A freshly-minted PhD posted a question to the job search forum over at The Chronicle of Higher Education a few years ago. Let’s call him Frogger. He felt he’d been discriminated against by a search committee for being too attractive. During a campus visit, an office assistant had started caressing herself in his presence. A committee member told him to stay away from the female undergrads. Professors dug into his relationship status a lot, a Human Resources no-no. His question: Did this happen to other people, or was he alone?
This poor innocent guy didn’t know what he was diving into. Those Chronicle forums can be worse than 4chan. Trust me, academics say some of the nastiest, soul-crushing things without even using the word fuck or cunt. (As a professor, I’m also skilled in the art of the brutal take-down.) We won’t bother with your physical appearance; we’ll go straight for your sense of self worth and somehow intuit the things you’re most sensitive about. When you get serious, we’ll laugh. When you laugh, we’ll get serious.
Not kidding. I can make people in their 20s cry with my eyebrows. I don’t even have to fucking talk. Sometimes I think that’s the most valuable thing I learned from my whole MFA.
Anyway, that’s what happened to Frogger. After a week of torment, he finally absconded. The lesson here is that nobody, especially academics, seems to care for vanity. And yet we all have it. All of us.
We’re all vain. You couldn’t survive a day in this world without vanity. I’ve been through patches of such cruelty that I thought, “I’d sure as hell better love me, because nobody else is doing it right now.”We just seem to hate people who can pull it off. I’m guilty of this hypocrisy. Six months ago, I laughed my ass off at a friend who posted a selfie while doing laundry. She’d propped her legs up on the machine and tweeted something like, “Waiting on these panties to dry.” The picture earned 100+ likes and a dozen compliments. Shit like, “Damn girl! Those legs!”To which she sheepishly replied, “Oh, yeah. I guess so. LOL!”We knew what she was up to. I secretly shared her picture with my inner mafia. “OMG another one from our amateur model friend.”Back then, I posted zero pictures of myself online. I even made friends take down and untag me from photos. Fear of the academic job search turned me into quite a prude, and I was slow to join the selfie circuit. And now look at me. Selfies every week. I understand now, and I love it. There’s nothing wrong with seeking compliments. Everyone does it. The trick is not going overboard.I used to have a “Buddhist” friend. She read Eat, Pray, Love and decided to try it. By it, I mean making a huge deal out of living simple. On the one hand, she “gave up” a lot of her material possessions and renounced things like vanity. Slight problem, though. She started posting more to social media than she ever had. Her hikes, her yoga, her meditation rituals, her new “simple” clothing style that cost more than her normal wardrobe. Her zumba classes. Her empty apartment. After a month or so, I hid her on Facebook so I could actually see what my other friends were doing.A while later, we wound up having dinner at my house. Excuse me. I mean tiny, studio apartment. That’s when my “Buddhist” friend got way drunk on wine and had a sobbing spell. She confessed how miserable and lonely she was.No shit. Americans can’t live like that. We’re vain, selfish, and materialist. I’ve given up on ridding myself of that. I just remain aware of it and do little things to make up for my faults. Like every Sunday I go to the park and pick up litter. I recycle. I drive a small, fuel-efficient car. I donate to charities.Screw all this enlightened being crap. I’m imperfect. I will always have an ugly side. I will always think mean things and struggle with the temptation to take advantage of people. I’ll always feel apathetic toward certain social causes. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. You don’t think at least one legit Buddhist has jerked off to porn and then felt terrible about it the next morning? I bet it happens all the time. What is self-gratification if not the purest form of vanity?
So post a selfie every now and then without shame. Show off your legs or your abs or whatever. No matter what bad things you do, own them. Recognize them. Even if you plan to “beat them,” that’s where you start. Don’t avoid them. Do something real to make up for it that actually helps someone. Give someone else some compliments every once in a while. Flatter the egos of others. Live in the real world. You know what’s vain? Pretending you’re not.