The notion that vanity (in the specific sense of being preoccupied with one's physical attractiveness and desirability to others) and femininity are intrinsically linked: to be feminine is to be vain and to be vain is to be feminine. A woman who is not vain (and preoccupied with how beautiful others perceive her as) is not fully feminine, either a tomboy or immature (or both). A man who is vain is not fully masculine,
quite possibly a weakling or homosexual. Handsome men are often described as "ruggedly good-looking," emphasizing their lack of attention to presentation.
This trope tends to be comedic, though it has its darker side. Women will pack a week's worth of clothing for an overnight trip. They will primp and preen in front of any shiny surface they happen past. They are ridiculously vulnerable to flattery and even the most level-headed types will turn into a Horrible Judge of Character
if Nasty McVillainstein
pays them a compliment based on their physical appearance or choice of dress. They will also be tempted, far
more than their male counterparts, by promises of youth and beauty at whatever cost. There's a reason the Vain Sorceress
is an almost exclusively female
this is presented as a weakness, an in-born proclivity to sin that virtuous women should strive to overcome. However, in other cases it is used to demonstrate ostensibly positive
growth. A shy girl who starts primping and preening might be said to have "come out of her shell". A tomboyish child who suddenly starts caring about high heels and lipstick will be "growing up". In such a narrative, it is the woman who shuns
vanity that is said to unnatural and shrewish, scorned and despised by the opposite sex.
All of this is flagged as a pure gender role. Women are not vain due to their individual personalities but their very sex -- one vain woman in a cast of many modest ones does not fulfill the trope. One non
-vain woman in a cast of many conceited ones does, especially if she's viewed as odd (either unnatural or virtuous, depending on the attitude the narrative takes).
The implications of this trope tend to be even nastier when applied to men, as the implied femininity is a grievous insult. The audience may get a chuckle out of the sight of a manly man checking his hair in a store window, but a consistently and overtly vain man is a subject of ridicule and disdain. They will be foppish, cowardly, quite possibly gay in a narrative which makes clear this is a negative and undesirable thing.
The more indulgent version of this trope is often paired up with All Men Are Perverts
, by way of balancing out the genders' respective weaknesses. All women want to be looked at, and all men want to look. Works that believe in the Mars and Venus Gender Contrast
are especially likely to make use of it. It is the polar opposite to the concept of metrosexuality, and has waned in recent times as mores change and gender stereotypes are discarded, but not yet a Dead Horse Trope
. Contrast Real Women Never Wear Dresses
, and Agent Peacock
, a bishounen
badass whose vanity will not detract from their worth and respectability. The Sharp-Dressed Man
may or may not fall peril to this trope, depending on how personally
he takes his reception, rather than viewing it through a purely detached perspective.
Compare Men Act, Women Are
and Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty
Anime and Manga
- A Ranma ½ installment had Kasumi confront Ranma after he'd once again insulted Akane on her appearance, saying he needed to apologize and cheer her up. When he needs to know why, she replies that while Akane may be stubborn, awkward and tomboyish... "she's still a girl."
- Heck Ranma himself is an excellent example. Though he believes himself handsome in either form, insulting his looks as a man will merely annoy him. Insulting his looks as a woman will send him into an absolute berserker rage.
- In the Sonic the Hedgehog issue where Sally cuts her hair and coyly asks Sonic if he likes it, he responds that he'd never known her to be "so... girly." (Ironically this was intended as a sign of her de-Chickification, which had had her mooning and crying and generally being passive and ineffective.)
- Troop Beverly Hills uses this comedically and positively. Phyllis and all her girls are vain, and are able to charm a female judge by complimenting her. When Annie does her Heel-Face Turn, it is accompanied by a new and more flattering wardrobe. The villainess Velda is plain, mannish, and cruel, plainly uncomfortable the one and only time she's seen in a very conservative dress. She is portrayed as a bad mother (who doesn't even like to be addressed as such), and her unattractiveness is made fun of.
"Or we could leave her here... to be toyed with by lonely mountain men. [Glances at Velda.] Really lonely mountain men."
- Used humorously in 10 Things I Hate About You when feared bad-boy Patrick is told Katerina prefers "pretty boys." "Am I not... pretty?" The nastier version comes into play with male model Joey, a Jerk Jock who winds up getting his comeuppance via a thrashing from the petite Bianca.
- Dr. Frank N. Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He's extremely vain and does have a feminine (if rather harsh and demanding) personality to him.
Whatever happened to Fay Wray?
That delicate, satin-draped frame?
As it clung to her thigh
How I started to cry
`cause I wanted to be dressed just the same.
- The hosts of What Not to Wear take clients (mostly female), who don't wear flattering clothes or apply makeup and then do their very best to assert that this lack of vanity is due to some very serious psychological issues and that the only cure is to make them dress up 24/7. Men are given the treatment too, but without the psychological aspect. Men not caring about their appearance is just slovenly. Women not caring is a denial of their very gender.
- Queer Eye For The Straight Guy seems to be built around this. Straight, "masculine" men are not expected to know about matters of style and taste, but gay men can be their tutors.
- Shania Twain's song "That Don't Impress Me Much".
I never knew a guy who carried a mirror in his pocket
And a comb up his sleeve - just in case
And all that extra hold gel in your hair oughta lock it
'Cause Heaven forbid it should fall outta place
- Katy Perry's "You're So Gay":
I can't believe I fell in love With someone that wears more make up and...
Cue the chorus: You're so gay and you don't even like boys.
- Paranoia adventure "Send in the Clones". The Teela O'Malley clones in the final battle are dangerous opponents. However, they can be neutralized just by giving them a small mirror, which causes them to primp and fuss with their hair and check their eyeliner and complexion.
- Chrono Cross's Pierre is first met admiring himself in the mirror, and joins your party stating they will be the thorns decorating his lovely rose. He turns out to be quite the Miles Gloriosus, a phony and all but useless in combat.
- Even Toph, who was thrilled to learn the actor playing her was a huge bulking male, hides a side that wants to be pretty, was deeply hurt by girls mocking her appearance, and shared a bonding experience with Katara as they went to a beauty spa.
- Vanity Smurf would seem to fit the bill, a narcissist never seen without a mirror at hand. Naturally, he is quite Ambiguously Gay.
- A Hey Arnold! episode plays around with this when the girls throw a makeover party and deliberately exclude the tomboyish Helga. When Helga tries to play with the boys instead, they mock her for being ugly and unfeminine. Helga caves and dolls herself up, then joins the other girls at the party. After a while, she starts to realize how ridiculous the whole thing is, considering their age. "We're nine years old! We don't have signs of aging!" She persuades the other girls to her side... and they wind up administering the intended makeover to one of the unfortunate boys who tried to crash their party and found himself outmatched.