Does Beauty = Vanity (and so what if it does)?

“It’s not vanity to feel you have a right to be beautiful.”

“Women are taught to feel we’re not good enough, that we must live up to someone else’s standards.”

Elle Macpherson, the glamorous model, made both those statements in one breath. Certainly she was aware of how the two might seem to contradict one another.

Let’s start with the obvious tension: We all want to be beautiful, but at the same time, we are aware of the danger of being manipulated by some external standard of beauty that we can never attain.

This is a clear call for establishing one’s own standard of beauty.

“It’s not vanity,” says Macpherson. But what if it really is vanity? Is vanity necessarily a bad thing? In the US, vanity gets a bad rap, but elsewhere it is understood as a vital sign of self-esteem. I remember a famous French woman writer speaking with pride of her 75-year old mentor, an iconic stage actress. The older woman would walk a mile out of her way to get to the Chanel store because it was only there that she could buy a certain pencil that made her eyes look just as she wished. Vanity? Maybe. But the story was offered as homage to the theatrical icon’s still intact self-esteem.

Macpherson claims beauty as everyone’s right. It is not always the elite who dictate standards to the masses; it is just as often the vibe and accent and creativity of the streets that sets a new standard for the fashion gurus.

Cosmetic beauty, too, is becoming more democratic, widely accessible thanks to the advances in aesthetic dermatology. Botox, fillers, chemical peels, laser treatments go a long way towards helping you establish your own standards of beauty. All these techniques not only insure your right to beauty, they give you ample choice as to how to define it for yourself.