THE BLOG
03/17/2013 09:25 am ET Updated May 17, 2013

The Price of Vanity

What do you see when you look in the mirror? Do you like what you see?

Sometimes when we look in the mirror, we view the things that no one else can see. The blemish that's so minuscule that no one would notice it, unless we pointed it out; the few extra pounds that we still haven't worked off from the holidays or the small lines on our forehead that to us, tell a story, but to our friends are relatively unsuspecting. But what else do we view that no one else can see when we look deeper past our looks on the outside? Do we see the hurt caused by an ex-boyfriend who took advantage of us? Or do we view the angry words exchanged between friends after a few too many late night cocktails? Upon further look, do we see the years of torture we've put ourselves through to try and achieve our goals, however still feeling as if we haven't lived up to the expectations we have put upon ourselves? The things that we see when we look at ourselves in the mirror tell a completely different story than what others see, and they lead us to some very drastic conclusions.

One of the best portrayals of human vanity is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, a book that details a man's attractiveness through a portrait painted of him by a very accomplished artist. A deal is made in that Dorian will never age from when the picture was painted; instead, the portrait will age and he will stay his youthful, effervescent self. Over the years, Dorian's peers are amazed at how well he has kept his appearance, while the portrait upstairs, tucked away in the attic, has become a haggard mess. Taking on all of the betrayal, misdoings and dirty dealings that Dorian has amounted over time, the painting has now become that, not of a handsome young man, but that of a monster while Dorain's image hasn't changed a bit. I don't need to tell you how this one ends -- because it's quite clear that Dorian's vanity ended up getting the best of him, however this timeless tale still rings true today -- in a society that is so focused on the outside that we often forget what's going on inside of us.

I did a small inventory of how much money I spent on bettering my outside appearance in one year and was shocked at the results. At one point, I got bi-weekly facials to help make sure my skin looking vibrant and healthy. I also spent an upwards of $100 a month on face wash, cover-up (hey, us guys need it too), blemish remover and night cream. I spent over $100 a month on a gym membership to make sure that I kept my fitness in check. Pair that with my on-again-off-again trainer and add another $100 to the bill. Then there's the tanning, the nutritionists, new clothes for "special" occasions, and occasional visit to the dermatologist for a chemical peel or few shots of Botox and we've got a serious list of what many would call unnecessary expenses that I most certainly didn't need, but purchased because I thought it was going to make me feel better. Turns out, that only thing that felt anything was my pocketbook.

When we are dumped by a partner or have a bad day, chances are the first order of personal reflection taken is: "How can I make myself look better?" Our first instincts are always to better our outside appearances so that we will be more appealing to others. It's almost as if we never learned our lesson from Dorian all those years ago. If there is something that is going on that is making us unattractive to the ones we love, chances are, it's most likely not happening on the inside. Looks change, and eventually we all lose them to age, however, the people who really love us -- the ones who stick it out through thick and thin, are most likely less concerned about what we look like on the outside and more focused on our personality, our generosity and our drive. I can pretty much guarantee that when I see my mother, she's more concerned about how I am feeling on the inside than what I look like. Having said that, after taking inventory on my excessive expenses for my appearance, I began to net out how much money I have spent on bettering my inside. Last year, I never saw a therapist, I spent very little on cultural events and did not attend one charity fundraiser -- something I used to be very interested in. The amount of money I had spent on bettering my looks eclipsed any amount of money I could have ever imagined spending on bettering myself as a person.

It's human nature to want to indulge if we are feeling bad about ourselves, but after checking my financials on how much I had "bettered" myself in the past year, I began to really question how much better off I was after the extravagant purchases. I'm still single, I still have the same insecurities I had last year and I haven't made a ton of new friends -- so what have I gained in this process? Nothing much other than a clearly smoother forehead and a few less bags under my eyes, but I am not any more or less happy than I was at this time last year. Then I began to think of my friends and how they made themselves feel better and was all too quickly reminded that they have a very similar regime as I do. When you think about it, our entire society is consumed with vanity. The magazine spreads of models looking absolutely flawless in front of a seaside backdrop of the hunky guy flexing his muscles for a men's health magazine -- all of these people are designed to make us want more -- more time at the gym, more Botox, more make-up -- and all of these things cost money. It's very rare that anyone featured in any of these magazines makes comments about not being happy or unsatisfied with life. Of course they're happy! They're flawless -- what the hell do they have to be sad about?

After years of trying to better myself through beauty, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to make myself feel better is to be a better person. This doesn't mean going out and single-handedly trying to save the world. This means, trying to be a better friend and boyfriend, trying to help someone else when they need it and least expect it and being a good son and uncle -- and guess what -- none of those things cost any money at all. And while I will always try to keep my outside looking as good as I possibly can, I can't help but think of poor Dorian and how his greed and vanity overcame him. Next time you look in the mirror and see what you want to see, think about how much it would really cost you to upgrade how you feel. Chances are, it's a lot less expensive than you think.

For more by Mark Brennan Rosenberg, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.

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