I'm writing a story about a guy who is really fussed about his appearance. I'd like to describe him as having a relationship with his mirror, and I'd like to describe this relationship using a single adjective, or maybe two, if I can make them flow together nicely in the sentence. But I can't think of one that captures what I'm trying to say.

I'm trying to impart that his relationship is unseemly, something that should be kept private but that he makes embarrassingly public, like an inappropriate public display of affection between lovers. I've been all over my thesaurus but can't find a word that really nails it.

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    Image conscious comes to my mind, perhaps compulsively image conscious or problematically image conscious. OCD comes to mind as another possible adjective. See also body image.
    – Adam Katz
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:30
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    Also, +1 on having a relationship with a mirror. I've definitely heard that before and it does well to demonstrate the concept. (Its only failing being its verbosity, so I'm not saying it is a valid answer given the search for a 1-2 word phrase.)
    – Adam Katz
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:43
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    If narcissistic won't do because it only addresses the guy's perspective, I suggest cringeworthy. But apparently that's peculiarly BrE. Mar 10, 2015 at 19:30
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    @FumbleFingers It's pretty common in American English, too.
    – Nicole
    Mar 10, 2015 at 21:22
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    I'm confused which adjective you're looking for. If you need a word for image conscious, that would be vain as others have suggested. If you need a word for something 'embarrassingly public', that might be taboo, but it depends. Does he find his vanity embarrassing, or is he oblivious to it, while everyone else finds it disturbing? Mar 11, 2015 at 20:10

11 Answers 11


adjective in·de·co·rous (ˌ)in-ˈde-k(ə-)rəs; ˌin-di-ˈkȯr-əs\ Definition of INDECOROUS

: not decorous : conflicting with accepted standards of good conduct or good taste — in·de·co·rous·ly adverb — in·de·co·rous·ness noun


His indecorous relationship with his mirror publicly displayed his vanity.


Vain and vainglorious come to mind:


Having or showing an excessively high opinion of one’s appearance, abilities, or worth:


In the same way that it is acceptable to enjoy intimacy with your spouse, it is generally acceptable to think highly of your appearance or abilities, as long as you don't make a public spectacle of it.

This meaning of vain is likely from vainglorious:

vain (adj)

c.1300, "devoid of real value, idle, unprofitable," from Old French vain, vein "worthless, void, invalid, feeble; conceited" (12c.), from Latin vanus "empty, void," figuratively "idle, fruitless," from PIE *wa-no-, from root *eue- "to leave, abandon, give out" (cognates: Old English wanian "to lessen," wan "deficient;" Old Norse vanta "to lack;" Latin vacare "to be empty," vastus "empty, waste;" Avestan va- "lack," Persian vang "empty, poor;" Sanskrit una- "deficient," Armenian unain "empty").

Meaning "conceited, elated with a high opinion of oneself" first recorded 1690s in English; earlier "silly, idle, foolish" (late 14c.). Phrase in vain "to no effect" (c.1300, after Latin in vanum) preserves the original sense. Related: Vainly; vainness. Compare also vainglory.

vainglorious (adj.)

early 15c., from vainglory + -ous, or from Old French vain glorios "boastful, swaggering." Related: Vaingloriously; vaingloriousness. Groce ("Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 3rd ed., 1796) has vain-glorious man "One who boasts without reason, or, as the canters say, pisses more than he drinks."

vainglory (n):

c.1200, "worthless glory, undue pomp or show," waynglori, from Old French vaine glorie, from Medieval Latin vana gloria (see vain + glory (n.)).



Indiscreet seems to fit:

not having or showing good judgment : revealing things that should not be revealed (Merriam-Webster)


After discarding "narcissistic," I thought "exhibitionist(ic)" might do. "Unseemly" comes to mind too. Ooh, and thesaurus.com gives "blatherskite" as a synonym for exhibitionist.

  • 2
    What's wrong with narcissistic?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:37
  • @Mari-LouA "Narcissistic" only deals with his own vanity, and not the public inappropriateness.
    – wys1wyg
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:44
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    And blatherskite has nothing to do with being a "show off". (not my downvote)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:45
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    A single word is difficult! "Tawdry" now comes to mind, seeing meretricious.
    – wys1wyg
    Mar 10, 2015 at 18:49
  • Glad to hear @Mari-LouA
    – wys1wyg
    Mar 10, 2015 at 19:10

You could always try

Attracting attention in a vulgar manner: meretricious ornamentation

It comes from the Latin for prostitute, so it definitely hits the "embarrassingly public" drum, and points to some kind of vulgar spectacle.


Well, as far as a one word adjective, you have been provided plenty, but I think a complete sentence for what you are trying to convey could be:

"His self-absorbed relationship with his mirror is a direct reflection of his own vanity."

Get it? Reflection and vanity? A double double entendre? Is that a thing?


Why an adjective; why not a verb

His eyes caressed his own image in the mirror

He made love to his image in the mirror

He ogled himself in the mirror

If you need an adjective, again consider those of sexual attraction

He cast seductive (licenscious/lurid/lustful) looks upon himself in the mirror


What about-

Imprudent - lacking discretion, wisdom, or good judgment (MW)


How about something like this, deferring the presence of the mirror until after the build up?

With a gentle knock, she entered his office. His eyes took in the striking figure - well-dressed, oozing sensuality, quite a catch by anyone's standards, with hair that you just longed to run your fingers through. With a sigh, he reluctantly turned from his mirror and contemplated his guest.


I see that narcissistic has been mentioned once or twice, but not really offered as an answer. However, since the question allows a (short) phrase, I'd like to suggest that his behavior was flamboyantly narcissistic. Alternatively, you could call him a flaming narcissist.


Compartmentalize, when a doctor is able to give a patient bad news, yet moments later can play with his child, in a playful happy environment.

Collins gives:

To compartmentalize something means to divide it into separate sections.

Some people compartmentalize their lives and don't mix their personal and professional pursuits.

In comedy, like Red Dwarf, that could come across as so cold...but very funny.

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  • Please always provide a definition from a reputable source. 'Compartmentalise' can also refer to keeping things apart that are perfectly innocent and healthy.
    – Joachim
    Apr 20 at 13:06
  • I don't see how this fits, but I added a citation for you. Up to you to justify your answer. Please see the help center to edit.
    – livresque
    Apr 20 at 22:00

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