soul and mind.
This past week has been tough, and I’ve been reflecting a lot on vanity. People go to extreme lengths to become beautiful. It’s been said that narcissism stems from insecurity, so the beautiful people who are overly obsessed with their appearance must be particularly insecure. The people who demand constant external approval are afraid to admit to themselves the less-than-relative relativistic truth that they are beautiful. Hence, they seek it from external sources, constantly, from others. Sorry, some truths are truer than others. Clearly, you can tell that my heart is jaded— I like the thought of a heart-shaped jade rock. It’s dark green (which I like), shiny, and reflective. It’s ironic that I find a reflective surface appealing, considering that this essay is about my dislike for such surfaces. However, I imagine that the surface of this jaded heart distorts the reflection and doesn’t show the true image. This is true for almost any mirror, as our own perceptions can distort even the most honest reflections— At least the jaded heart is honest about it. There’s no pretending that it presents an objective truth.
While obviously taking selfies for the sake of vanity doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a boring person, considering that I know I definitely have engaged in that activity a fair bit in the past but have somehow largely grown past it, choosing to take every opportunity to gaze at your reflection when walking both shows a kind of disinterest in where you’re going and where you are. Taking selfies slows down the pace of a walk, so the end goal must not be that urgent. Though, as my friends would tell you, I do love long, aimless, meandering walks. I indulge in them not because I’m too busy staring at myself, but because I want to stop and smell the roses. While I clearly feel disillusioned with individuals, people collectively have their own mystical ebb and flow that I don’t really understand and therefore find fascinating. The surroundings I’m in always have their own beauty as I find myself moving through what is essentially always a liminal space.
Let’s acknowledge that there’s a powerful line between confidence and vanity. I’ve been accused of being vain more than once; however, at this point in time, I think I’m just self-assured. To be clear, I’m talking about aesthetic vanity in this regard— specifically the kind of vanity that Narcissus indulged when he gazed into his reflection in the pond for so long, he turned into the flower that would later bear his name. I don’t find my reflection all that interesting (unless I’m under the influence of some vice), but the external validation I have received over the course of many, many circumstances and environments has solidified the belief in me that I am beautiful. It is more reasonable to believe that the statement is true than not. And yet, I strongly feel compelled to ensure that I am more than the sum of my physical parts. I do remember that being a major message in one of my favorite young adult novels from when I was a girl growing into my womanly body, but that’s beside the point.