Looking nice vs. vanity

July 2, 2006 | 4 comments

OK, let’s change the subject from shots and drugs and hospitals for a moment. There’s an issue that I’ve been enjoying pondering for a while that I was reminded of in one of the fascinating comments to Danielle Bean’s post about NFP. (I’ve been pouring over every word of those comments — a fascinating, and surprisingly calm, discussion.)

A commentor said this:

It is a much better representation of a big Catholic family to have a mother who also looks nice. There is one family at our church with 9 or 10 kids, and the mom always looks great. Very put together and fashionable, as do all the kids. They make me want to follow their example, and a big family just looks so doable…. On the other hand, when I see a frumpy, haggard looking mom with 9 kids and it looks like all they had time to do was roll out of bed and fumble for the nearest article of clothing, I subconsciously think…. ugh, I would never want to be them.

I care quite a bit about my physical appearance. I’m not obsessed with it, and I never seem to care quite enough to get to the gym regularly, but it is something I’m very aware of. So I’ve been thinking about the issue that this commentor brought up.

I feel like it’s a really good thing to make a significant effort to look nice, especially as my family grows (I don’t mean “sexy” of course, just healthy and well dressed). Primarily for myself and my husband and family, since I’m a big believer that the way you look on the outside impacts the way you feel on the inside, but also as an ambassador for Christianity/Catholicism. Not many people have big families these days so, like it or not, you attract a certain amount of curiosity and attention when you do. And, though people should not judge based on physical appearance, they do. And like this commentor said, if you look frumpy and haggard all the time it confirms in many people’s minds the stereotype that it’s just soooooooo hard to have a big family. Of course looking good is not priority number one (or even number five), but if you can, I seems like it could make a big difference for yourself and for what you represent to other people.

That said…is this just vanity? Should you not concern yourself with your physical appearance and what it may represent to others? There’s a fine line there somewhere, I’m just not sure where it is.

So, to you commentors (especially women): how concerned are you with your appearance, and how do you distinguish between that and vanity? What do you think of the comment I quoted above?


  1. Melora

    Honestly, I don’t think that having a neat, “fashionably” dressed family would inspire many young women to want large families themselves. Actually, that seems like a peculiar motivation for keeping oneself and one’s children well groomed. I do think that a large family where the parents and the children seemed to be relaxed, happy, and enjoying each other’s company would be good “press” for large families. I know (slightly) two moms with large families (7-9 kids), and both are always calm, neat, and with impeccably dressed children. Personally, I tend towards frumpiness myself, and as long as my kids are clean and reasonably neat, I don’t care if we appear “fashionable.”

  2. Colleen

    As long as everyone is tidy and clean on the outside and happy on the inside, the family will be an inspiration.

    But one thing you said is correct, in my opinion. We don’t need to follow fashion slavishly, or even semi-slavishly. But how we feel in our skins does impact our happiness and self-confidence.

    So a reasonable amount of attention to how we dress is healthy and wise I think.

  3. Anonymous


    Well, I do know of one large family in particular whose kids are very poorly dressed (ratty old Walmart clothes that have been handed down over and over), and I have to say I don’t think they make a very good impression. I personally don’t see any reason for it, as you can find really cheap name-brand clothes at yard sales, consignment stores, and thrift shops. I grew up in a family of four children raised by a single mother, and she always made sure we looked good, and she spent much less on our clothes (yard sales) than she would have if she’d had to go to Walmart and buy clothing. I guess I do think it’s important to look well-groomed and not totally outdated and unfashionable, especially when you do have a large # of kids because we already are fighting the stereotype of welfare mother being supported by the rest of society. When we looked stressed out, dingy, ratty, and totally out of date, it doesn’t do much to make a good impression on the world, especially those who already think it must be overwhelming to have more than a few kids. I don’t like it when I see other large families reinforcing the stereotype because they just don’t care.

    On the other hand, I have totally NOT raised my children to be into name brands, cost of clothing, etc, etc. In fact, I’d be pretty furious with any of them if they said they wouldn’t wear something because it wasn’t the right brand, was a hand-me-down, etc, etc. We are fortunate to get a lot of high-quality, fashionable clothing from friends and acquaintances who are more than happy to pass them on to a large family. I shop clearance at the Gap, Gymboree, Old Navy, Lands End, Hanna Andersson, etc, and pay less for most of it than I would for Walmart clothing. I consider it an investment because the clothes hold up much better (AND look much better!) and more than pay for themselves over time.

    I also belong to the school of thought that believes in staying attractive for her husband. He loves that I take the time to try to look good for him—-it totally strokes his ego 🙂 I’m happy to stroke his ego because he is a very kind and loving kind of person, and it makes ME happy to see him beaming when he looks at me. He always thinks I’m beautiful (even when I’ve been quite overweight in the past after having many babies close together), but it does mean a lot to him that I try to take care of myself and look good for him. So why shouldn’t I do that for him? A little make-up (most days just mascara, blush, and a little lip gloss) and attractive clothing doesn’t take THAT much work, really.

    While looking good as a family with six kids might not make anybody actually choose to have a lot of kids themselves, at least it might help fight the stereotype that we are overwhelmed, stressed, and living off the taxes coming out of their paychecks every week.

    Just my .02

  4. Elena

    It is important to look neat and nice. We don’t always manage that, but I’ve never heard any complaints. In fact I have received compliments in the last few weeks a number of times on how much my family is loved in the parish. It may be because folks have actually come to know us through my husband teaching PSR, the kids playing soccer, alter serving, music ministry and other activities in the parish. I think maybe getting to know us has made a difference.

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