Most people associate the word “vanity” with an excessive concern or pride in ones appearance, or sometimes with ones own qualities. But at its root the word “vain” or “vanity” refers to emptiness. To say that something or someone is “vain” is to say that it, or they, are empty or largely lacking in meaning, depth or substance.
It makes sense that people get worked up about externals when there isn’t much happening on the inside. And thus it makes sense that we connect emptiness (vanity) to excessive show.
There are lots of expressions that enshrine this connection:
All form and no substance
That Texan is all hat and no cattle
All bark and no bite
All booster, no payload
All foam, no beer
All sizzle and no steak
Show me the money
The Wisdom Tradition in the Bible, especially the Book of Ecclesiastes, speaks of vanity at great length. And there the word tends to refer to the ultimate futility of whatever this world offers, that the world is ultimately empty and vacuous. For example -
Eccl 2:11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Eccl 5:10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.
And thus the world which so mesmerizes our senses shows itself ultimately to be empty of power, or any lasting substance:
We have here, no lasting city (Heb 13:14).
As for man, his days are like grass: or as the flower of the field. Behold, he flourishes. But the wind blows and he is gone; and his place never sees him again. (Ps 103:15-16)
I thought of these notions of vanity when I saw this admittedly very funny commercial. It shows a man concerned only with his appearance. Actually, he is even more vain than that! It is how he smells that concerns him (this is an Old Spice commercial). He is so vapid, so vain, that even if he doesn’t look good, at least he smells like some one who looks good!
As he moves through the scenes of the commercial he becomes increasingly devoid of substance (literally)!
Symbolically we can see him as the vain person who goes through life carelessly, paying no attention to the way in which the world, the desires of the flesh, and the devil strike at, and eat away at him. But again, never mind all that, at least he smells like some one who looks good! His only real substance is to be lighter than air, a whiff. It is form over substance, impression over reality. It is empty show, it is vanity on steroids.
Here is a humorous look at vanity, a vanity so vain that it exists even beyond appearance and extends into the vapid, vacuous and vaporous vanity of merely “smelling like some one who looks good.” A remarkable portrait really of the empty show that vanity ultimately is. Enjoy!