Fretting with the me-in-the-mirror Lot


When nineteen year old Geneva was evicted from Big Brother one Sunday night, host Gretel Killeen, tortured the young woman with house footage of her fretting that she wasn’t as attractive or sexy as the other girls. Despite the torture, it was refreshing. Amid the vipers’ nest of vanity, ego and shameless self-promotion that is BB, Geneva’s self reflection seems rare.

I confess I watched the opening show of this Big Brother series. This year, the producers wanted sexy singles to entertain us with their carefree, liberated and cocky antics. Watching the first BB show I was bowled over by the vanity, egoism and general abrasiveness of the hand picked contestants, apparently all in the name of self esteem. Along with the regrettably self-acclaimed ‘boobalicious’ Gianna, was young woman after young woman speaking to camera about how hot and sexy they are, how confident they are, how they do exactly what they want, whenever they want, and how strangely enough, most women don’t take a shine to them.

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at the Australian

Thanks to Peter Nicholson at the Australian

The men weren’t far off, and their ‘confidence’ seems little more than masked aggression. One young man declared loudly, proudly and repeatedly that he ‘just doesn’t care what people think of him!’ Apparently this attitude shows the world how strong and confident he is. Although in his case, it’s probably fortunate, possibly a survival strategy, that he not care what the rest of us think of him. For the record, I don’t like him. Confidence and self-reliance are one thing, but social abrasion, anti-cohesion and aggressive disregard for others are another: psychopathia. Ego is not a dirty word. But should ‘social contempt’ not remain a dirty phrase? Why is it cool and empowering not to care about how you make other people feel?

Admittedly, reality TV does seem to harbour an inordinate preponderance of the shamelessly vain and self-obsessed, so perhaps I should not be surprised by what I see. But proud vanity is catching on in the real world too. In a classroom recently, a fifteen year old heartbreaker urgently demanded of me that she be excused because she ‘could just tell her mascara was a mess’. I asked her to sit down and stop being so vain. She stared blankly in confusion. She hadn’t heard of vanity. She seemed not to know what the word means. This was in a class for talented and gifted students. I don’t doubt the importance of instilling confidence, self-respect and self-reliance in our children. But is facile self-obsession a necessary or healthy part of this ethos? When did it become a sign of self-worth that one is vain?

Like all big noters, the super sexy BB crew illustrate the irony of self-promotion: the inherent insecurities of those who spruik. If we’re all so confident and powerfully sexy (which in this day and age, of course we are), why do we have to tell everyone? Can we not just be sexual, or does someone have to agree that we are sexy? Can’t we be comfortable in ourselves, or does someone, perhaps everyone, need to know how comfortable we are? Do we need to be seen to be believed? According to reality TV, of course we do, preferably while pole dancing.

Vanity and self-obsession are the new black. It’s only recent. When I was growing up (not that long ago) it was social death to be caught stuffing your bra. Now wonderbras are de rigeur. In fact, I’m sure someone, somewhere, wears hers on the outside to match the hiked up g-string. We have all heard of the Me Generation. This is worse. It’s the Me-in-the-Mirror lot. It’s the superficial lot who will dump their boyfriends if they don’t stop being so damn selfish, see the light and install matching china, drapes and manbags a la Queer Eye.

Don’t fret Geneva. Humility and inner worth will be back in fashion one day.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.