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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vanity, Thy Name is Freak

OK, enough of the serious stuff (at least for a few minutes). I confess I’m not above having a giggle at the sheer mindboggling idiocy of human vanity. We humans do like to puff ourselves up, preening ourselves and strutting around like peacocks. Even I’ve been known to do it. It’s called my workout. In my defense, however, I have done away with the short shorts that I wore with pride as a younger man (just quietly).

Plastic surgery is probably the ultimate expression of vanity. I almost put a picture of Michael (you know which one) at the top of this post, but felt so bad about the image I found I couldn't bring myself to do it. So I used a more flattering example - Kylie Minigue. Still, you probably saw the pictures of twins Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff, who attended the Cannes film festival recently. I confess I’d never heard of these guys till yesterday, but apparently they had a hit sci-fi show back in the 80s. Looks like these guys watched a few too many episodes of their own show, as they appear to have morphed into ETs themselves, courtesy of the surgeon’s knife.

This is what they looked like when they were heartthrobs in the 80s.

And this is the magical transformation.

I guess we might congratulate them for looking younger than their age – they are in the 60s apparently.

There are plenty of others who have just about worn out their surgeons’ knives. Jocelyn Wildenstein, for example, has had at least six plastic surgery operations. Maybe she is casting for ETs Mum in The Return of ET. 


(just a warning - this one is not nice at all - so I'll make it small)





The most well known of course was Michael Jackson, who went from a handsome young black man to the unfortunate appearance of middle age, wig and all.

In the modern age advertising and consumer culture have elevated appearances to high status. If your only impression of East Asia was the media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all woman over 35 with anything but an anemic white complexion have been exterminated. They are almost non-existent on television. But not on the public transport. I see numerous older women, and plenty with dark skin tone on the MTR (subway) in Hong Kong. I can only speculate that carefully placed snipers outside Hong Kong’s TV studios seem to have ensured the public never have to see them on the small screen, though.

Further good news is that the cure for grey hair has also been discovered here, for despite the fact that an inordinate number of teens and 20-somethings in this part of the world are beginning to go prematurely grey, all trace of the evil white hair disappears by the time men and women are 30. Why, even China’s leaders have discovered the magic of permanently black hair! When even our wise leaders succumb to vanity, how can we blame others for doing the same?

Chinese President Hu Jinatau (mid 60s)
 China's former President Jian Zemin (in his mid 80s)
OK, let’s not be too hypocritical. Although it varies in expression and degree from person to person, vanity is a normal human experience, and stems from the ego’s fear of impermanence, which in turn emerges from an over-identification with the body. It’s no use trying to pretend that this vanity doesn’t exist within us. The ego doesn’t respond well to being shamed and beaten.

Nonetheless, it is important for our futures, both as individuals and as a collective species, that we do no regress too far into the superficiality of vanity. Vanity and ego can serve us - as long as we do not become too caught up in its attachment to form. Looking good has benefits in our society, and we all know what they are.

The key to transcendence of vanity is to catch thought as it emerges from the mind. When we look at our reflection, or think about the way we look, a judgment will begin to surface. This takes just a frication of a second, but it can be witnessed. All then has to do is assert the will, and make a decision not to allow the thought to progress. If this is not done, the thought becomes emotionalised, achieving physiological “substance”, and like a snowball rolling down hill, quickly gets out of control. Once the limbic system and amygdale kick in, you are not just dealing with the "thought", but the body and physical brain as well.

If this witnessing of thought is done regularly and with self-discipline, the projections of the mind begin to lose their power. This includes its attachments to things, and its judgments (including g judgment of physical appearance of self and others).

The other problem with the over-identification with the body is that it prevents us from seeing that we are spiritual beings, and that the mind is not dependent upon physical form. The modern world’s infatuation with the material, which emerged from the scientific enlightenment, makes it particularly difficult to see past this delusion.

In the end the decision to explore a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and conscious requires a leap of faith, as both the mass media and science are clouded by this false premise of materialism, the exaltation of surfaces. Even though it can be frustrating to deal with a world that has been drawn int0 the ego’s inability to see beyond form, another way of looking at the situation is to realise how wonderful it is to break free of the stranglehold of mass delusion. To see a present - and a future - beyond  the dominant constructs of the society you live in represents an act of rebellion, and like all rebellion it takes courage to enact. Yet this is a rebellion which does not need to be violent. For the freeing from the delusion of the material permits both a greater love for self and others, even despite our physical imperfections.

Finally, in contrast to the images shown at the beginning of this post, allow me to present the images of two of my favourite teachers.

There is a beauty, like Wisdom, which lies beyond form.

Leonard Jacobson

David R. Hawkins


  1. As a woman, it is difficult to age in a culture that does not respect the process. However, I refuse to bow to that mindset. I am a woman in her 50's, I had my time of looking young, and I'm happy to move on. I love the pictures of your teachers. There is wisdom in wrinkles.

  2. Nancy, I suspect it must be harder for a woman, in just about any culture, to grow old. A woman's value is often associated with her capacity to perform sexually, and reproduce, and any look at advertising confirms this. There are, of course, equal constrictions upon men - to be powerful, in control, successful, brave and so on. The idea of the "soft" male is rejected by numerous cultures (but not all).