PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

 

In vain


Have you heard 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 a beard! And 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 the 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 breasts totally obscured as some other instruments. (I gathered these freakish stories from Ambeth Ocampo’s column in the Inquirer.)

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. I remember beauty queen Gemma Cruz Araneta who, in a magazine article, referred to the Bible itself as an excuse to keep oneself arrayed in jewels and steeped in perfume even if one will just be washing the toilet bowl. (Of course, I’m exaggerating.) Boy, she made me feel good about the fact that I used astringent for my whiteheads back then. Indeed, while a Biblical passage extols 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 regal bearing of certain women, indicating levels of feminine refinement impossible to achieve without the right blush-on, mascara (henna?), face powder, conditioner (aloe?), and hair gel.

I wonder why such courageous nuns never made it to feminists’ list of superheroes considering their targets were inordinately 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 involved.

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, right? Especially to the point 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 thy neighbors, then it ceases to be vanity, right?

But where do we draw the line? When is overly vain overly vain? 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? What if it's our job to look our best? When does self-love start to become selfish? Is it wrong to love ourselves at all? Is it wrong to want to be attractive? Isn’t it but right that before we can love others, we should feel good about ourselves?

Apparently 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 and stilettoes, sported a Piaget watch with obscene studs of diamonds, and bathed in Estee Lauder?
Hahaha. Did I make you feel unnecessarily guilty? It made me so, too.

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 an aura of beauty-from-within is more than enough to make one radiate, dazzle and scintillate?

7.13.2001


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