Vanity comes from the latin vanus: “empty.” It seems like a kind of tiresomely Cartesian (Aristotelian, even) thing, the term for “emptiness” becoming so synonymous with the material [body]. To be empty is to be a surface and to have a surface (to have a presence) is to be empty because, you know, fucking Plato or whatever. It’s no secret that this is a very gendered thing. But “vanity” didn’t always mean positively self-obsessed. There used to be a word for that: “vainglory,” the vaunting of the empty exterior because you love it. When did those words become compounded? When did we begin to assume that “obsessed with our bodies” would always mean “in love with our bodies”? I’d like to reclaim vanity for the ambivalent.
Vainglory was once the eighth sin, but it has been collapsed into pride. A positive obsession with our earthly bodies is a subset of that “love of one’s own excellence,” but now that “glory” is implied. Vanity is a sin, a type of pride.
What, then, are our words to describe an obsession with our material bodies? Words that are maybe a little dualistic but certainly aren’t about loving ourselves so goddamn much?
"Narcissistic" is an easy etymology. It would be nice to appropriate Narcissus’s gaze as a physical obsession (compulsion, even), but he was renowned for his self-love. Even though there’s something to be said for narke, narkissos, sleep; no, “narcissistic” isn’t useful at all.
What are our words for “obsessed with our skin and flesh” that do not mean we are also in love with that skin and flesh?