Vanity Mirrror

Vanity can be considered a form of self-adoration. The interesting thing is that what we find aesthetically ‘adorable’ changes depending on what the current fashion dictates about how we are expected to look. Throughout time, we have manipulated the body to ‘fit’ the fashionable ideal, even if the body or face we were born with just isn’t naturally made that way.


Some of the things we do to ourselves to look younger, fresher, tighter, larger, smaller, lighter, darker etc are extreme. But people have always done extreme things in the name of beautification. Take the corset of the Victorian era, for example – it was pulled so tight it could break a woman’s rib and often caused its wearers to faint. Now we have cosmetic surgery and can elect to remove ribs to get smaller waists.

But aesthetic enhancement doesn’t stop at the corset. You can have teeth extracted for better cheek bones. Boobs can be made larger or smaller. Fat can be sucked out or pumped in – big bums are currently fashionable, so fat injections are too, a complete turnaround on the liposuction era of 20 years ago, when it seemed everyone was getting the cellulite sucked out of wherever it dared to show its fat face. In fact, boobs and bums are a great demonstration of the ever-changing aesthetic of body fashion and what procedures are popular in order to achieve the look of the moment. It’s still super-common for women to go under the knife in order to emerge with a larger cup size, using whatever implant has been most recently deemed the least dangerous. To this end we are as mad as our corset-wearing, rib-cracking ancestors.

And what about skin, our body’s largest organ? Throughout the ages we have covered it in some pretty toxic stuff in order to create a look in tune with the aesthetic of the time. Sadly, the poison in some topical treatments could sink through the skin and cause a world of problems – many of which could leave you with quite the opposite of that youthful look you were aiming for. In the 17th century there was lovely lead face paint, used to cover scars left by the pox, but which would itself cause paralysis and death. Not sounding so pretty now! Nowadays we don’t use lead, but we do use a host of other toxins, chemicals, petrochemicals, parabens. They can all help give the impression of glowing wellness, but, as they seep into the body through the skin, those same chemicals can play havoc with our endocrine system, among other things. There is also the chemical peel – which, if we’re being honest, is literally burning off a layer of skin to reveal the youthful layer underneath – as well as injecting Botox here, there and everywhere and perhaps a little bit of filler too. And we haven’t even mentioned the full facelift! Definitely a modern madness. But, as I said, vanity seems to have had this effect on us for centuries.

In fact, the boundaries of science are stretching in the name of beauty and the demand for the latest cream containing the most obscure elixir of youth made from all sorts of wondrous chemicals is huge. But food is another, healthier way to help create our ‘perfect’ image. Indeed, eating certain foods and going to the gym is focusing on the same thing, just using different means to achieve our desired body and skin, be it a perfectly toned or pumped physique or a svelte yoga body.

The pressure of vanity in our culture will see us experimenting with risky procedures and a whole host of lotions and potions. But the real solution is the realisation that vanity is just the reflection staring back at us in the mirror… beauty is how we feel inside. 

Published in Beauty Papers Issue Five