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, while 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.
When it comes to characterizing women, this trope takes three basic forms, although sometimes there is blendover.
- Women are vain, and this is a bad thing. Sometimes the trouble brought on by vanity will be strictly limited to comedy—e.g., women will pack two week's worth of clothing for an overnight trip and primp and preen in front of any shiny surface they happen past. At other times it will cause more serious plot-related complications, as even the most level-headed female types will promptly turn into a Horrible Judge of Character if they are paid an appearance-based compliment by an antagonist. Women 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 and the Plastic Bitch are an almost exclusively female character type. At the most misogynistic end of the scale, women being vain is linked directly to their own downfall and often the downfall of any men who fall for their wiles, thus presenting women as the inherently less moral sex, and vanity as an inborn proclivity to sin that women must strive much harder to overcome if they wish to be truly virtuous. In such a narrative, a non-vain, or less-vain, woman is shown as a model of virtue (and often an Unkempt Beauty). Makeup Is Evil is often in full play, with vanity leading naturally to deceit, and in older works, reckless endangerment of health, perhaps with lead-based or arsenic-based makeup.
- Women are vain, and this is the natural and correct state of affairs. 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". This narrative to a degree reverses the notion of vanity-linked immorality, so while a vain woman may still be flawed, a woman who shuns vanity utterly may be seemingly "unnatural" (in the worst-case scenario, Butch Lesbian with all that implies). This kind of approach seemingly lends itself very easily to notions of Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast, and in particular often likes to couple itself with the All Men Are Perverts trope—all men want to look at women, but all women want to be looked at by men, so it all balances out in the end, right?
- Women are vain, and this is not right or wrong so much as necessary. In historical settings (or other deliberately misogynistic settings), this trope is sometimes also played as a natural reaction to their circumstances. Women in these worlds obsess over their appearance because beauty and charm are considered "women's weapons"—possibly their only weapons in a world stacked heavily against them (or at least, the only culturally acceptable ones). When handled in this way, the message isn't that women are intrinsically vain, but that they behave that way because the structure of their society legitimately means their appearance can have a dramatic impact on their life.
The implications of this trope tend to be equally nasty when applied to men, where having such a feminine vice implies that this character is "not a real man." The audience may get a chuckle out of a manly man evaluating his Perma-Stubble in a store window, but a consistently and overtly vain man is a joke. He will be foppish, cowardly, and quite possibly gay (especially in a narrative which assumes rugged heterosexuality is the default male state). The Sissy Villain owes much to this trope. On the other hand, Drag Queens typically embrace the trope, and have no end of fun making jokes about how well it fits "girls" like them.
The trope's premise in any incarnation is the polar opposite to the concept of metrosexuality, and its popularity has waned as morals change and gender stereotypes are discarded, but it is not yet a Dead Horse Trope.
- In a 2018 Australian fashion promo video, there are two male models, and the one with black hair (whom Trekkies would recognize as Evan Evagora, the model-turned-actor who portrayed Elnor on Star Trek: Picard) is presented as being more androgynous than his more manly friend in various ways, including being vain. Evagora's character is a slender, clean-shaven Pretty Boy who wears a fancy woman's hat which is no less elaborate than the female model's, his suit features a very distinct floral print, he briefly glances at the camera as if it were a mirror and checks if his hat is on correctly and if his face looks nice. Later, he adjusts his blazer.
- Ranma ½
- Kasumi confronts 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."
- 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.
- Mumu Momoyama in ChocoMimi is the girliest-looking member in the group and also the vainest character in the series. He's often at odds with Mimi over who is The Cutie, and even told off Bambi when he noticed she looked more feminine with long hair.
- Vandread: Men and women both exist on two seperate planets, one with an abundance of resources, and one with hardly any. The men's world is therefore much less advanced and has no concept of holidays, luxury, or design as anything but practical. As such, they have become highly resourceful, learning to do as much as they can with as little as they can. By contrast the women's planet is far more advanced and plentiful. However, they take their vanity to the extreme, wasting their resources thoughtlessly. One example is making their homes nicer looking than their neighbour's, which results in blackouts the likes of which caused many of the space pirates to lose their home.
- Mitsuba Higashikata from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: JoJolion regularly goes to T.G. University Hospital to receive beauty enhancing treatments (which started with a breast enhancement surgery). What she doesn't know is that these "treatments" are actually experiments by the Rock Humans to test the powers of the Rokakaka fruit. While she initially goes along with it without question, she changes her tune when her unborn child is threatened.
- The Mighty Thor has The Enchantress, a Vain Sorceress whose entire identity (and much of her power set) flow directly from her epic, supernatural beauty, and its effect on both men and gods. Her vanity (though certainly not unfounded) is nearly as legendary as her beauty, and she never hesitates to mock women who are not as attractive (Jane Foster) or who she sees as too 'mannish' for any male to find appealing no matter what their actual appearance (The warrior goddess Sif). The comic itself seems to be of two minds regarding The Enchantress: On the one hand, she is most often treated as a shallow, selfish and bratty annoyance by many of the more powerful Asgardians. On the other hand, her exquisite face and body do give her immense influence over most males, be they god, human or superhuman, and even such wise individuals as Heimdal (and, occasionally Thor) have either succumbed to her wiles, or sought them out willingly. So, basically, the excessively vain girl is silly, petty, and should be dismissed accordingly... but she happens to be so genuinely, insanely hot that in practice she usually gets exactly who and what she wants.
- In the Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics) 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.)
- In the comic Sha, the soul of a witch who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in the 14th century returns in the 22nd century to exact revenge on the five reincarnated demons responsible for killing her in their past lives. While the four men among them are all killed one by one, the woman who betrayed her is instead left alive with a debilitating disease that will slowly take away her beauty from her.
- Believe it or not, Wonder Woman was a pretty big example of this back in The Golden Age of Comic Books, where she was much more of a Girly Bruiser than the more hard-bitten warrior woman portrayal today. One particularly infamous story had her deliberately go blindfolded through enemy territory, rather than pull at the duct-tape her kidnappers put over her eyes (which would've risked damaging her eyelashes).
- In one Avar fairy tale, there is a beautiful maiden who lives in her castle and shows herself to no one. Should you come to the castle and call her three times without her answering, you turn into stone, and there are plenty of statues there already. The hero tries to get her to come out, but fails. His sister comes to rescue him, calls the maiden twice, but fails as well. Then she shouts, "Are you more beautiful than me, that you are so vain!?" Three seconds later, the doors slam open with a loud "Who Dares?!"
- In Heroes and Villains, Buffy's pre-Sunnydale personality carries through, unchanged by her awakening powers and the trauma of her battles. As a result, we get a heroine who is conceited, bratty, and shamelessly obsessed with her beauty. That being said, she can still totally destroy you with her nothing but her dainty, perfectly manicured hands, so watch your step.
- My Brave Pony: Starfleet Magic: Several female characters in the series are written with "vanity" as their only notable character trait, the most notable examples being several female villains and Rarity.
- 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 HeelFace 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."
- 10 Things I Hate About You:
Are you telling me I'm not a pretty guy?
- Used humorously when feared bad-boy Patrick (played by then-relatively-unknown Heath Ledger) is told Katerina prefers "pretty guys."
- 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 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.
- Genderflipped in Casino Royale (2006) with a scene of Bond checking himself out in the mirror after Vesper gets him an exquisitely-fitted dinner jacket.
- In Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, the T-X (a female "Terminatrix") walks past a mirror while battling the male T-850, and her head immediately whips to the side for as long as she's reflected in it. There was no reason offered for why she'd do this in the middle of a fight (aside from the obvious point of this trope) and it happens so fast that many viewers likely missed it. In fairness there's a moment in the first film where a male Terminator (after gouging his eye out and hiding the damage with sunglasses) then takes a moment to fix his hair.
- Night Angel: Lilith is the villainess of this movie, a demon who goes around seducing and devouring hapless people (not just men). It seems that she can supernaturally charm literally everyone, but she specifically goes after the staff of a glamour magazine rather than something more bold like a politician. Apparently, it's pure vanity: she wants to be a cover girl so people will fawn over her.
- X-Men Film Series
- Downplayed with Professor X, whose habit of always being dapper isn't treated as a negative trait In-Universe. However, the attention he pays to his appearance does subtly distinguish his brand of androgynous masculinity from the other two male leads in the franchise (namely the macho Wolverine and the manly Magneto).
- X-Men: Apocalypse:
- Vanity, thy name is Charles Xavier. Although his preoccupation with his looks is an aspect of his androgyny, unlike most other male examples, it's not presented as being demeaning to his character. Professor X's feminine side is his most valuable asset in the story, and because Beauty Equals Goodness applies in his case, taking pride in his attractiveness is an extension of him being thoroughly at ease and joyful with his inborn empathy.
- Quicksilver checks his hair and teeth in the mirror of this commercial, and he's a Manchild. When Evan Peters was asked in this interview to describe his character in only three words, the actor replied, "Fast, cheeky, stylish," so preening is important to Peter Maximoff.
- Thor: Ragnarok: While they're on Earth, Thor (the macho man) has plain denim clothing while Loki (the androgynous male) is in a chic all-black suit. Thor insults Loki's fashion sense by directly comparing him to a woman, which further accentuates Loki's depiction as the masculine equivalent of a Vain Sorceress.
Loki: I can't see into the future, I'm not a witch.
Thor: No? Then why do you dress like one?
Loki: [offended] Hey.
- Cat-Women of the Moon. After blasting off in their Retro Rocket, the first thing The Squadette does on getting out of the acceleration couch is not check her instruments but open a wooden desk drawer, take out a comb and mirror and start doing her hair. One of the other male crewmembers made a Side Bet that she would too.
- In A Brother's Price Keifer Porter was very vain, and very evil, a gender-flipped variant A of the trope. Then it is somewhat inverted with Corelle, who lets her hair grow longer to impress the neighbour boy. Her elder sister tells her to cut it - only the boys are allowed to have impractical long hair.
- The Wheel of Time. Some women are more inclined to it than others, but this always bears out as a cultural thing, where some societies encourage or discourage such behavior. A great deal is made of female hypocrisy as the characters look down on women who blatantly play up to male desire, but ultimately they all do it, deliberately embracing it after circumstance or jealousy drives them to it. This is seen as the natural and correct state of the world, as women who don't cater to male attention are even more underhanded and often outright villainous.
- The Narnia books have a fair amount of this. The otherwise down to earth Polly immediately starts to trust Diggory's Obviously Evil uncle after he calls her pretty. Lucy, generally shown as more virtuous than her older and vainer sister Susan, is so tempted by the idea of being more beautiful and desirable than her that only the appearance of Aslan stops her from casting a spell allowing her to do so.
- Xanth takes the All Women Are Vain and All Men Are Perverts approach. Xanth's archaic prohibition against female rulers is presented as unfairly sexist, but the concept that all women desire to be considered beautiful more than almost anything else, and enjoy being seen as beautiful more than the promise of privacy, is inoffensive and simple truth.
A pretty girl could express shock and distress if someone saw her bare torso, but privately she would be pleased if the reaction were favorable.
- Harry Potter:
- Gender flipped with Gilderoy Lockhart who is extremely attractive and extremely vain. He's unable to get through a sentence without talking about how awesome he is. He eventually proves to be a lying, ineffectual coward whose triumphs are a scam. Vanity is bad, in this case, but not a specifically feminine quality.
- Inverted with Hermoine. She dresses up for The Yule Ball and considered it too much of a hassle to do again.
- The Belgariad plays with this trope. Certainly no female is established as neglecting her physical appearance when she had any other option available. While 7000-year-old Belgarath appears as an old man (and in fact takes care to look like a vagabond), his 3000-year-old daughter Polgara appears eternally 20 — by (subconsciousnote — the idea only comes up in The Malloreon, and it's explicitly just a theory) choice, since while an elderly male sorcerer may appear learned and formidable an elderly female sorceress would be seen as a crone. As a child she kept herself filthy and unkempt but after her sister's marriage she came out of her shell and went to the opposite extreme entirely; constantly bathing, preening, and dressing flatteringly.
- Joanne Bertin's The Last Dragonlord has the Lady Sherrine, her mother Anstella, and Mauryanna all be exceedingly interested in looks. Sherrine and Anstella have a rivalry based on who is the fairest, and all interactions between the three have clear jealous undertones. These are also the only female characters to display any sexuality; all others in the book are children, old, dwarfs, or more interested in food.
- In Sarah Addison Allen's The Girl Who Chased The Moon, Emily's mother Dulcie had squelched her objections to an ugly photo of her to discourage vanity.
- Andre Norton:
- Ordeal in Otherwhere: the prospect of looking more feminine than was allowed on Demeter cheers Charis up, though she is effectively a slave. She objects to the notion of too garish an appearance.
- Forerunner Foray: Ziantha toys the notion of having her nondescript appearance changed for good as her reward.
- Journey to Chaos: This trope is averted by Ataidar's Royal Ordercraft Security and Compliance Team. They don't carry hand mirrors to check or correct their beauty. They are for monitoring their progression of silver-grey hairs which mark the level of ordercraft corruption within them. They are all professionals.
- The poem "The Spider and the Fly" focuses on a specifically male Spider trying to coax a Fly (referred to with feminine pronouns) into his den. While the Fly avoids most of the Spider's enticing offers and starts to leave, the Spider pulls out one last trick to get her: complimenting her beautiful shiny wings and calling her good-looking, while putting down his own drab appearance. That was enough for her to come back, and he whisks her up into his den to eat her.
- 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 take over their wardrobe and convince them otherwise. 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: Straight, "masculine" men are not expected to know about matters of style and taste, but gay men can be their tutors.
- Played with in Frasier, where not only Frasier and Niles' excessive vanity about their clothes and grooming, but simply the fact that they have good taste and style, is seen as effeminate and therefore undesirable. This is despite the fact that they always look good because of this — oh no, men are supposed to just accidentally throw on random clothes that they happen to look dashing in.
- Played with in Community: Jeff, while known for being obsessed with his appearance, tries to make said obsession look as casual as possible.
- In Star Trek: The Original Series, all of the female characters were very pretty, and Uhura was by far the most vain of the main cast. When they were all tempted into staying behind on a land run by robots, Spock was offered great knowledge and opportunity for learning, McCoy was offered great medical facilities, Chekov was offered beautiful robot women to obey his every command, and Uhura was offered eternal youth. Even more obviously, in And The Children Shall Lead the characters' worst fears were shown: Kirk's was losing command, Sulu's was facing certain death that he had to maneuver the ship out of, and Uhura's was...being old and ugly.
- Extreme Male Beauty: On the one hand, the presenter Tim Shaw examines how vanity has become more commonplace amongst men today and reveals that straight manly men can be just as vain as gay men. On the other hand it's criticising the model industry in every other scene and the final episode hammers home the Aesop that a man who takes pride in his appearance will come across as fake and arrogant and should have that kind of thinking stamped out of him.
- The Bridge Bunnies of UFO all carry a shiny metal pouch on the belt of their catsuits. In one episode it's revealed that the box contains not a high-tech Everything Sensor or repair tools for Zeerust computer equipment, but a pop-up mirror and makeup kit!
- Many of the versions of the Doctor in Doctor Who are ridiculously vain as a rule, and convinced whatever ridiculous crap they choose to wear looks absolutely amazing on someone as fantastically good-looking as them. This is not used in the show itself to feminise the character (besides some throwaway lines by the snarkier companions) and is mostly just a facet of his general weirdness, but some fans interpret it as Camp behaviour and consider it part of the reason for the show's legendary LGBT Fanbase.
- Game of Thrones: A darker take on the trope, judging from the way Balon treats Theon and his rather gaudy choice of dress, which is nevertheless positively understated compared to some of the styles we see in King's Landing.
- Tales from the Crypt: In "Only Sin Deep", one of Sylvia's fellow hookers comments sarcastically on the amount of time she spends preening in front of mirrors. Sylvia shrugs it off and seems to assume it is the natural state of affairs for someone as as beautiful as she is.
- Shania Twain's song "That Don't Impress Me Much" says vanity in men is unattractive but in the next verse is says machoness is also a turn off.
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.
- Demi Lovato's "Heart Attack":
But you make me want to act like a girl
Paint my nails and wear high heels
- Narcissus of ancient Greek myth makes this Older Than Feudalism, in fact as the root of the word "Narcissist," he might even count as the Ur-Example. He is vain to the point of starving to death because he couldn't tear himself away from admiring his reflection.
- The Ancient Greeks were big on vanity in general — maybe it had something to do with their obsession with Hubris — but they often connected this specific trait to femininity. The most flagrant example is when the goddess Eris throws a golden Apple of Discord into the wedding of sea goddess Thetis, with a message inscribed: "For the Fairest." This caused an all-out brawl among all of the goddesses and female spirits at the wedding, and the fighting went on for years. By the time the married couple's first child had grown up into a great warrior, the bickering had finally died down to three of the most powerful goddesses of all: Hera, Queen of Olympus; Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty; and Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, who usually didn't seem to care about her reputation as a beauty. Suffice to say, when an outsider judge finally did pick one of them as the Fairest, the other two were not happy.
- Paranoia adventure "Send in the Clones". The Teela O'Malley clones in the final battle are dangerous opponents. However, they can be neutralized by giving them a small mirror, which causes them to primp and fuss with their hair and check their eyeliner and complexion.
- Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000: Followers of Slaanesh are the only ones who give any attention to their appearance, and are directly opposed by devotees of Khorne, who are of the brutal, real-men-don't-wear-makeup-or-wash-themselves persuasion (Sigvald the Magnificent has a special rule where his entire unit stops moving so he can admire his reflection on their polished shields). Slaanesh being both male and female (and not always at the same time), many of his champions and up partially hermaphroditic as well.
- Subverted in the case of Lucius the Eternal, 40K's champion of Slaanesh. He was once the prettiest of the Emperor's Children (the Legion that would eventually turn itself over to Slaanesh), but a fight with a Space Wolf broke his nose in a way that couldn't be fixed, and later acquired facial scars in battle. This pretty much broke his mind, now he actually seems to seek out disfiguring scars when fighting, and his face looks like it's been used as a tic-tac-toe board since.
- 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 Miles Gloriosus; a phony and all but useless in combat. However, if you get him a complete set of 'Hero' equipment, he becomes Agent Peacock. This only works for him.
- Sonic Lost World has Zeena of the Deadly Six, who largely cares more about doing her nails and makeup than helping her teammates take care of Sonic. Sonic, being Sonic, takes the time to mock her about it:
Zeena: The last time we met, you ruined my nail art. Now I have to reapply a whole new coat.
Sonic: Oh, my gosh, are you serious?! I am so, so sorry.
Zeena: Oh! Well, in that case...
Sonic: Uh, no. What I meant to say is I am so sorry that you have nothing better to do in life!
- Dynasty Warriors has Zhang He, the Ambiguously Gay officer of the Wei kingdom who is comically obsessed with beauty in almost all forms.
- The Smurfs: Vanity Smurf fits the bill; a narcissist never seen without a mirror at hand. Naturally, he is Ambiguously Gay.
- The narcisstic Peacock from Polish animated series Hip-Hip and Hurra. While he has a very manly voice, he's not only very feminine but tends to faint every single time his beautiful tail gets dirty.
- 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.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Toph is a complicated case. After joining The Team, she was the only one who wouldn't join the morning grooming session. Being blind, she's less concerned with visual appearances than most people. When Katara said that she was dirty, she called it a 'healthy coating of earth' (which also makes sense since she's an Earth-Bending prodigy that relies on the sensory aspect of her powers to compensate for her lack of sight). Despite this, she 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 spa.
- Neil, descendant of Narcissus, from Class of the Titans. Like his ancestor, he's exceedingly vain and spends half the episodes he's in admiring his own reflection. This coupled with his problems wielding weapons, fashion expertise and tendency to emit a high-pitched girlish scream when frightened makes him a part of this trope.
- Rarity from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is the most feminine of the Mane Six, and also the most concerned with her appearance. Her fussiness has caused conflict in a couple of episodes, but she's usually willing to overcome these bad habits for the sake of her friends. "Sisterhooves Social" showed her willing to hide in a pool of mud as part of a ploy to make amends with her little sister Sweetie Belle, though Rarity insisted on a trip to the spa to clean up afterwards.
- If real-life studies are any indication, this belief seems to be false considering how a vast majority of those diagnosed with Narcissist Personality Disorder tend to be men instead of women.