Jit Huat, who at times can be a rather vocal politically-incorrect friend, sent us a message claiming that it is OK for sexagenarians to be vain. Bravo, Jit Huat. I respect anyone who is honest and brave enough to stand on his soapbox and tell the world what his mind says. He doesn’t hide behind a thick curtain of political correctness, and it is that whiff of honesty that we should all appreciate. According to him, vanity keeps our sense of humour intact and helps revive the “aura of youth” that we all so desperately need. A vain one, I imagine he would often check his reflection on the kitchen window whilst his Mrs magically produces a magnificent meal. I can visualise him scritch and preen his unruly long hair using the kitchen window as a mirror whilst she slaves away on her own. Her calls to him to relieve her sprained wrist from the heavy cast iron wok fall on deaf ears, as he meticulously re-buns his hair at the most inappropriate moment. The vain man is also likely to preoccupy himself with his silhouette, favourably comparing his physique against the boutique store’s mannequin, whilst his Mrs tries out a new dress. That level of self-awareness is what reminds some of us to straighten our backs and improve our posture. Don’t worry, Jit Huat. This story isn’t about you, although Carly Simon’s words flooded my mind in an instant.
You’re so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You’re so vain (you’re so vain)
I’ll bet you think this song is about you
Don’t you? Don’t you?
In less than a week, I will turn 62. In truth, I have felt 62 for almost all of this year. Absent-mindedly, I have more often than not, selected my age as 62 when recording the settings of my exercise bike before each rigorous routine. At our age, the look to cultivate should be that of a kind and elderly gentleman, a very good friend recently reminded me. For the majority of my life, vanity has been a stranger to me. Very early on, I divulged to The Mrs that I once aspired to be an actor. That dream expired very quickly after she said I should really look into the mirror. She has, throughout my married life, cleverly drummed into me that at best, my “thoo-fei” or bandit looks will get me a 3-second role as an easy-beat thug. One kick by the hero in white and my role would end in the ditch. She is such a clever one. Snip off any buds that will sprout the natural tendency to be vain, and her man will never be. Vanity costs money. A vain person will want to always look good and that comes with a huge cost. Better grooming means more visits to the hair-dresser. Haircare, skincare and healthcare represent a real scare to a tight family budget. Looking good equates to many thousands of dollars during one’s marriage and that is before we even consider spending on high-street fashion shoes and clothes. Just a few years ago, on a holiday in New York City, I walked into Allen Edmonds on 44th Street. If you want a serious pair of dress shoes, go there! The shoe whisperer knew everything about my feet just from looking at the way I walked. The Mrs was not disappointed. She knew that her husband wasn’t vain enough to spend a dime in such a store. Instead, she bought it for me, splurging many hundreds of US dollars even though I lacked vanity. Last week, I finally had a haircut this year. Can you imagine how much she has saved from the shunned haircuts?! At $75 a visit to my hero, Hiro at Clip Joint, those five visits I skipped would be enough to justify a big plate of my favourite dish at our local restaurant, Australian rock lobster with yifu noodles. She said my birthday is coming up, time to get a haircut. Wow! Hooray! I assumed she meant she would flash me a Clip Joint gift card. Nope, it was a pair of scissors instead as she hollered for me to bring out the barber’s stool. Fair enough, I am not vain. I don’t care how I look. But, I am the boss of my business. Shouldn’t I look like the boss? The boss should have the body and haircut to execute proper authority, right? The Mrs is clearly a step ahead of me. She knows I work from home and I don’t use Zoom or Skype anyway. No one will know if I have had a bad haircut day. “It’s alright. Your hair will grow back after a week”, she reassured me with her soothing smile. Well, it has been a full week and I still can’t find my smile yet.
Is it wrong to be vain though? Is it not natural that we want to look good? Present the best we can be? Be that most attractive person that we can mould ourselves into? Vanity can be a great motivator for us. It can be the reason why we want to be the role model for our children. Who does not want their kids to look up to them? Be the star in their eyes? Be that person they aspire to be – one of vibrant vitality, shining with positivity and exuding great inner strength filled with self-respect and confidence. Those who want to look great will lose weight, quit smoking, start fasting and do everything right to radiate beauty for all to see. Without health there is no beauty, so for some, good health is the by-product of vanity. This surely must be the bright side of vanity, and it cannot be detrimental at all to our mental health and general well-being. After all, vanity is well short of narcissism. Vanity doesn’t require us to bully, lie through our teeth, or rely on misogynistic abuse to take advantage of women. Just think of Donald Trump if you need more traits of a narcissist.
Armed with such iron-clad logic, I decided to entertain the idea of being a vain person. Some ten years ago, after observing for a long time how well my three sons look after their health and their looks, it didn’t strike me that they were being vain at all. They were merely looking after themselves! There is absolutely nothing wrong to want to look good, present well, articulate clearly and carry oneself with aplomb. Be as sure-footed as a mountain goat, I told myself. Soon after, I started to dabble in skincare brands. Naturally I went for the best, SK-II and Khiels got the nod first. Even though I knew the blemishes on my face are subcutaneous, it didn’t stop me from splashing out on their flagship skin repair products. A Malaysian friend introduced me to Cocolab, her family’s skincare and healthcare empire founded on virgin coconut oil. I miss their soaps, they really smell the best. Since then I have tried a few other brands, and other wonderful products such as face masks, hair oils, exotic shampoos and hair conditioners, but alas, there is no magic wand.
I seldom look in the mirror and I must admit that the person looking back at me this morning shocked me. Despite the DKNY leather jacket that props up my body and the BOSS leather belt that holds up my jeans from dragging on the ground, or the well-cut Calibre tee shirt, (a gift to a son some Christmases ago) that can no longer hide the bulges in the wrong areas, the person staring back at me is almost unrecognisable. A soon-to-be 62-year-old sun-ravaged badly hunched man with a scrawny torso and a most out-of-place lump of belly fat in the midriff. An old Chinese bloke who still thinks he is an old Aussie cobber. I would like to tell him, “Mate, you’ve been vain, in vain”.