Is vanity ‘eating up’ modern day society?

She wakes up, snaps a few artfully angled photos and then crafts a perfect Instagram story. This is how Ariane spends most of her time, proving to the world on social media how she is living a fabulous life.

She yearns to fit in, be as attractive and live a classy life, just like her peers. This, she does, even when she can’t afford it.


And just like Ariane, a number of people today are infatuated with the latest trends and tirelessly work to fit in. They are driven by material things and ‘looks’ to the extent that weighing a few pounds heavier can send one into depression because they are scared to not be as attractive as they should be.


Social ambition and success in general has been literally brought down to the number of likes and followers one has on social media.


Philosophers term this as vanity- the quality of being vain or a state of excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities and achievements.

Whereas vanity has existed for ages, what is making it more rampant with modern day society?

Diane Iriza a television presenter at Rwanda Broadcasting Agency attributes this to low self-esteem, peer pressure and influence of social media.She observes that a lot of people are not contented with who they are and what they have, this is why they are becoming more conceited and pay less attention to reality.

Joshua Tahinduka, the former president of 1Rwanda Toastmasters Club admits to have been a witness of people who are full of themselves both figuratively and literally.

“I usually think that this is a sign of lack of self-awareness which breeds a constant desire to self-validate or be accepted by others. Such people will do a lot of things like speak highly of themselves,” he says. He however blames it on failure to manage social media trends of self-broadcasting.

“It is easy for one to assume that everyone lives in heaven on social media, some people hence, especially millennials can’t help but work on themselves in that controversial way,” Tahinduka says.

“The problem with vanity is that it delays personal development. Instead of investing in self-improvement, time is spent monitoring other people’s trends and focusing on what we don’t have. This could actually cause depression in a situation where you don’t find what you are desperate about.

He therefore deems it vital for people to change course and do authentic self-assessment of strength and areas for growth needed.

“Find people who can recognise your abilities, this will help one to get comfortable in their skin. Keep watch of the people you associate with and see if they are helping you become a better person,” he advises.

“Remember that you are original and unique, therefore you are always going to be different and that is your beauty. Truth is that in this world, we are always going to lack something. Go find your purpose in life, work on yourself and leave the rest to do what they do”.

According to musicianKizitoHategekimana, we live in a world where money controls most things, which makes people focus more on having a luxurious life.

He explained that technology has facilitated viewing the entire world in a single minute. People have now started comparing themselves to others which creates competition.

“Pretending and speeding up to a new lifestyle, vanity goes with all of this because people now focus more on how others see them.”

The singer however notes that vanity is easily infiltrating humanity because people have lost social values such as love and friendship, and instead are trying to prove something to the world.

“We should stop wanting to live other people’s lives and instead stay real and embrace the fact that we are different”.

Vanity is as old as humanity

For Kenneth Agutamba, a chief strategist at Impact Communications Strategies, vanity is as old as the dressing table mirror and the ornate cosmetic box historically associated with Europe’s high-society, crafted to hold a variety of beautifying paraphernalia, including jars of cosmetics, flasks for rare perfumes and exotic oils for applying makeup.

“Museum literature suggests that vanity as we know it today began to develop and has been evolving since the late 17th century.

However, I think acts of vanity appear to have gained more visibility today because of the rise of internet based social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram where one’s physical appearance and beauty tend to generate higher online popularity.

This fuels tendencies of vanity as users seek validation and appeal from their virtual followers, “ Agutamba said.

He notes that this has psychological effects on individuals and how they behave in society. For instance, psychologically, people post their best looking pictures on their social media platforms however failure to generate the anticipated ‘love and validation’ from online followers often drives people into self-hate and a sad feeling of rejection which could lead to depression and sometimes suicide.

“The perceived ‘rejection’ could distract one from offline responsibilities such as work, parental responsibilities and people who care for you in real life. It becomes a disorder at this point.”

Agutamba says the best way to handle this is to limit the time spent on social media especially by children, early enough before it becomes an addiction. Train yourself not to take the opinions of virtual followers too seriously. Be confident and proud of your appearance and achievements while staying humble, he adds.

LynaNyamwiza, a university student based in China describes vanity as shallow and an unfulfilling form of living; typically based upon one or several of underlying issues such as; allowing society dedicate what success is, surrounding oneself with group thinkers rather than real friends and feeling inadequate.

She says modernisation is a great development that tangles along with vanity which affects the society both positively and negatively.

“Let’s face it; we live in a world dominated by vanity. We all want to look and feel good, and we will stop at nothing to achieve this. Vanity causes us to go to extremes to fit in, we get into debt to buy that trendy car, we spend our precious time in front of mirrors, we spend more time patting ourselves on the back instead of loving all in an attempt to be something we are not,” Nyamwiza adds.

She quotes a ‘social comparison theory’ that proposes that people are constantly evaluating themselves in relation to other people.

“In downward social comparison, you make yourself feel better by viewing yourself as more fortunate than others whereas in upward social comparison, you feel far worse about yourself if you see that someone is outdoing you.”

She explains that downward social comparison is a great coping process because it allows one to view a bad situation by looking at others who are worse off than them; for example poorer, less attractive, more stressed and concluding that things aren’t really so bad.

Upward social comparison can cause one to berate themselves unnecessarily because they feel that they’re being outdone by their friends, relatives, co-workers or social media friends.

“All this sums up to vanity in people’s lives that mostly starts with comparison, pride and admiration of one’s own possessions. This is one of the main sins that plagues humanity today. Much of our country and economy is built on people’s vanities, and it could potentially destroy the world as we know it today.

“Here is how vanity is conquering; we can’t admit our wrong deeds, it is creating untrustworthiness among people, it is causing obsession especially with oneself, yet, conceited people do not have what it takes to be a friend or leader”

Nyamwiza urges people to build humility and focus on living their lives.

“Yes, you may be smart, beautiful and probably really good at a few things. But never lose sight of the fact that you are very small in this big old world. You are not good at everything, and there are people out there who know much more than you do. You are not as powerful as you would like to think. Therefore be humble and grateful. Vanity is as strong as we let it be, let’s not let it be.”


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