Doonan: How To Be a Narcissist Without Being a Jerk

Notes from the fashion apocalypse.
June 7 2012 6:45 AM

My Narcissism Wears Spanx

How to be vain without being a jerk.

Simon Doonan and Miss Piggy.
Simon Doonan, left, and his partner in narcissism, Miss Piggy

Photograph of Simon Doona by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images; Miss Piggy by Cindy Ord/Getty Images.

Simon Doonan Simon Doonan

Simon Doonan is an author, fashion commentator, and creative ambassador for Barneys New York.

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.

Narcissicm Launcher

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.

There is a downside to reigning in these narcissistic impulses: When I encounter fellow narcissists flouting rules—the Alec Baldwins of the world who continue to play Words with Friends even as the plane goes into a kamikaze nose-dive—I erupt into monumental tizzy. On a recent flight I found myself indignantly buzzing the stewardess and ratting out adjacent teens who were tweeting and chirping to each other on hand-held devices, even as the plane was ascending. I am wearing my narciss-Spanx, restraining and containing my horridness; why can’t you?

Another unappealing narcissistic trait I have battled is forgetfulness. Hard-core narcissists lack the empathy that helps motivate us to remember stuff like, for example, the names of immediate family members. A highly narcissistic pal recently got a call from his sister. She sounded a bit blue. With a cracking voice she announced that “Ernie had been run over by a car.” After commiserating about the death of a person he took to be one of his nephews, and commending his sister on her stoicism, my pal hung up the phone. It was only after checking family photos that he realized that Ernie was the old toothless geriatric family beagle, and NOT his nephew, whose name he had been too self-involved to retain.

The lazy recall of narcissistic patients has many therapists of my acquaintance wringing their hands in agony. They dread the tedious sessions wherein these patients rehash slights and traumas for the umpteenth time, oblivious to their glazed-eyed listeners. Here comes Patient X with that same annoying old grind about how mummy humiliated him by picking him up in her dorky Volvo after a Rush concert.

Anxious as ever to proactively minimize the more alienating narcissistic tendencies, I strenuously attempt to unfurl fresh material when visiting my psychotherapist. In the workplace and at home, I make hernia-busting efforts to retain the names of others. This has always been a huge challenge. Like my above-mentioned pal I am quite capable of conflating pets and beloved children. For many years I combatted this problem by calling everyone “Blanche,” even my male colleagues. At first people would be delighted. Then, once they heard me refer to others as Blanche, their narcissism would kick in: “Wait! I thought I was Blanche!”

If you think you might have a problem in the narcissism department and are looking for verification then take this narcissism test at Psych Central.

At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I am proud to say that I scored a 32, which puts me in the Miss Piggy stratosphere of narcissism. (A score of 12 to 15 is average. Celebrities apparently often score around 18.) Please post your scores, along with a record of your post-test thoughts and emotions, on the comments page.

If you score high, then here’s some advice: Come out as a narcissist. Just being open about it and aware of the problem will make you seem like less of a self-obsessed nightmare. Remember, back in the ‘80s, when people would proudly announce that they were hypoglycemic? Suffering from that mysterious and fashionable complaint made them seem special. Now it’s the turn of Mr. Narcissus. It’s time to drag him out of the shadows and claim him as our own. We can make him the new syndrome du jour. 

Let’s end with a great narcissi-tip from Miss Piggy:

“For the thin look, buy clothes two sizes too large. For the glamorous look, choose plain-looking dining companions.”

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