My Narcissism Wears Spanx
How to be vain without being a jerk.
Photograph of Simon Doona by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images; Miss Piggy by Cindy Ord/Getty Images.
Also see our Magnum Photos gallery on narcissism.
Nobody ever cops to it. Admitting to being narcissistic is like acknowledging that you have BO, or that you are a colossal bore. Can you imagine Kim and Kanye, or Kim Jong-un, or Mitt or Newt, or any celeb for that matter, opening up to Barbara Walters or Oprah about his or her private struggle with self-infatuation? Bold-facers will confess to murder before they will own up to being narcissists.
Not me. Like Miss Piggy, I am completely in the thrall of moi, and I happily acknowledge the fact. When she said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye,” Miss P. spoke for us both. There are two pink follow spots up in the sky: one is pointed directly at Miss Piggy, and the other one is drenching yours truly in flattering light.
I have a whole battery of excuses for my narcissistic delusions. A bizarre childhood during which I was constantly upstaged by the madness around me—you try growing up in a rooming house with a bunch of certified loonies—left me feeling invisible, which, in turn, left me with an unquenchable thirst to be recognized. Hello! I’m over here!
However, just because I am honest about my neurosis does not mean I allow it to rampage, expanding to engulf people and entire cities like The Blob. My narcissism wears Spanx. I control it and I contain it. Policing my own narcissism in an honest way has enabled me—though I do bray it myself—to avoid the extremes of assholism which are so often to be found in some of today’s great narcissists, by which I do, of course, mean John Edwards. By facing the beast head on, and dissecting its various components, I feel I have managed to avoid Howard Hughes-ian extremes of grandiosity, isolation, and persnickety paranoia.
For example: One of the key traits of narcissistic personality disorder is having the feeling that “the rules don’t apply to you.” You are special. You are different. I have felt this way at times. Much of my success in life—before becoming a writer I was a card-carrying A-list window dresser—can be attributed to my deep-seated conviction that taboos were there to be broken and that I was the one with the golden sledgehammer. Who says you can’t put mannequins in coffins? A gal in an evening frock standing on a chair with a noose round her neck? Sure! And give me one good reason why I shouldn’t create a window depicting a baby being abducted by a coyote?
Within the cutthroat world of window dressing, my rules-don’t-apply-to-me narcissism brought me notoriety and success. Trouble arose, however, when this taboo-busting bravado began seeping into my nonprofessional life. Who says I can’t singlehandedly down a pitcher of margaritas and then drive my ‘65 Dodge push-button station-wagon down the Hollywood Freeway while wearing plaid bondage trousers? The LAPD, that’s who.
That long-ago humiliating arrest—I performed the walk of shame with my legs tied together with tartan bondage straps, much to the amusement of the arresting officers—precipitated some much-needed introspection: Apparently there were some rules that actually did apply to me. After the trauma of bondage-gate, I became acquiescent toward officialdom. I became fabulously in control of my neurotic impulses. As a result I am early for every appointment. On airplanes I am always the first to—pointedly, dramatically, ostentatiously—turn off my phone. A round of applause for moi! Over time I have turned this willingness to obey rules into a whole new platform for self-love.
Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.(Photo by Roxanne Lowit.)