The Unmatched Purity of Vanity Among Friends

Friends and vanity man repeller

I like to give my friends a heads up when I look cute. If I’m feeling my hair, experimenting with a dark berry lip, or debuting a new blazer, there’s a high likelihood that someone’s going to hear about it. Whether by text or by DM or Gchat or email, nothing can obstruct my mission to break my own news.

(In fact, please know that as I write this, I’m in a flowy, creamy silk top with hummingbirds on it. I look like a glorious bird of paradise and you would love it.)

Usually, my friends are receptive. Not to brag, but I’ve seen many a heart-eye emoji in my online lifetime. And they’ll reply with updates of their own: new lipsticks, old sundresses, their choppy, Fleabag-esque haircuts. I give them hearts and all-caps back. If they are humoring me, I never want to know, but I don’t think so; I think we’re having good and honest fun.

What is this behavior? It’s pure, but not necessarily simple. There are notes of romance, and it feels a lot like flirting, but rendered in the key of platonic friendship. Our exchanges are definitely boastful (I have never once apologized for one of these texts, and I never will), but generative rather than zero-sum. Our enthusiastic self-love creates the fertile conditions for even more enthusiastic self-love. When you reflect your light back to each other like mirrors facing one another, you create an endless hall of mutual admiration.

In other words: I wield my vanity as a tool for bonding. It’s love delivered in the form of self-love. It’s meant to delight and entertain, but also to help create, on the most micro of scales, the social conditions that normalize radical self-acceptance. Our tiny conversations exist in a hermetically sealed mini-utopia where the baseline reality is that we are all impressed with each other. And it feels like an act of mutual generosity.

Maybe that seems like a lot to ascribe to bragging over text, but it’s also just fun. Which is not to say we’re making fun of ourselves—because while the final product looks and feels like sarcasm (e.g., “Good morning, I’m a glittering and benevolent fairy in this silken frock”), the humor originates from exaggeration, not irony. The joke isn’t that we aren’t cute or don’t have good taste or don’t deserve to treat ourselves as special. The joke is in how over-the-top excited we are to perform our belief in those things.

Now that I think of it, this performance might be the quintessence of camp, a sensibility that elevates the artificial and shallow as virtuous. Our platonic flirting is an uncynical mode of being, completely guileless and uncompromising in its affection. And expressing that level of love—especially of things deemed unimportant in a more serious, respectable world—requires vulnerability. It takes guts to pronounce yourself an absolute goddess and dreamboat to another person, because we risk being told we’re not. Camp exaggerates performance to reveal that everything, our whole identities, are performances. So when we allow ourselves to indulge in what we want, and by doing so allow others to do the same, we’re temporarily creating that world. I highly recommend it.

Graphic by Madeline Montoya.

Kiki O'Keeffe

Kiki is a writer in Brooklyn. You can sign up for her newsletter, I don't believe in astrology, or follow her Instagram @kiki.okay.

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