PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Sunday, September 03, 2006

 

In vain


Have you heard about the story of a nun who possessed a pair of eyes so beautiful they drove a male admirer nuts? The nun allegedly decided to gouge out her eyes and presented them to her admirer so he wouldn’t bother her any longer. What about the story of another nun who prayed so hard to God that she’d grow a beard so she wouldn’t be similarly bothered for her beauty? What happened was she indeed grew one! And how about the one about yet another nun, I suppose, who sliced off her two breasts to get rid as well of a male admirer pestering her for that shapely part of her anatomy? She placed her sliced breasts on a plate and, after several years, she came to be known as that patron saint who holds a platter of two bells, the breast totally obscured as some other instrument.

I gathered these freakish stories from different sources that recount the lives of saints past. While these women literally took great pains to fight off vanity, perhaps in accordance with Qoheleth's (Ecclesiastes') admonition ("vanity of vanities; all is vanity"), today’s women, and especially so, men, do the opposite of taking great pains to augment their vanity.

I am vain myself and I’m the last person who would condemn efforts at making oneself pleasing to the eyes. Even the Bible itself has some passages that can be used as an excuse to keep oneself arrayed in jewels and steeped in perfume all the time. Indeed, while there are Biblical passages that extol beauty that comes from within (wear the cloak of compassion, deck yourselves with love and kindness, etc.), there are also passages that gush at the loveliness and regality of certain women, indicating levels of feminine refinement impossible to achieve without the right blush-on, mascara (henna?), face powder, conditioner (aloe?), and other ceauty accoutrements.

I wonder why such courageous nuns never made it to feminists’ list of heroes considering their targets were lascivious men, the arch-enemy of militant sisterhood the world over. The greater motive of those sainted women, as I see it, must be to keep their focus on loving God, not to explicitly condemn vanity. Anyone or anything distracting them from their Lover must be dealt with immediately at all cost. It just so happened that essential parts of their femininity got tragically maimed in the process.

Ah, but I’m probably deluding myself. What’s the definition of vanity in the first place? If it is about being overly conscious about how we look, then it must be vanity, especially when it hinders us from doing what we ought. Whereas if it’s just a matter of wanting to feel good about oneself or wanting to be charitable to one's neighbors, then it ceases to be vanity.

But where do we draw the line? When is 'overly' overly? What if it’s a matter of wanting to actually please and attract others, particularly the opposite sex, and not just to avoid offending them? Is it bad to want to look our best? When does self-love start to become really selfish? Is it wrong to love ourselves at all? Is it only natural to want to be attractive, particularly to the opposite sex? Isn’t it but right that before we can love others, we should feel good about ourselves?

Apparently the answer to all these questions is yes. These questions, however, can be put to the test if we are suddenly met with physically disfiguring events in life. Like, if you grew a zit the size of a lemon that left an ugly scar, would it affect your self-esteem? If you met someone with no legs nor arms, would he be a lesser person than Cindy Crawford or Brad Pitt? Would Mother Teresa be credible if she were clad in a revealing Prada suit and high heels, sported a Piaget watch with obscene studs of diamonds, and bathed in Estee Lauder?

Perhaps the wisdom in vanity lies in staying minimalistic, in the usage of the barest essentials. Besides, who needs cosmetological finery, correctives and augmentation when the aura of beauty from within is more than enough to make us radiate, dazzle and scintillate?

7.13.2001


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