Monday, 4 July 2011


I met my sister briefly on Saturday to help with her house hunting. She referred to one of her friends children as being excessively vain. I wondered if she meant self absorbed rather than vain. How do you quantify vanity? Especially in a child.

The definition of vanity is to have an 'excessive pride in one's appearance achievements and capabilities'. Ouch, Define excessive. One mans' excessive maybe another mans' modesty. Vanity is as subjective a notion as what makes a good painting but whatever it is, however quantifiable, it is safe to say that my vanity has taken a few hits recently, not least at work where I confess my opinion of myself and my achievements could in some corners be construed as vain, wholly justified in my opinion, but sadly not in the opinion of those who matter in my so called profession. That bucket of melancholy is so full I am trying hard not to let it spill over into this blog at present for fear of unleashing a torrent of vitriol and ire against those better paid than I in this establishment, but I am keen to keep my job for a while.

No my vanity such as it is, (and trust me with a mother like mine I have a very, very grounded sense of self worth in the looks department) is at best modest I in the genre of all things English am hangdog and weak chinned. I have tried to dress it up occasionally as a romanticised Modigliani but lets be brutal I am no beauty.

This has been rammed home to me by two of my closets ...what? Not friends or family...Cohabitee's, I guess that's who they are.

First up

Emin recently bounded over to me like a Labrador puppy clutching an old photograph album. "Look, look" he cried "Look how amazing you used to look" "God you've really aged" He thrust under my nose a photograph taken 10 years ago just after Leyla was born my hair lush with hormones and my skin still plump and dewy with baby fat. At the time the photograph was taken I was dog tired and failed to see that really this was the last chance I would have to even contemplate vanity, but the damage was done on that score years ago, so that I never bothered to look in the mirror and so failed to appreciate what I had before gravity and depleting hormones shook me and spat me out a dried up husk of a woman.
As a teenager I reeked of eau de desperation seeking love at any price, I soon learned it was pointless to try and strike pose, too laughable. In fact laugh is what I learnt to do, Sod it, I don't need to see myself so why should I care what I look like? But remarks like that sting, really they do. I am nearly 50 and yes I am looking my age, I never did, but somehow life caught me up.

Second up

So imagine my surprise when walking the dog with Leyla yesterday when she said " Were you ever beautiful?" Did I need that? No, I realise that to a child I am a mother not a face but even so.... brutal and cruel, so any notion that I held that my children could at least see the beauty within packed it's bags and left the building. I explained that it was her misfortune to have a fuckugly mother so she should deal with it. Conversation over.

Clearly I am vainer than I think!


materfamilias said...

Paul did something similar the other day, happily showing me a picture from decades ago and commenting on how gorgeous I was in it. Um, what's your point?! I could see him panicking, trying to figure out how to restate. Almost worth the ouch. . .

Kids, though, can really say hurtful stuff, without recognising what they're doing. Mine certainly have. But it's tough when they're in such a visual world with such a narrow perspective of beauty. Perhaps, at some level, they ask these questions to try to tease out a broader view. If it weren't so close to home -- say if a student had asked a similar question about another midlife woman -- you could explain how much richer beauty can/should be. Help her see the beauty that a friend can see in you -- I do! (mushy, eh? please forgive.)

Anonymous said...


indigo16 said...

Mater you are as always right. I know Emin really does not care that I have aged his surprise was I think that I do at all, we see each other daily and so never really notice.
And yes, had a student that I would not have batted an eyelid. I guess Leyla feels secure enough to say it out of wonder more than anything else; I need to see this as a positive as I would NEVER have spoken to my mother like that!

materfamilias said...

You're wise to focus on that positive -- I sometimes really find it hard to take my kids' honesty with me because it can be hurtful. But then I try to think of how much closer and more open we are than I am with my mom. I would never say the hurtful things but then I keep the wall up pretty high between us and very firmly in place.