I like to think I am not terribly vain, but that doesn’t mean I am not pleased by compliments or stung by rebuke. By not terribly vain I mean I don’t revolve around what other people think of me, or strive to receive compliments. I grew up around quite a bit of that and having been a participant in the role of praiser I can tell you it is both exhausting to have to constantly give the compliments and, it seemed to me, nearly paralyzing to live life waiting for them. Add to that the fact that we all age and at some point don’t look like we are in our youthful prime, because we are in fact not in our youthful prime except for when we are, well then being vain can become crippling in so many ways. Here I think about depression, dollars spent on surgery, recovery time from surgery, resentment, hurtful comments, all the ways the narcissism of being the aging queen in all the fairy tales brings her to her lonely end (or his – not judging based on gender).
The other thing for me is that I basically don’t trust compliments as much more than social tools for relationship building. It’s a first world version of tribal gift giving rituals: establish order, define relationships, create alliances. So when someone says something complimentary to me, in particular about appearance my reaction is generally to consider what this person might be looking for from me. That’s a crappy way to think I know, but again having spent so many years in my youth being the person responsible for doling out the many compliments and accolades needed to function I just have a real hard time feeling the genuineness. I’m polite, I say thank you, and then I move on because really, what do you do with a compliment anyway.
About a month ago though I received what I felt like was a compliment, and maybe I am becoming more vain as I get older, or maybe it was because the person giving it had absolutely nothing to gain from the offering, but I loved it, it felt great for no particular reason but that I loved the sense of what it said about me, or made me think about me. A TSA agent at the airport, not people as a group you generally get compliments from, said to me, “you’re too young to know but you look just like Mick Jagger’s first wife.” Wow! The young part I didn’t care about because I don’t actually have a problem with aging, good thing since I also don’t have a choice. And I did know who it was. I replied, “Bianca,” and he said “yeah that one, just like her.” Wow again. In fact I think I look nothing like Bianca Jagger but I was absolutely thrilled by the compliment. Sophisticated, glamorous, gypsyesque, a little unconventional– everything I want to be. The rest of the day I had a bit more of a smile on my face, me and Bianca, basically twins, woot woot!
And then today at the airport the clerk at Starbucks greeted me by saying, “good morning sir.” He corrected himself on closer inspection of the customer but all the same it was whatever the unintended opposite of a compliment is. He didn’t mean to insult me, I know it wasn’t personal, and I don’t care too much if I have gone from Bianca to not. But still I thought, maybe a little lip gloss today wouldn’t be a bad idea.