Vanity. We should only be using this word when talking about the place in the bathroom where women keep their makeup. But I hear the word vanity, or vain, much too frequently in my office. It is said apologetically when a new patient comes for a consultation, “I don’t mean to be vain, but…” “Don’t think of me as vain, but…” “Maybe I’m being vain, but…”
I’d like to abolish this word. I started paying more attention when I met a woman diagnosed with breast cancer, and she was offered reconstruction. She said, “I don’t want to seem vain.” Vain? Why is it vain to want to restore a part of your body that is being threatened by cancer? Why do you have to qualify that, frankly, you’d like to still look like yourself after a surgery that is going to remove part or all of an organ that is associated with beauty, femininity, nurturing, and nourishing?
This interaction made me think a lot about the patients who I meet every day. A mother who works hard to diet and exercise and is back down to her pre-baby weight, but still gets asked when the baby is due. A student who wants to be more active but cannot contain her generous breasts to exercise, even while wearing multiple bras. A bride-to-be who wants to fill out the bodice of her wedding dress. A woman tired of hearing she looks tired. All these different women are seeking my help to address an issue that there is a solution for. None of them, in my opinion, are vain.
So let’s stop apologizing for wanting what we want. If I can help, I will. No justification is required.