The Vortex of superficiality: fur, cut flowers, manicures and the quest for worldliness (Part 2)

In my last blog-post, I looked at superficiality in the realm of career and relationships (incl. friendships). (Go read that first before this one, otherwise it’s a choppy read). Of course, superficiality is wider than career or relationships. Superficiality is a lifestyle, a shallow way of being. It affects how you think, what you say, what you do on the weekend, what you eat and what you think you like or need or want.

The rise of the intelligent lifestyle person

I observe the phenomenon of this particular type of person. You know them. There are too many of these people, usually in Starbucks, usually like to read ‘Intelligent life’ and feel good about themselves being intellectual. (Ok, that’s a bit unfair, the magazine does have some good articles, but mostly it’s written super-pompously on topics that are meant to be intelligent but are often just fashionable). Anyways, back to the species in question…these are people who have high-powered jobs; are always ‘having brunch with friends’ on Sundays and know all the good restaurants in town. And have absolutely no cause they actually care about in any deep way. Or they have a few causes they care about but don’t do anything about because they spend their free-time visiting art galleries even though they’re not really into art or getting drunk in posh bars.

My view is you can’t spread yourself too thin in life. If you spread yourself over too many activities, you acquire no depth in any. And whilst it is important to have phases where you try a bit of everything for fun and to learn about yourself, it seems excessive to spend several years just flitting around being fashionable and not actually being passionate about something.

The resource drain from keeping up with the fashionable Jones’

Being superficial extols a drain on our personal resources as well as the planet’s resources. I’m going to look at a few examples, take them with a pinch of salt as they’re very heavily my views.

There are certain things I will never do though they are the fashionable thing to do. Examples include wear real fur; buy cut flowers for myself; pay for a manicure. I have varying degrees of resistance to each of these. The first one is based on my abhorrence of the cruelty of production process for fur. I have a few friends who wear real fur, but I do hope if they knew how it was made they’d choose otherwise.

On cut flowers, I just don’t get why people buy something that is designed to perish in a few days and why land is dedicated to growing these symbols when it could be used to grow food-crops. And why flowers are put onto a plane from exotic locations in Africa to reach Western markets — that’s a hugely carbon-intensive gift. It’s become the thing to do. ‘I took flowers for my mother’, ‘My boyfriend bought me flowers’. I did this last November for my mother’s birthday because I thought it was the thing to do – I ordered cut flowers for her from here in Boston to deliver in Nottingham. I did it because it was the established cultural way to express love for my mother… even though I know very well she is a plant-lover and hates cut flowers! Next time, I stick to buying a real potted plant that actually lasts.

The third is a far less serious quirk and an observation I want to make that many people may rightfully disagree with. I’m using it more as an example, not that I feel so strongly about manicures per se. A manicure is essentially someone filing and painting your nails and usually charging north of £20 for such services in the UK and north of $30 in the USA. This may make sense for women with money to procure (though I’d rather just paint my nails myself), but the surprising thing to me is that many of the women in manicure salons in the UK are not that rich. And quite often they are non-working women of lower socio-economic strata. They’re out there paying good money for someone to paint their nails. It’s a thing to say ‘I need to get my nails done’. Though no one needs to get their nails done. It’s an aspirational cultural trap that many of these women are in. To get their nails done and then to show other women that they got their nails done.

It’s the same reason we pay extra sometimes crazy money for a T-shirt with a little crocodile on it, or pay stupid amounts for designer sunglasses. For some reason, it’s really cool in our society to spend a lot on money on things that have not-that-much-higher a production cost than their non-branded equivalents…..oh wait, the production cost might be higher because these brands have to spend tons of money on billboards to bombard you with images…..

This is what you need to look like. Always cool, always put-together. And this is the expensive hand-bag you absolutely need.
This is what you need to look like. Always cool, always put-together. And this is the expensive hand-bag you absolutely need.

Another borderline superficiality fashion is exotic food names. I’m entertained when we go to a restaurant and someone reels off foods they love from around the world: sashimi, tempura, gyoza…..on and on….tsunami. I’m just like *head explode, cannot store all this cultural knowledge*. Partly it’s impressive, but partly it makes me think we’re under so much pressure to be cultured, to be worldly, to have references that all ‘cultured, worldly’ people can share. It’s incredibly fashionable to talk about one’s favorite café in Paris, or one’s favorite club in London. That’s not an issue if it’s genuine. But you just have to ask yourself: How much do I really like that £10 hot chocolate? And how much is it just the cool thing to say?

The questions

Hair doesn’t blow backwards all the time in the wind; you can’t charm everyone in a conversation; you can’t be right all the time; you can’t walk in heels without tripping all the time; you can’t look cool doing everything.

So we have to ask ourselves:

  • How much of what I spend my time and money on is of real value to me, and how much is superficial go-with-the-crowd stuff I do to fit in?

On my approach to others:

  • How much do I judge people by the superficial? By how ‘put-together’ they look? By who their friends are? By where they work? By what they wear?
  • Do I give positive feedback and reinforcement when people are real with me? Or do I dismiss them as uncool?

This also begs deeper questions for which I have no answers like:

  • Why do we crave beauty?
  • Why do we then crave something ‘real’ when we have surrounded ourselves with superficial beauty?
  • Why do we follow fashions that have no underlying value?
  • Why do we make fun of sheep following each other and do the same thing ourselves?
  • Why is practically every woman in London (myself included – eugh!) carrying a ridiculously overpriced Cath Kidston bag? (A friend once correctly described my bag as ‘retro granny’. I was annoyed, but he was right).

Some go-with-the-crowd stuff seems essential to succeed, but can we tip the balance a little towards our genuine selves? In the words of Kiara from Lion King 2: “If there’s so much I must be, can I still just be me? The way I am?”


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