I started reading “Vanity Fair” magazine on a monthly basis a few years ago, as an old friend would bring the magazines to me after he finished reading them. I now have my own subscription. Subscribing to Vanity Fair magazine is not something I would bring up in conversation with my friends. I’d be a bit embarrassed. The magazine at first glance, with pages of clothing advertisements featuring skinny, half-clothed women and highly-stylized photographs of Hollywood celebrities , is sort of a fancier “People” or “Entertainment Weekly.” The magazine itself does not shy away from this stereotype. The magazine’s name is, right on the front cover, V-A-N-I-T-Y Fair!
As much as I detest celebrity, and try my hardest to stay away from vanity, I subscribe to the magazine because even though the stories do tend toward celebrities of the entertainment, business, political and sports worlds; the writing itself is very good. Short histories of people navigating their way through our current world interest me.
Still, the vanity is there. Millionaire actors and young models project pretentious smiles in snapshots of dinner parties and in photographs devised by fashion photographers who are celebrities in their own right. In the pages just after the contents section is a 4-10 page spread entitled “Vanities.” The section is devoted to 10-100 word blurbs with accompanying photographs about what the hot thing to buy is, a new line of swimsuits, new releases of books, albums, cosmetics. This “Vanities” section also contains a half-page column entitled “My Stuff.” An author or photographer is not credited, but a celebrity of some stature, usually an “up and comer,” is featured in a photograph, with an accompanying short biography of why the celebrity is so “it” right now. Around the bio and photograph are boxes of text, listing the celebrity’s “stuff.” His or her favorite stuff. The text boxes are usually grouped in the themes “Home,” “Inspirations,” “Grooming Products” and “Clothes.” Though this is only conjecture, I estimate the point of the column is that if this celebrity likes this stuff, you might too. And if you are infatuated with this celebrity, you may want to buy the same stuff they do to feel “closer” to your hero.
At first, disgusted by the idea, I would skip this column on my way to the more in-depth articles. Then, slowly, I would begin to read them. It was interesting, and I enjoyed questioning why the “stuff” the celebrities like and use are never the stuff I like and use. Was it because few celebrities live in North Carolina, and so our access to retail stores are different? Or, do celebrities really live in some exclusive parallel universe, where their access to “stuff” and my access to “stuff” are two completely different distribution channels?
I embarrassingly admit to you now that as the months and new magazines went by, I started imagining myself featured in the “My Stuff” column. Wouldn’t all my friends want to know what kind of toothpaste I use? As much as I strive for modesty (or self-deprecating humor), vanity seized me this time, and I had to see the idea through. Since there is a very slim chance I would ever be featured in the pages of “Vanity Fair” magazine I built a template for the column on my computer and added my favorites in the “My Stuff” format.
I ran into two roadblocks while working on this project of imagining myself in the “My Stuff” column. First, I never could find a picture of myself (a pre-requisite of putting the column together) that I liked. My own vanity getting the best of me. Second, I really felt bad railing against something I think is so silly, while at the same time wanting to see myself in the same feature Amy Sedaris and Rhianna have recently been a part of. Why would I want people to know what my favorite “stuff” is, when what is usually most important in life is rarely sold in a retail store?
So, I just shelved the idea, until last weekend. My wife and kids and I spent the weekend in each other’s company, supporting my son in his little league baseball game, working on chores in the yard when the sunshine was out, and in conversation or enjoying a movie while it rained. Sunday afternoon we all put on our nicest Spring dresses and khakis on, readying for a Palm Sunday Service. In the late sun moments before getting in the car we decided to make some photographs of our family. My wife made one of me with my children standing on either side of me. They clown a bit for the camera, and I smile, trying to get used to the new eyeglasses on my face that I have to now wear.
Later that evening my wife showed me the photograph, and I knew it solved both my roadblocks. This photograph could be the “My Stuff” photograph for my imagined feature. Why? Because it reminded me that even though “stuff” is great to have (I would find it hard to live without a pair of Vans sneakers in my closet), what is most important in my life is in the photograph with me, my daughter and son. And, even though I don’t usually like photographs of myself; in this one, as I hug my kids and stare down my lovely wife (the photographer), my smile is genuine, full of happiness and real, whether or not that smile would ever grace the pages of Vanity Fair magazine.
That said, enjoy the “My Stuff” column below that features me, Chip Millard!