Inflated pride in oneself or one's appearance: conceit
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What Vanity Looks Like In A Person
A closer look at the 8 characteristics displayed by the vain.
Society defines vanity as excessive pride in or admiration of one’s appearance or accomplishments. Other words for it include egotism, arrogance, or even narcissism, depending on how bad it is.
While vanity, selfishness, and pride are considered century-old vices, there is a remarkable rise in both the display of these behaviors and the acceptance of them by society.
Although it’s not bad for someone to have high self-esteem or be confident in their abilities, too much pride can cause quite a few social problems.
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
Continue reading to see if this list speaks to you — or someone you know at school, at home, or in the workplace.
1. Zero Acknowledgement of Past Mistakes
Extremely vain people feel like they can do “no wrong.”
Instead, they rely on their “superb knowledge” of the world around them to resolve problems.
If it seems like they may see themselves as “know-it-alls” (and constantly proclaim themselves to be), it’s probably because they think they are.
This mentality leads to the vain person believing they cannot be mistaken.
They’re not only “always right,” but they quite simply have “no faults.”
As such, they are incapable of apologizing or acknowledging past mistakes.
2. Totally Self-Absorbed In Their Beauty
The excessively vain person truly believes they are the most beautiful.
Every single one of their features is “perfect” and they themselves are “flawless.”
Meanwhile, they rave about their beauty standards (i.e., protein shake for breakfast, cardio exercise for lunch, and kale salad for dinner), they will make you look and feel like you can never compare.
3. Impossible To Advice But Loves To Give It
Why would such a perfect person need to follow someone else’s advice?
What advice could YOU even give them?
The extremely vain person will literally look at you, and laugh, that you even offered to give advice.
They have no qualms about making it evident that they don’t care for or need your advice.
They may even do this in a passive-aggressive manner, but you’ll know when your opinion is not wanted.
By the same token, the vain person loves to give unwanted advice and make themselves seem like the “expert” at everything.
They truly believe everyone around them wants to be exactly like they are. For this very reason, they are confident that you will never be as good as they are.
This mentality is exactly why they don’t mind advising in the first place — they do not think you will ever be able to reach their level.
4. Totally Careless About Consequences
Someone who is significantly vain will never think that their choices are bad, or that they somehow messed up during their decision-making process.
- The remodel of a home didn’t go, right? I’ll just put it back on the market, sell it, and get a new one or fire the entire construction crew.
- Purchasing 300 shirts the wrong size? I’ll just donate them and re-order again or insult the customer service agents.
- Didn’t negotiate the salary the right way? I’ll just quit and get a new job or sue my manager.
- Work task due next week, but didn’t do it? I’ll just blame someone else for it.
Their unwillingness to consider the consequences before acting can land them (or their team) in trouble. Unfortunately, they will probably find a way to blame someone else for the misfortune instead of taking responsibility for it.
5. Loves Being The Center of Attention
Overly vain people seek out opportunities to be the center of attention — by being the loudest person in the room, by sharing excessively personal information (about themselves or others), and by engaging in high-risk behaviors for the sake of the group camaraderie.
In essence, they want everyone to notice them and listen to what they’re saying because they love being heard. Plus — why wouldn’t people want to listen to them?
People who have too much vanity, if not paid attention to, will often find creative ways to ensure it. This includes dressing in unique and/or distracting styles (e.g., hair, clothing), annoying laughs, or even bizarre behavior.
6. Always Complimenting Themselves
Vain people simply have no etiquette when it comes to accepting compliments.
Before you can even compliment them, they’ve likely already complimented themselves in front of you and everyone else.
- Did they just get a raise and a promotion? You’ll be the first to know.
- Did they lose weight instantly after trying a new diet or exercise? You’ll be the first to know.
- Do they have to get an expensive plastic surgery procedure that’s going to “cost a fortune”? Yes. But, can they afford it? Of course! And you’ll be the first to know.
Overly vain people have no qualms about self-promotion or letting you know how awesome they are, at everything, every chance they get.
7. Offensive, Rude, And Mean To The Extreme
People who are vain and conceited rub people the wrong way.
They think they’re better than everyone else, so they don’t feel the need to be liked by the “inferior” people of the world.
They are known to insult and belittle people with zero apologies or remorse.
They can also be vindictive, manipulating, and masters at sabotaging people.
If you’ve ever been treated like a peasant by someone, you can be sure this person has vanity issues.
They’ll continue to treat you this way as long as you allow the behavior to continue.
A person with excessive vanity has grandiose views of their life — whether those views are real or not. If they aren’t real, they’ll make up stories about fame, wealth, and adoration.
They may not even care if everyone knows they’re lying — they’ll stick to the illusions no matter what.
When confronting someone with too much vanity of their lies, the following sequence will probably take place:
- First, they’ll likely deny it — meanwhile belittling you or embarrassing you in the process.
- Next, they’ll probably come up with a fake story (meant to kill your credibility) and shatter your reputation and your version of the accounts.
- Afterward, they’ll keep going like nothing ever happened.
8. Vain People Befriend Vain People
People with too much vanity like to hang out with others who share the same philosophy of life: The same love for self, beauty, and admiration.
When together, the excessively vain leader will likely convince the group to target others and bully the other “inferior” humans of society.
Next, they’ll enjoy putting the victim “back in their place” when they do try to defend themselves.
In this way, people with too much vanity not only enjoy living life this way— but also encourage and teach others to do the same.
If you’re concerned that this list “hits the nail on the head” regarding someone you know, or even recognized yourself — don’t panic.
This is actually the first step towards wellness: admitting that you need to change and then feeling motivated and ready to change.
According to Dr. Nick Haslam, a clinical psychologist at the University of Melbourne, one way to combat vanity is to increase your emotional intelligence:
I think the best way to become less selfish is to experience how good it is to do things for others. People often find it a surprise to discover how enjoyable it is to look after others. I think compliments are a great place to start — and maybe you do this already — but simply commending people or recognizing them for when they do good things, that’s good. Small steps is the way to start any new behavior.
On the other hand, if you happen to be an excessively vain person (or know someone who is and isn’t ready to change), hopefully reading these signs can help you identify vain traits better.
Similarly, the vain person should re-evaluate whether they would like to continue their life in this direction.
The High Cost of Vanity
Those designer logos and how they appeal to our vanity.
Are you lured by the aura of brand names, especially those high-end designer logos? Researchers are now finding that you’re especially likely to overspend if you’re, as the song says “so vain.” University of Southern Illinois consumer scientists Jane Workman and Seung-Hee Lee believe that vanity is one of the chief driving forces that lead shoppers to plunk down more of their hard-earned cash on high-end brand name items. It's not only that the more you care about impressing other people with your appearance, the more likely you will to overspend. In fact, the more focused you are on your own thoughts, feelings, and impressions you make on others, the more you'll seek outwardly-recognizable status symbols. Vain people care not just about looking good to others, but more importantly, about looking good to themselves.
A well-known principle of social psychology, social comparison theory proposes that we are constantly evaluating ourselves in relation to other people. In downward social comparison, you make yourself feel better by viewing yourself as more fortunate than others. The converse process also applies. In upward social comparison, you feel far worse about yourself if you see (or believe) that someone is outdoing you. Downward social comparison is a great coping process because it allows you to view a bad situation by looking at others who are worse off than you (poorer, less attractive, more stressed) and concluding that things aren’t really so bad. Upward social comparison can cause you to berate yourself unnecessarily because you feel that you’re being outdone by your friends, relatives, co-workers, or perhaps your Facebook friends.
Workman and Lee believed that social comparison is involved in the processes that lead us to empty our wallets for consumer goods that carry with them recognizable, expensive, labels. From sunglasses to sneakers, little symbols signify their price and, for many of us, our value as human beings. The smart shopper knows how to find these status symbols at bargain prices. The very savviest may still prefer to shell out the full amounts in order to be the first among their social circle to be wearing the latest models. However, as you'll see shortly, people often dress to impress themselves, propping their self-concept up by feeding their need to look attractive and successful.
Your desire to have recognizable brand names, or “brand sensitivity,” means that brand names are important to you in the process of making purchasing decisions. You may be highly brand sensitive, however, without knowing it. Through unconscious conditioning, you’ve come to associate certain brands with certain attributes, a factor that plays heavily into celebrity marketing. When movie stars show up in ads for a particular cosmetic, line of clothing, or even underwear, you’ll be drawn toward those products because you form positive associations with the brand and the person.
Not everyone is equally tempted by Ralph Lauren or Prada seals of approval, no matter who is modeling them. According to Workman and Lee, it should only be the most vain among us who are the most likely to stroll the fashion boutiques. There are 2 basic categories of vanity: physical appearance and the achievement of success. Fashion models and athletes are vain in the sense of wanting to be attractive. People who purchase expensive products are vain in the sense of wanting to look successful. There are two subtypes within each type of vanity: being preoccupied with appearance or success vs. seeing yourself as more attractive or successful than you are.
The kind of social comparison process that Workman and Lee believed to be important in consumer decisions involves the thoughts and feelings you have about how much more attractive or successful you are than others. People high in private self-consciousness tend to be self-reflective and introspective. If you’re high in private self-consciousness, for example, you would agree with the statement “I think about myself a lot.”
Workman and Lee reason that both vanity and private self-consciousness involve egocentrism, or the tendency to regard yourself as the center of the universe. If you’re always thinking about your own thoughts and feelings, it’s natural that you’ll develop a preoccupation with yourself and, hence, an excessive concern with your appearance and accomplishments.
In the Workman and Lee study, undergraduate student participants rated themselves on measures of vanity, brand sensitivity (“When I buy a clothing product, I prefer to buy well-known brands”) and brand consciousness (“Sometimes I am willing to pay more money for clothing because of its brand name”), as well as private self-consciousness.
For the most part, the participants with the most vanity were also most sensitive to and conscious of brand names. The vainest students were also the highest in private self-consciousness, or preoccupation with their thoughts and feelings. Of course, these were young adults, who we might expect to be at the height of their egocentric tendencies. However, the vain young adult often turns into the vain middle-aged person who, with more disposable income, may be even more fixated on the outer trappings of appearance and success. It would be interesting to see how the findings differ among a somewhat older crowd.
Vanity is considered to stem from pride, which is one of the 7 deadly sins. People don’t like to admit that they’re vain. In fact, the vainest among us are probably the least likely to admit it. The fact that the participants in the Workman and Lee study owned up to their own self-preoccupation is impressive, supporting the widespread tendency of advertisers to use brand-name manipulation in the market place.
If your vanity takes the form of being preoccupied with achievement, you’ll constantly seek expensive labels to prove your own worth and success. If it's your physical appearance you focus on, you’ll be lured by fancy clothes because you think they'll make you look better. The physically vain woman won’t want to pull out a drug-store lipstick in front of others to retouch her makeup; she’ll prefer to reach for the shiny gold department store variety costing 3 or 4 times as much. The color may be exactly the same, but it’s the glamour of the tube that matters most to her.
Oddly enough, many of the high-end goods that we wear can’t be seen by anyone else. No one knows whether you’re wearing Hanes or Calvin Klein’s under those designer jeans. It probably doesn’t matter to too many people, including your romantic partners, whether the sheets on your bed come from Target or from Bloomingdale’s. Therefore, when we shell out the extra cash for what goes under our clothes, or over our mattresses, we may be succumbing to the pull that vanity has over our sensibilities.
Extrapolating somewhat from the Workman and Lee study, it’s possible to understand vanity as a variant of the unhealthy form of narcissism. In vulnerable narcissism, people are constantly seeking ways to feel more important, attractive, and successful as a means of compensating for their inner feelings of weakness and inferiority. Equating designer goods with personal value feeds into the worst kind of narcissistic vulnerability.
The take-home message is that it’s worth taking stock of your own motivations before you make your next sizeable purchase of a brand-name item. Who are you trying to please? Do you feel that you need to look better than other people, and that’s why you need that validation of your worth? Is it part of a larger pattern in which you think you’re better-looking than everyone else and “deserve” to treat yourself? It’s possible that the high-priced item is of better quality, and that your investment will prove worth the financial sacrifice. However, by understanding your own motivations, your budget and your self-image can both benefit.
Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.
Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2014
Workman, J. E., & Lee, S. H. (2013). Relationships among consumer vanity, gender, brand sensitivity, brand consciousness and private self‐consciousness. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 37, 206-213. doi: 10.1111/j.1470-6431.2012.01112.x
How a Designer Label Can Drastically Change Your Image
Research demonstrates how we treat people differently based on their clothing.
As I discuss in another column, people remember certain things about what we wear.
And they often notice certain things right away.
You may remember the iconic scene in Pretty Woman, in which Julia Roberts's character Vivian Ward is shooed out of a high-end boutique (“You are obviously in the wrong place. Please leave.”) in one scene, only to be fawned over when she breezes back in wearing expensive clothes and carrying designer shopping bags.
Research corroborates this phenomenon.
We treat people differently based on their clothing. In fact, just as in Pretty Woman, studies show that we will treat the same person differently, based on what they're wearing.
If so, the good news is that research demonstrates that you do not have to be wearing wear the most expensive fashion to benefit from this positive perception.
Attributing Status to Strangers
If you were approached in public by a stranger asking for directions, would you be more inclined to assist if the stranger was wearing a Brooks Brothers suit or a cheaply-made alternative?
You might like to say that you are kind and helpful to all strangers, regardless of how they are dressed, and that assuming you did not sense any danger, you would be willing to assist anyone, anytime.
Research, however, reveals the opposite: Whether we intend to or not, we tend to be more inclined to assist a stranger wearing brand-name clothes.
Research by Nelissen and Meijers — “Social benefits of luxury brands as costly signals of wealth and status” (2011) — found that displays of luxury consumption prompt favorable treatment in social interactions.[i] They began by recognizing that the desire for brand-labeled clothing and other luxury brand products is to gain social status, and then conducted a series of experiments. One experiment on status perception involved having participants wear either a Lacoste or Tommy Hilfiger shirt, as compared with a non-brand-labeled shirt. Those wearing the brand-labeled shirt were perceived as wealthier and of higher status.
There were no differences in perceived kindness, trustworthiness, or attractiveness.
Another experiment on compliance had a confederate approach unaccompanied shoppers with a clipboard, requesting that the shoppers answer a few questions.
In one condition, the confederate was wearing a green sweater with a Tommy Hilfiger logo; in the other, the identical sweater without the logo.
Shoppers complied with the confederate's request 52.2 percent of the time when the confederate was wearing the brand-labeled sweater, compared with just 13.6 percent of the time when the confederate wore the sweater without the label.
The experiments showed that people treat individuals wearing luxury brands better than those without such brand labels.
Actually, they showed that people treat the same person better when he or she wears the same clothing — one with a brand label, the other without — and that the effects were not gender-specific or limited to a single brand label.
Suited for Social Power
Clothing also impacts social power.
In a negotiation context, a study by Kraus and Mendes (2014) demonstrated that men in business suits benefit from a perception of dominance.[ii]
In the study, men in business suits induced dominance, as measured by successful negotiation, compared with counterparts who wore sweatpants.
Apparently, participants observing the upper-class symbol (the business suit) of their negotiation partner decreased their own perception of social power.
What about women?
A study by Hudders et al. (“The Rival Wears Prada," 2014) found that among women, consumption of luxury brands was a method not to attract mates, but to compete for mates.
They recognize that their findings are in contrast to research indicating that, like peacocks, men use luxury brands to enhance their mate value to women.
They also found that with respect to how they were perceived by other women, women who consumed luxury items were viewed as younger, more ambitious, sexier, and more attractive and flirty, but also less loyal, smart, and mature.
Attire Drives Perception
The bottom line: Whether we want to admit it or not, we are influenced by how others are dressed, and treat them accordingly.
Being aware of how perceptions influence reality, we should also remember that anyone can dress the part, and it is time well spent to get to know the person beneath the persona.
[i]Rob M.A. Nelissen and Marijn H.C. Meijers, ”Social benefits of luxury brands as costly signals of wealth and status,” Evolution and Human Behavior 32 (2011): 343-355.
[ii]Michael W. Kraus and Wendy Berry Mendes, “Sartorial symbols of social class elicit class-consistent behavioral and physiological responses: A dyadic approach,” Journal of Experimental Psychology 143, no. 6, (2014): 2330-2340.
[iii]Liselot Hudders, Charlotte De Backer, Maryanne Fisher, and Patrick Vyncke, “The Rival Wears Prada: Luxury Consumption as a Female Competition Strategy,” Evolutionary Psychology 12, no. 3 (2014): 570-587.