Is caring about your appearance inherently vain?

by Hallie @ Moxie Wife on May 3, 2011

Ha!

A few days ago Morgan asked a great question over in this combox. She wanted to know…

“Does anyone else struggle with wanting to look nice vs not being vain? Or is it just the perfectionist in me that thinks it’s impossible to do both?

For some reason this is a hard one for me. If I am dressing so that my body looks nice, am I inherently being vain?”

While I don’t believe one necessarily follows the other, I do recognize that vanity can be a temptation for many women, myself included. We’re women! We like to look lovely! It’s in our nature! Could it be that we occasionally indulge ourselves a bit too much, though?

When I was first wrestling with this question I thought it important to ask myself two things:

1) What are my primary reasons for wanting to look nice?
2) If I do detect some level of vanity does that mean I should stop caring about my appearance?

I thought about it a bit and determined that my reasons for wanting to look nice are threefold:

First, I want my husband to know that more than a decade after we first started dating I still like to look pretty for him. I think that’s a perfectly innocent way for me to express my affection.

Second, I think it’s important to show my children that this vocation of mine is worthy of respect and that I value it. I want them to know how much I love being a wife and mother.

And third, I hope to witness to the culture effectively. I aim to convey to the world that I love my life and am thriving.

(Somewhat related is my goal of becoming more physically fit. I pursue this not to have a hot body–not primarily, anyway–but rather because I want to be as healthy as possible.)

So, those are good, honorable reasons, right? I think so, but–if I’m going to be honest–are those my only reasons for wanting to look nice? Probably not. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been tempted by less virtuous motives.

What’s a gal supposed to do? Do I stop wearing nice clothes? Should I jettison my make-up and stop cutting my hair? Do I let my already out of shape figure become even more so?

After some reflection, I realized my philosophy on this subject can be summed up by borrowing the words of the late, great G. K. Chesterton:

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

My motives aren’t always impeccable, no, but I feel certain that making an attempt to look nice is a thing worth doing, even though I may do it badly. After all, who would suffer if I gave up the pursuit of a lovelier me?

Well, I would (for a variety of reasons) but so would my family. No one wants to be around a woman who feels badly about herself. Who would I bless by being too tired or overweight to tend to my duties? What message would I be sending to my children? How effectively could I witness to the culture if I dragged my disheveled self around here, there and everywhere? And how would my husband feel if I never made an effort to dress up a bit for him?

Having said all that, I’m certainly committed to ridding myself of the vice of vanity, I’d just rather not throw the baby out with the bathwater, you know?

What are your thoughts on this? Is vanity something that you struggle with? What are some things we can do to combat vanity while still making an effort to look attractive for the benefit of those around us? And here’s an interesting question…where does our God-given feminine nature (the one that causes us to delight in loveliness) end and vanity begin?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Take care, girls!
 Signed, Betty

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Maureen E May 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm

I think the main problem comes when we make an effort to look nice and then think that means our work is done–we don't need to be loving or kind as long as our outward appearance is okay. It's an easy trap to fall into; I know I've done it!

Betty Beguiles May 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I think that's an EXCELLENT point, Maureen. Looking nice should be the cherry on top, not the whole sundae. ;)

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary May 3, 2011 at 3:23 pm

I love this question! It's one I've thought about a lot. I agree that taking care of our appearances *is* important and *is* a way to bless our spouses and others. But can it be taken to far? Yeah.

I don't know if this is right or wrong, but here's the litmus test I use:

When I put effort into my appearance, especially if it's to go out in public, I ask myself if any part of my goal is to feel or be perceived as being better than other people. To me, that's the heart of vanity — wanting to be valued more than other people.

If I can honestly say that I just want to put my best foot forward, and would honestly be at peace with it if I were still considered the least pretty woman in the room, then I know that my efforts probably aren't about vanity. :)

Betty Beguiles May 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm

That's a fantastic litmus test, Jen. I always appreciate simple, reliable ways to test my motives. I'll remember this one. Thanks so much!

Nicole May 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I agree with what Maureen and Jennifer said. It's important to look nice, but if you think all you need is to look nice, and that looking nice will solve some sort of problem in your life because you're going through the motions and "doing the right thing," it can be a problem.

Erin May 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm

My husband helps me with this balance so much by reminding me that I am beautiful naturally, but a bit of makeup or a pretty dress just enhances my beauty. He lets me know how much he appreciates my efforts. And yet when I express my worries that I might be wearing too much makeup or buying too many unnecessary girly items, he says, "No need to be high maintenence — you're already beautiful."

It's hard to balance sometimes, but having a best friend who will be totally honest with me… he makes all the difference. I'm lucky.

Cari May 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Proverbs 31, you know, the one about "the ideal wife" includes this in the litany of fabulous things this Godly woman does:

She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet.
She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

So clearly, the ideal wife cares not only about her clothing and appearance, but also that of her household. These are righteous traits, and not vain ones, because later in the proverb, we are told:

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised."

Clearly, they're not saying Beauty is wrong, since we know that God is the source of all Beauty. I think the fact that lowercase beauty is contrasted to a woman who fears the Lord is telling. It shows that the ultimate purpose of everything we do as wives, looking good included, should be to bring glory to God's kingdom. After all, Matthew 6:16-17 tells us clearly that God doesn't want his followers to look stinky and dirty and disheveled.

Amy May 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Love this post. I struggle with this too. I agree with you that it is important for my husband and children to see that I care about myself, and about presenting myself as someone who is happy and put-together. It's part of being feminine! I try not to go overboard. I try to think about whether I'm wearing something because I enjoy it and it makes me feel good, and not to draw attention to myself.

elena maria vidal May 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Great post! It has always been inspiring for me to see the Catholic mother of a large family who looks nice and has kept her figure. I realize it is not possible for all and much depends on the leisure available for exercise as well as health considerations. (I certainly have not kept my figure and I have only been blessed with one child.) However, when I see women with lots of children who still take the trouble to look tidy and put together it gives me hope.

nicole May 3, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I have things to say, but no time to say them right now. I'll try to come back!

MrsDarwin May 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm

It's also helpful to remember that ugliness or frumpiness does not equal holiness or modesty. Sometimes it just denotes laziness or sloth.

This is not to denigrate those who through true trials of their vocations (caregivers, mothers of infants) legitimately have a difficult time getting cleaned up for the day. I've been there. But just as making oneself beautiful is not the same thing as vanity, not making oneself beautiful is often far removed from unworldliness.

Amy May 3, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Excellent post, and on a topic I have spent a lot of time thinking about! My take on it has ben that IF my primary goal in looking 'nice' is to put forth a good example and a witness for the Lord then I should be happy with clothing that stops after accomplishing this. I try not to wear anything unmended or fraying or terribly out of date! And I make an effort to go every month and get my hair cut and so forth and take the time in my schedule to put on lipgloss or have a shower! (I have a little one, this is an accomplishment some days.) And when I fidn myself getting a little too 'into it' I re-evaluate my choices by looking at them through the lense of 'good example and witness'. I love shoes, for example, but no matter how much I love a pair of shoes I might see I keep my 'church shoes' to two pairs. That's it. They both look clean and neat and pretty and I like them both but more than that becomes vanity for me. I just WANT the shoes, I don't need them to accomplish my goal. So, yes, look beautiful, but look beautiful for a reason and constantly check yourself to see if your beauty is still for God's glory or just to fulfill a personal need.

Cari May 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Amy, as a shoe lover, your comment struck me. I wonder if people (not directing this at you necessarily) extend the same standards of limitations to other decorative objects? Say, for example, pictures to hang on the wall? Does someone agonize about the question of "does buying this photograph" or "does framing this fingerpainting" equal pride? Or vanity?

I've never heard anyone make the argument that our surroundings should be as limited as our clothing choices. That somehow planting too many pansies out front is putting you in danger of sin, for instance.

This is a brand new thought to me, and one I'm wondering if anyone else has any comments on? If I view shoes or dresses as artwork, is this vanity?

I'm so sorry that I didn't express this clearly. I'll think about it for a while and see if I can get my words together.

nicole May 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Now that I've read the comments I don't know if I have anything to add. I will say that when I feel good about how I look I am a happier person and more inclined to keep things together in general. Our outward appearance is often taken as an indicator of our interior self, fairly or not. I don't want to be appear self-absorbed or immodest but I do want to convey a contentment with my life as much as I can. Your readers have given such words of wisdom!

J.C. May 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm

I think Jennifer really summed it up perfectly. I feel exactly the same way, but I don't think I could have articulated it so well–which is why she is a writer! :) I used to also love how St. JoseMaria Escriva addressed the topic of dress. I don't have those books with me now to consult his precise language, but if I recall correctly he said that you should dress according to the conventions of your family and profession. He also used to talk about being natural. If vanity is your predominant motive, it will be accompanied by conflict or envy or selfishness. Make-up is not intrinsically wrong, but if it's making you late to Mass, it might be wrong for you to insist on finishing. Buying more shoes than you actually need isn't necessarily wrong, but it might be if the excess causes disorder or makes you unsatisfied with the size of your closet or you are hiding the purchases from your husband! It's ironic how much vanity is such an interior disposition. Like in most spiritual matters, you have to honestly assess your motives for the sake of holiness and not for how you appear to others (barring scandal…).

Brianna Heldt May 3, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Such an interesting post! Yes, I struggle with this too. I can't stand vanity in myself or in others, and yet I do wear makeup and like to look nice. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and the Chesterton quote–excellent!

One thing that bothers me is when wearing makeup is automatically equivalent to looking nice. I don't think anyone should have to paint their face to be perceived as a valid human being who isn't letting herself go. :) I do wear makeup when I go out, but I tell my daughters that God has made us beautiful without it.

Bonnie May 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I believe that how we dress reflects our respect and love for others and ourselves. We dress nicely for Mass to honor God. But I also dress my kids in "cute" clothes and I try to dress in a nice outfit with at least mascara on for playdates, the grocery store, visiting grandma, etc. I want everyone – from the grocery bagger to my mom to know that they are worth the effort.

God is Beauty and I think that when I put forth beauty I am honoring and glorifying Him. That's the attitude I try to keep when I feel disheartened by my weight gain and I just want to give up and live in sweat pants and sloppy pony tails for the rest of my life.

I also feel that looking good is a form of evangelizing. I want my life – with 3 kids 3 and under – to look appealing because to a lot of people it isn't . They want 2 kids spaced 3 years apart and can't imagine anything else. I want people to see that holiness doesn't mean sack cloth and ashes. I know that True Beauty really does come from within – and it is the peace and joy that comes from loving and following Christ – and that True Beauty can be better displayed by a bright smile, cute hair, and a nice outfit. Of course this is not an absolute but in the culture we live in – and probably all cultures throughout time – it matters.

I honestly think these things through on a bi-weekly basis while I stand in my closet or consider taking the kids somewhere at 10am in the pajamas. I don't know if it furthers the conversation, but there they are: my thoughts.

Jeanne G. May 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I've been thinking about this question lately, since I read 1 Peter 3, where it says that "The affectation of an elaborate hairdress, the wearing of golden jewelry, or the donning of rich robes is not for you." I even discussed it with my husband. We came to the conclusion that it is okay to braid my hair, wear jewelry, or wear pretty dresses, as long as that doesn't take up my time, and I don't do it to seem better than others. Another important thing, we agreed, is that like others have said, our life is attractive to others. If non-Catholics see me as a frumpy wife with no care for her appearance, they will not be interested in the reason for my hope. So, I don't think it is inherently vain.

melody May 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm

All right, Miss Betty… you've got a great post goin' on here. The last one was good, too… and the one before… great topic with great thoughts and questions. In fact, you've thrown me into mini-crisis (only partially kidding).

Here's my deal… I have neglected my own blog and side projects for days upon days because all of my available brain is fixated on whipping my slovenly fashion sense into shape. Your post about discipline struck a serious cord. (btw, the book is coming home from the library to meet me today.) I need to get a grip.

I've been thinking about daily wardrobe and came up with some ideas. I laid them out before my husband and asked his opinion and got lovely bunches of "yes, that sounds good" "Sure, honey" "That sounds like a great plan" and also… "Show me pictures" and "How much is it going to cost me?" (smart guy)

I realized I'm a slob during the day because I don't want to "use up" my nice clothes. And that seemed weird and immature. And as you said so well, I should reflect some dignity on my family and vocation. I plan on revealing my transformation to the world (or rather, all 4 people who follow my blog) after I get some packages and pictures and I'll post a link here. The new me! (Thank you, UPS.) I anticipate setbacks and tons of imperfection… but at least I have a plan and a firmer idea of what I think I am called to be exteriorly.

Regarding the vanity issue? I know that it clings to even my best intentions. But I plan on banking on that great Chesterton quote and the love and mercy of God. :)

MK May 3, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I actually find that looking nice helps me to focus more on other people. When I feel like I look horrible, I tend to just obsess about that, meaning I'm thinking of myself way too much and other people too little. If I feel like I look nice, I end up focusing more on others. Plus, I feel more confident, so I tend to be more outgoing about being friendly.

MK May 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm

One other reason to add to your great list. In addition to setting an example, dressing nicely is a way to create more beauty. I think fashion participates in art to a certain extent. I love it when the world is enriched by people dressing with beauty, just as I love it when the world is enriched with beautiful gardens or buildings. We don't have a problem with people trying to make other things beautiful — churches, homes, gardens, municipal architecture, etc. … why should we have a problem with creating beauty on our persons? I think of dressing as just another attempt to create beauty, just as I try to create it when I serve a pretty dessert or decorate my apartment.

A priest once told me that looking nice is charitable. I liked that idea. Not, of course, that we can always maintain that standard, but I liked the idea of blessing our fellow men and women by creating something pleasant to look at.

Elisa May 3, 2011 at 11:57 pm

I'm loving this post & all the comments.

Judy@Learningtoletgo May 4, 2011 at 7:08 am

Great post! I have two thoughts to contribute here. The first one comes from when, in my forties, I was studying to get my teaching certificate. I was sitting in classes and noticed that it made a difference to me if the teacher had put some effort into his or her appearance. (There was one fellow who always looked as if he had just gotten out of bed.) It seemed more respectful to the class if the teacher was nicely dressed–and less distracting, too! As a previous "hippie chick", I tried to learn from that, and as a teacher took care with what I wore and how I looked. Not out of vanity, but out of respect for my students.

Now I'm retired and nearly 70, and my second thought comes in. I have remembered how my mother-in-law took care to look nice, even in her old age, and how it cheered us up when we visited or took her out to dinner, just seeing how pleasant she looked. It has made me take care not to relapse into frumpiness, or just figure it doesn't matter how I look.

Both these cases point, I think, to the fact that we, men or women, have a certain responsibility to the community (whatever that might be for you) to look the best we can, to put some effort into our appearance. In North America, it's possible we have come to accept a certain level of slovenliness as acceptable–but it shouldn't be! You really can raise other people's spirits by looking your best! Let's think about what we might owe to others!

Michelle May 4, 2011 at 11:08 am

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. A clean, beautiful and appropriately decorated church honors and pleases God; it should be the same with our bodies. Naturally, the amount of money spent on adornment should be in line with our station in life (just as a poor church will not have as much gold and marble as a cathedral in a large, wealthy city). But to pay no mind to the condition of our clothes or the appearance of our bodies is disrespectful to God who made us and dwells in us.

I am most guilty of careless dress and appearance and am working hard to make myself wear only clothing that fits well and to take the time for makeup, even if I stay at home that day. I'm not saying I should wear pearls while scrubbing toilets, but there is no reason to wear (or OWN) ripped or stained clothing (unless one is painting or doing very dirty work). And honestly, most days, I don't do very dirty work. An apron suffices to protect me while I wash the dishes.

Abigail May 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm

SO COOL Miss Hallie! It's always so refreshing to stop by your blog. Like a glass of lemonaid on a hot summer day.

Well, I just want to raise my hand and say I'm one of the snotty FRUMPY girls out there. I normally hate make-up, hate messing with my frizzy curly hair, I like to wear my glasses instead of messing with contacts in the morning. You get the picture. I thought my lack of "concern" made me more holy.

As I've grown in my Carmelite training, I've started to care a teeny bit more about my appearance. Something Mother Teresa said stuck in my head. She gave her nuns the poorest cloth for their habits but she made them repair any tears immediately. "Remember always that you are a bride of Christ…"

Emily May 4, 2011 at 4:44 pm

This is such an awesome post! I don't think it's vain to care about your appearance, I mean, you want to look presentable (which sometimes I definitely struggle with when I have 8 am classes). Sometimes I'll wear my hair down or dress up for no reason just because I know my boyfriend is really happy when I do. We have to take care of our appearance and not look like slobs everyday, but we also have to do it in a modest way. It's nice when those times that I do dress nicer I get compliments and makes me happy!

JMB May 4, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Vanity is buying the LV bag when you can't afford it so that you can impress your friends.
Vanity is choosing friends who you think can better you socially.
Vanity is thinking that your husband isn't as hot as you are.
Vanity is believing that if your kids look like they stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad you will lead that kind of perfect life.
Vanity is feeling sorry for yourself for getting older.

Anonymous May 4, 2011 at 6:07 pm

*sigh* I'll be honest… I NEVER think about this (vanity vs looking good for nobler reasons). I'm doing good to try to look good at all. I grew up with the notion that any woman who looked good (whether she tried or not) was leading men into sin. No, I don't just mean immodesty here — I mean basic "pretty-ness." So I tried to look, well, sloppy. And I suceeded. And was praised by certain figures in my life. So it got to be a [bad] habit. Needless to say, it's easier to be sloppy than to get out of yoga pants, straighten my (wild, frizzy) hair, and put a little make up on. And easier in this case is not "holier." So… I never consider myself vain for fixing myself up a bit (or even a bit more) — I think of it as an act of service to everyone who has to look at me — especially my hubby. I'm sure most did not grow up with the strange message I was sent about a woman's looks, but even still it never hurts to be reminded that, well, the alternative to "vanity" is just plain easier. So let's be sure we're not just being lazy when we're telling ourselves we're resisting temptations to be vain!

Melanie B May 4, 2011 at 9:10 pm

A little off-topic; but maybe it will help clarify what vanity is and isn't….

Cari said: "I've never heard anyone make the argument that our surroundings should be as limited as our clothing choices. That somehow planting too many pansies out front is putting you in danger of sin, for instance."

Well, I'll make that argument. I do think that planting too many pansies or hanging too many paintings could be an occasion of sin. If you're doing it in a spirit of pride, wanting to seem better than everyone else, then yes you're acting out of vanity. If you're doing it because you want your garden to be prettier than Mrs Jones' next door, then there's probably a spiritual problem. If you're redecorating because you feel a need to keep up, to look trendy, especially if you're spending more than you can really afford on flowers or artwork, then yeah I'd say you're being vain.

I'd love to totally redo our garden; but it's not in the budget so I just do a little, what I can afford. If I went out and put a whole bunch of flats of pansies and pots of petunias and trees and bushes and bulbs on my credit card anyway, that would be vanity. And that to me is actually a greater temptation than spending too much on shoes. I've never been all that excited about shoes.

Anonymous May 4, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Helen at Mary Vitamin made a comment once about dressing nicely (vs sloppily) being actually the more modest choice, since you're not drawing attention (negative attention, but attention) to your clothing choices that way. Also that as "queen" of her domestic castle, she owed it to her "king" not to go out in a torn skirt. The comment about Mother Teresa's nuns mending tears reminded me of this. I think modesty, as the via media, may mean focusing on different things depending on what a person's strengths and weaknesses are. Perhaps for some people, dressing more simply is their way toward modesty, but for someone like me who has (aside from the gauntlet that is jr high/high school) never cared much about clothes and fashion, I may be called to pay *more* attention as a means of loving those around me and being a good witness.

–Amanda

Laura May 5, 2011 at 1:22 am

I think we need to stop equating beauty with vanity. After all, Mary is always called beautiful by the people lucky enough to be granted an aparition. She is the best example of womanhood that we've got and she didn't skip combing her hair or had clothes made from trash…

Sarah May 5, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Haven't had time to read all the comments, but great post. I like the GK Chesterton approach. :) Honestly, given that I am often tempted to "let myself go" because "people shouldn't judge" and I'm tired, I usually WILL make the effort even if I recognize vanity because it's a discipline that also serves greater purposes. Will I ever get rid of ALL vanity in me? I hope so, but I definitely know that regardless, I need to put fort the effort having tested the waters in the other extreme lol.

Juliana May 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I struggle with this one too, but have lately realized that if I look nice (and put the effort in), my day goes better (the whole if mama ain't happy…theory of life).

I would add the following blog that I recently discovered and can't say enough good things about: aintnomomjeans.com, which strives to not only give fashion advice to post-partum mommy bodies, but also to help one discover personal style. So helpful, as my style seemed to be stuck somewhere in the late '90s.

Juliana May 6, 2011 at 6:09 pm

Cari–

I just read your comment about shoes as artwork, and while I don't think it is vanity to view clothing as such, it can be a sign of acquisitiveness. I think we all struggle with having too much in our wardrobes (which can paradoxically make us feel like there is nothing to wear!), and while I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with owning 32 pairs of shoes, there might be a spiritual burden attached to overwhelming possessions (and I would extend this thought not only to clothing and shoes but to the rest of our possessions as well).

I've found through the years that the less 'stuff' I have around, be it clothing, books, furniture, or even religious articles like icons, the less psychically burdened I am.

A penny for the pond anyway.

bearing May 6, 2011 at 6:45 pm

@Melanie B:

Well, I'll make that argument. I do think that planting too many pansies or hanging too many paintings could be an occasion of sin. If you're doing it in a spirit of pride, wanting to seem better than everyone else, then yes you're acting out of vanity. If you're doing it because you want your garden to be prettier than Mrs Jones' next door, then there's probably a spiritual problem. If you're redecorating because you feel a need to keep up, to look trendy, especially if you're spending more than you can really afford on flowers or artwork, then yeah I'd say you're being vain.

Still, it's important to note that even if you do it because — or partly because — of pride or vanity, it's not actually a sin to plant the pansies, to beautify the yard. The sin is entirely interior (provided you don't go about it illicitly, e.g., steal the money to buy the pansies, enslave a gardener, disobey the reasonable requests of your pansy-pollen-allergic husband, etc.).

You can go right ahead and beautify your yard in your pride and vanity. To commit the act of beauty is still good.

The change of heart demanded of you can come afterward.

Meredith May 6, 2011 at 8:46 pm

From Garance Dore: What is elegance?

Morgan May 6, 2011 at 11:21 pm

This is why I love the Catholic blogging community. You all have articulated what I knew in my heart to be true, but just couldn't reason out. Thanks for posting Betty!

Karen May 7, 2011 at 2:34 am

I think this Mom has the best reason to have a "hot bod" at the end of her list. It is my new goal:

"I thought about my true goals in fitness: to have a healthy physique, to be able to join a pick up game of flag football if the opportunity arose, to be able to kayak with my husband, to be able to keep up with the kids, to have enough strength of movement to be able to rock climb, swim, scuba dive, or hike whenever I had the chance. More importantly, for me, was the ability to react quickly and competently if a life-threatening situation ever arose, especially when I was with my kids."
For more, see http://wellnessmama.com/1098/wellness-mamas-fitness-overview-how-to-get-in-shape-without-the-treadmill/

Anonymous May 9, 2011 at 2:51 am

Does anyone else read these discussions (which happen fairly often) and wonder if she is looked on with distaste by her Catholic mother peers that she would like to get to know better, since she can't reasonably devote the time and money to looking a whole lot better than she does now? (I think I've asked this elsewhere in the past and essentially been told, "Yes, you can.")

Melanie B May 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Anonymous, I sometimes worry about that. Are people judging me by my appearance? My conclusion, if the way I look is keeping them from making my greater acquaintance, I'm not sure I want to be friends with them.

Sarah May 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Anon – strangely, I don't feel that way. I don't have kids yet, but I have many nieces and nephews as well as friends with kids, and even as an outsider I see how much work goes into parenting. Sometimes, it's all a woman can do to just take a shower. I don't think people should judge based on looks, but it can be helpful for me to receive encouragement from other women that when I *can* do a little extra to look put together (which these days I often can and must due to having a corporate job), it's worth the effort.

Anonymous May 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Sarah, I wonder then why it's so easy for women who are themselves mothers to say these things. I guess they might say it is mostly addressed to themselves, but there seems to be much exhortation of others not to neglect their appearance. Jeanne commented, "If non-Catholics see me as a frumpy wife with no care for her appearance, they will not be interested in the reason for my hope." Seriously? If someone writes another off as a "frumpy wife with no care for her appearance," is she likely looking deeply enough to be interested either way? Maybe, but can we make our decisions about how we spend our time and money and energy on this sort of possibility?

I don't know why the dwelling on frumpiness as a potential neglect of responsibilities is more welcome among the moderate orthodox than statements about, say, acceptable reasons to avoid pregnancy being few and far between, or in a perhaps less morally fraught prudential area than decisions about procreation, acceptable reasons not to breastfeed? Why is care for appearance not also seen as a dangerous area for possibly breeding feelings of inappropriate guilt or inadequacy?

Sarah May 9, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Good questions, Anon! I'd have to say that I do feel that the issue of appearance is covered quite frequently from all angles at least in my area and on this blog from what I've seen lurking so far. But you do bring up an interesting observations regarding pressure to look a certain way… whether that be frumpy (I know some circles that seem to advocate dressing down) or dressing in skirts all the time (I don't even have to pick up kids, and I would find this difficult) or dressing up or… the list goes on. :) I think, at least from my outsider's perspective, there are few topics more "hot button" and divisive than parenting-related topics in Christian circles – especially among the parents themselves. Opinions fly not just about appearances but about everything. And groups form. I think it's sad and unfortunate when women place so much pressure on themselves and others to the point of division. Still, the social pressures and issues that come from discussing these topics doesn't mean we should stop discussing them, imho. I am glad, as one who errs more on the "dress down" side in daily life, that I have encountered such discussions. When they are done well (and I agree they aren't always done well), they give great motivation and food for thought!

Suburbanbanshee May 10, 2011 at 11:55 am

I'm not a wife or a mother and live alone. I guarantee you that if I don't look after my middle-aged appearance, it can quickly slide from "forgot to look in the mirror" to "forgot to perform basic hygiene tasks" and into "looks to be suffering from mental illness". And frankly, it's a pretty basic human need (right up there with food, clothing, bathing, etc.) to be neat and well-dressed. To do otherwise is to disrespect the templeness of your body.

Even among primates, being well-groomed and healthy-looking is one of the most important signs that one is healthy and taking care of oneself. Among humans, it shows a maintenance of civilization. St. Francis de Sales says that it behooves religious people to dress reasonably nicely and not too ridiculously far behind the fashions, either.

Vanity comes way way down the line.

bearing May 11, 2011 at 6:36 pm

" St. Francis de Sales says that it behooves religious people to dress reasonably nicely and not too ridiculously far behind the fashions, either."

Yeah, and there is that bit about:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen…"

Give "fasting" a broader meaning, and I quickly wonder whether dressing-frumpy-to-prove-you're-modest-and-humble isn't maybe included in the admonition here not to "disfigure your face."

Anonymous May 11, 2011 at 8:19 pm

I have to agree with Anon. Conversations like these make me a little uncomfortable. Especially when expense is neglected. Who CARES what I look like. It's not one of the Ten Commandments. Not even close.

bearing May 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I can think of a few people who care what I look like, and I don't begrudge them the caring. Actually, I'm rather glad.

bearing May 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

And speaking of the ten commandments: There have been times when to neglect my appearance would be to fail to "honor my father and my mother." And certainly how I dress on Sunday is part of how I keep the Sabbath day holy.

How I dress and comport myself is also a big part of loving and honoring my husband, which may not be part of the ten commandments, but it was certainly part of my wedding vows and therefore something I am bound by.

zenith15 June 10, 2011 at 4:43 am

Just found your blog today–love your posts and your beautiful sense of fashion for young moms–lovely!

One thing saddened me about it though–as a plus size woman, I always feel left out of fashion discussions and articles about how to look nice for one's husband. There is always the implication that if one is overweight, well, that just negates any effort you might put into looking nice–as though first and foremost you MUST start with a fit and trim figure or why bother at all?

Trying to shop for fashionable clothes for a plus sized figure is another depressing exercise in near futility, and as I walk though the main aisles of department stores to get to the hidden "women's sizes" in the back corner, my mouth waters at the delicate, frothy confections, the cool white linen peasant blouses, the candy colored summer dresses, etc. Not all, but many of those items could be made for plus sizes and would be very attractive, but so few companies or designers do so, and even those that do, such as Lane Bryant, basically present the same few styles over and over in different colors or patterns.

As a younger woman with a trim figure, I enjoyed fashion and putting together a nice outfit as much as the next woman. Since gaining weight, however, I no longer am able to enjoy shopping, and if I DO find the rare becoming outfit, I dare not wear it around the house as I can't afford to wear out one of the very few becoming things I have.

I am sorry for whining–I know it is my own fault I am overweight, though I truly do not eat nearly as much as it would appear I do. I just wish that I too could pick up a few bright, becoming outfits for home wear–feminine things rather than stretched out men's size 2X T shirts and sweat pants.

Thanks anyhow for listening.

Sandy C. June 24, 2011 at 12:48 pm

@Zenith, Keep looking for cute plus-size clothing! It's out there, I promise. Since my baby is 21 years old and I'm still plus-size, I've accepted that I need to dress for reality. Recently, I've upgraded my wardrobe due to working almost full-time and to traveling to business functions with my husband. I've found several favorite sources for clothing in my size and my lifestyle, age, etc.: Coldwater Creek (expensive but I find great deals in the online outlet/clearance area)and Lands' End. I shop mostly online at these two stores and rarely have to return things because I've learned my size at each store and for various clothing items and styles. My two favorite brick and mortar stores are Cato and Dress Barn (I'm in a small town in the midwest). Shopping is no longer the torture it used to be and I feel confident and prepared for any occasion most of the time. Hang in there and don't despair.

Melissa September 2, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Hello,

I heard about this Web site by listening to EWTN’s Open Line Program with host Patrick Madrid. He suggested to a caller that she check it out and he spoke very positively about Betty Beguiles, now I understand why! I am new to this Web site and am loving it so far!

Thanks to everyone for your insights on the temptation of vanity. You have been so tremendously helpful. I’d like to know how you handle the financial aspect of this issue. Does anyone struggle with spending money on things that might seem frivolous, like hair and make up?

The make up post was fantastic. Thank you! I was wondering if there might be a post about hair, products, style, prices for services, etc.

Does anyone watch The Catholic View for Women on EWTN? You can catch back episodes on You Tube. It’s great. I think you all might like it.

Best to all of you.

T. February 17, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I may get a little off topic but I think caring about your appearance for reasons in which make YOU feel comfortable or more confident are very important. I have first hand experience taking so much pride and time on how i looked for work related reasons, and found that I used to be a much more happier and confident person, examples: taking care of my hair ( going to salon regularly) tanning, teeth whitening, nails, clothes, shoes, purses. I wasnt materialistic, its just that those things made me feel comfortable and well put together, i looked and felt like what i imagine myself to have been, when i closed my eyes, i saw myself and liked what i saw, I then met a guy (he too was image obsessed with himself) and we fell in love, that was a little under a year ago, since then I almost feel I have abruptly stopped taking care of my appearance, leading me into a depression i felt BAD for wanting to look and feel sexy- I haven’t worn heels in almost a year, I felt like i was fake and didnt know who I really was, i started to question my past and who i had became , if that was really me? or was it all for show and attention? and now that ive found the man of my dreams, do i feel i dont need to worry about appearance as much as i did? or am i wrong for wanting to glam it up with fake eyelashes and red lipstick every now and then? i’m slowly starting to take steps to start to feel as good as i did before, mentally more so than phsyical, like knowing Im beautiful inside as well as outside- thinking each of my emotions and feelings out and questioning wether or not im being rational, or jumping to conclusions about what other may saw about me, or what/who im trying to portay myself as, You cant go wrong with being yourself, but is there a line to draw on vanity? what is healthy and what is not? how do you justify taking care of your appearance for your own confidence and mental well being? how do you let your signatifigant other/spouse know that you aren’t doing if for the other of another man or perso-, but for him to know I still want him to SEE the same girl he fell in love with- not just KNOW im the same girl. yeaa sorry i know that was a two in one story.. felt like venting/writing.

Anabelle- Catholic Novelist June 30, 2012 at 8:52 am

Oh my, I was just thinking about this topic and in fact wrote a post on it based on St. Francis de Sales’ take on Vanity and Dressing on the Introduction to the Devout life. My take is this: if my motive is I want to be the best dressed person in any room that’s clearly vanity. If I want to please my husband, its love.
Anabelle- Catholic Novelist recently posted..The Mother of All Parenting BooksMy Profile

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: