Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Reader Question: Goths and Vanity

Dear Lady Mary,
First, allow me to worship you. I love this blog to pieces despite having discovered it only a few days ago and have proceed to devour all of it (I don’t internet much, but the Lady of Manners sent me here). I would gush on, but I do have a question to ask of you. One post in particular caught my eye from way back, the “Five Ways Goth Improved my Self Esteem”. The five points you made resonated well with me, as for a long time I was, to put lightly, a goth-in-denial. I tried to fit in and be the cutesy cheerleader-like persona everyone took me for (I’m rather small, relatively happy-go-lucky, blonde, blue-eyed, dimpled, etc.). I even pretended to be afraid of snakes and bugs and bats because I thought that was what girly-girls did. I know, silly, but despite how hard I tried to fit in, most, I shall say popular, perceptions of dress codes, habits, and attitudes of a “normal girl” (is there even such a thing?) eluded me to a laughable point. As well as trying to be something I wasn’t at heart, I went through several rough patches emotionally, and it just added to the stress of it. But years of fighting with my darkly inclined instincts left me one day going “Screw this” and I happily traded in my pink flats for black stompy boots so to speak. As you have stated, becoming and being Goth for four years has left me with creative expression, wonderful friends and a family that accepts completely, expanded my horizons as you yourself put it, and increased my self-esteem skyward that I may now call myself beautiful and comfortable in my skin. I receive enough compliments that outweigh the jibes and thrown insults, and such leaves me all feel good fuzzy and tingly like a kiwi.

But here (finally) is my question, one I have been discussing with my friends for some time and would appreciate your input on. Because now more than ever I express myself through my style, at what point does self-expression become vanity for us Goths/Alternatives? Many who put down Goths say we do it just for others' attention, but in actuality many of us do it for ourselves. But for many outside the scene, to do things just because it’s what you want to do is not enough to excuse oddity or strangeness. Therein lies the rub. Vanity, to paraphrase Austen, is what we would have others think of us, while pride is what we think of ourselves. But is self-pride at times indistinguishable from vanity? When we spend hours perfecting our look before heading out just to go to classes, raid thrift store after thrift store, or spend money on yet more black eyeliner, what is the final step that crosses the line from expression to vanity however good it makes us feel? To put myself on the line, just yesterday I spent twenty minutes looking for a black lace skirt because it was essential to my outfit and no other would do and whoops, two minutes late to work so sorry will never happen again. As a subculture some of us make such fuss over looking absolutely our gothy best, do we in the end forget the “true essence” of being Goth? Or perhaps vanity is not as simple or as sinful as some make it to be? A question for you that I dearly wish to have your opinion upon.
 Yours Evermore,

Hi MirriorMirror, thank you for writing in to me and for your lovely compliments! I'm glad you've enjoyed my blog and that you're getting in touch with your spooky side. It's always nice to be able to express yourself in a way that's more authentically you.

This is a pretty heavy topic so there's a lot to unpack here. I think my thoughts would be that vanity is a social construct and that looking "nice" (whether that be handsome, beautiful, sexy, pretty, what-have-you) is expected but that taking pride in one's appearance is somehow bad. It's good to look pretty, for example, but if you think you're pretty you are conceited, proud, and vain (or a lot of other mean words.) This is usually gendered towards women, but not necessarily exclusive to them.

So, I'm a little bit wary whenever someone is accused of being vain. I'm very supportive of self-love culture. There is so much societal pressure to hate yourself and try to change yourself to fit one particular mold that to love yourself is a radical act. I love people who take daily selfies because they like how they looked that day, or people who spend a few more minutes on an outfit because it's a bright-spot in their day.

We Goths might spend a lot of time cultivating our aesthetics, from thrifting to DIYing our own clothes to taking selfies that show off our best outfits. That's not to say that Goths spend more time on that than other people. Based on your example, I'm sure there are non-Goths who have accidentally made themselves late because they couldn't find their favorite shirt. I certainly spend less time on my makeup daily than some of my non-Goth friends, but because we veer towards looks that aren't "natural" it seems to other people like we put a lot more effort into our appearances. More effort = more vanity.

As for the "true essence" of being Goth, I would argue that there really is no such thing. There's a long-standing debate within the subculture about whether or not Goth is more about fashion or about music. It's a fruitless argument, nobody agrees on an answer. I've expressed my thoughts on it more before, but basically I feel that you should do what makes you happy. If dressing up is what makes Goth fun for you, fantastic! If you prefer something more low-key, that's also great. Everyone gravitates toward the subculture for different reasons, don't let anyone ruin that for you.

So, in summary: Goths can be pretty vain and interested in our appearances, but not moreso than other people. It's also not necessarily a bad thing!

Readers, what do you think? Are Goths vain?


  1. I just started reading your blog, so forgive me for just diving in right away lol.

    I think self-love is important and a really good thing-- some of us could do with a bit of self-love, I myself struggle daily with it, it feels like. Though I think once that person starts deconstructing another, or even thinks for a moment they're somehow better because they are perceived as the more attractive... that's the point where one should pause.
    Conversely, if one is envious inconsolably to another's beauty and constantly compares themselves to the person in question, that is another moment where the boundary for vanity is crossed too. I am definitely guilty of the latter.
    My hope is that by recognizing it, I can eventually change it.
    So are goths inherently vain? No more than any other person, but the perception of "the line" where its crossed seems more defined and therefore and easier focus on.

    1. "and therefore easier to focus on" is what I meant in the last bit lol. Late night/early morning typing... whattayagonna do? Heh.

  2. It seems vain because it's an aesthetic movement. I'd say it's more enthusiasm. Speaking for myself, also vanity ;)

    1. True, the aesthetic bit really plays in a great deal!

  3. As a photographer who encounters tons of girls who hate their looks, it is refreshing to meet people who are proud of their looks. It's one of the reasons I got out of wedding and portrait photography. I couldn't stand the "I hate myself" attitude of the "normal" people. It's nice to be around people who are happy even if the rest of the world isn't happy with their looks.

  4. Can't this be said about just about any "look"? Women who make/wear vintage-style clothing get a lot of guff for this (and get accused of wanting to return to pre-women's lib days. *eyeroll*), and I assume other subcultures with distinctive aesthetics do, as well.

    You can't please everybody. If you dress up, somebody will complain; if you don't dress up enough, somebody will complain; if your look is too distinctive, somebody will complain; if it's too mainstream, somebody will complain. Whatever. Life is too short.

  5. I think there's a difference between vanity and being self-conscious -
    I'll spend ages getting ready because I'm a perfectionist. I don't think I'm perfect (a long way off) but want to alway do my best to look as good as I can. If I don't put in the effort, I feel like I am letting myself down, not being good enough because I know I can do better but didn't; I feel lazy and incomplete.

    I do think that vanity is when you want others to think you're pretty and perfect, a shallow arrogance in one's looks based on how others perceive you. I think that pride is doing it for yourself, but that pride can be a vice. If, like a previous commenter said, you think you're better than someone because of your looks, then a line has been crossed - that is arrogance.

    If you think you're spending too much time on your appearance, then it may be worth considering if you're being too fancy for the occasion, or whether there's a time-management solution to the issue. I get my outfits ready the night before, for example.

  6. One of the reasons why I've, for the most part, stopped dressing "goth" is because I found myself becoming a slave to the aesthetic. At first, it gave me more self-confidence and freedom, but then it became something constrictive. People online are very critical of goths when they don't put so much effort into their appearances. Especially as a goth female, there is tremendous pressure to look "glamorous" and "feminine" all the time. I had been doing dark make-up for so long and putting a lot of effort into my outfits for so long that I was afraid to go outside without make-up or without wearing all black, and I continued to fool myself into thinking that that was okay. It was a big step for me to go out without eyeliner on. After that time, by best friend (who was going through a rough time emotionally) expressed disappointment and even said that I lost my "muchness" because she saw that as a huge part of my identity, and without it, I was just "normal."

    It's not fair to say that Goths are vain. I wouldn't say that I was ever vain as a goth. Self-conscious at times, yes, but not vain. Goth was not a teenage phase for me even though I don't feel like the label fits me anymore. It gave me a community and a platform for self-expression. I still love the music, which was what originally drew me to the subculture. But, people constantly evolve.

    Now, I sometimes feel like wearing dark makeup and all black. Other times, I'm okay with wearing a cardigan and jeans and hardly any makeup. And I'm okay with that.