The beauty business can be so skin deep. Sometimes I feel pretty shitty about spending so much of my life wrapped up in analyzing the intricacies of multiple shades of sheer pink nail polish (ladies, Essie Mademoiselle, Ballet Slippers, and Sugar Daddy have been DONE to DEATH and layering them makes no difference visible to the naked eye, sorrynotsorry) and the constant call for me to critique and ‘fix’ other womens’ nails, hands, skin, cuticles, whatever. You should hear what women say about their own hands – I had no idea one simple part of the body could be analyzed to such a minute degree before I became a manicurist! “Ugh, my cuticles are the WORST.” “I have such stubby fingers.” “God, my hands look so OLD!” And we’re just talking about HANDS here! Feet? Forget about it. *
Anyway. What I’m saying is that all I hear all day as I’m managing the salon is “I hate my…” this and that, not to mention my own issues playing on a loop in my head, and I take money for beauty treatments that temporarily improve the aesthetic qualities of small parts of people’s bodies to somehow make them more palatable, sell them anti-aging products that promise to restore their youth (who even wants it back, honestly? Being a teenager sucked) that they’ve lost and are subsequently nothing without, according to the media. Get your nails polished or risk not being taken seriously at your job! You can’t wear open toed shoes with those snaggle toes, even if you do run marathons and have 3 kids and a full time job, lady, so get in here and get a pedi now! Guilt! Shame! You must do it all to have it all! Your beauty is your worth! AAAAGH!
There’s another much more positive angle that a lot of beauty companies take, and that most people who spend their money and time on lotions and potions and creams and powders think is their main reason for doing it at all, one I’m going to call that the ‘treat yo’ self’ mindset. An hour-long pedi with hot stone massage and a paraffin treatment? “That’s my ‘me’ time.” $30 nail polish? “The color makes me smile.” And that’s perfectly fine, as long as that really is the truth, and not ignoring issues or insecurities that you should address instead of buffing off or painting over. I mean, I spend a LOT of time on makeup and clothes and talking topcoats and a certain shade of shade of hot pink (NARS Schiap, get it, love it, wear it on your toes all summer, wear the matching lipstick and radiate awesomeness) and I do it all because I genuinely love it. I love feeling the weight of a bottle of luxurious polish in my hand, the motion of swiping it on, looking down at it on my hands all day and smiling. I get it. But that still feels shallow at times, not to mention classist – those who can afford these products and treatments get to have that feeling, those who can’t, don’t – and I still struggle with it. Until last week, that is.
One of the parts of my job that I love are the people I get to meet and help and the stories I hear. The nail salon is kind of a safe space for people to talk and to vent, not to mention that we have some of the loveliest regular clients you could ever want to meet. One such client (the talented Nisha Sondhe, a favorite of mine, but shhh, don’t tell the other clients) asked me for help picking out a polish color, holding a bottle of a bright, fire engine red (Dolce & Gabbana Shocking, fyi) and wanting a few colors to help set it off. I know she tends to wear reds, so that was no surprise, and she likes to be creative with her manicures like I do, so I set to work picking a gold-flecked black (Stromboli, also D&G) she’d also liked. She asked for a third color, so I picked a warm, shimmery, sandy beige (D&G Desert). When I brought her colors over, she mentioned offhand that she always wears a very specific shade of red. I told her I’d noticed that, and she said that the reason was that when she was receiving chemo treatments, the worst one for her by far was called Adriamycin. “They call it the Red Devil. Look it up… or don’t, it’s pretty awful, actually.” I, of course, looked it up. *shivers* Scary, right? It was all I could do to keep it together, which is not at all what she was intending, I’m sure, and she is one tough cookie to boot, but this image and the whole story she’d just told me just struck me at such a deep place. She went on to tell me that not only does she wear the red for that reason, but that she also always wears a different color from all the other nails on her right thumb because it swelled due to lymphedema, a little known condition caused by lymphatic system issues, often due to the removal of lymph nodes, that affects many cancer patients. But instead of trying to downplay or disguise it, she paints that baby a different color entirely! And THIS is why what we do is important. THIS is why the beauty industry isn’t a total evil empire. Because this beautiful young woman, who went through something horrible, used something so seemingly superficial as nail polish to deal with what she went though. Instead of running scared from the challenges in her life, she wears the exact shade of the thing that is so awful as a kind of armor and keeps on going. I had no idea Nisha was going through all of this, I just knew her as my salon’s client, a cool chick with a great sense of personal style (hello, pinkie alligator ring!) and a bright smile who comes in for funky manicures every week in a certain shade of red. But she’s so much more than that, and so is beauty. Yes, at its best, it is looking pretty, it’s pampering, relaxing, indulgent (even when it’s 99 cents at the drugstore), and centered around ‘me time’, which goodness knows we could ALL use. But more than that, so much more, it can be a singular and very personal way to deal with the things you are going through, a creative outlet to voice struggles and successes, a method through which one can wear his or her inner life on your outer shell for the world to see. I am indebted to her for helping me see that beauty is adornment, but it can also be empowerment. And that is beautiful.
* It’s amazing how much people will spend on pedicures, only to cringe at the perceived ‘ugliness’ of their feet, even after they’ve been scrubbed and buffed and polished to perfection in our salon – I always want to say, “But your feet are a work of art! They bear your weight, allow you to run with your kids, to feel sand between your toes, to dance!” I’m no foot fetishist (As a nail tech, I know what evil can lurk between those toes and underneath those nails!) but I respect feet because they do nothing but carry you from place to place, all the while allowing you to rock those Loubis or studded flats or gladiator sandals or whatever shoe you choose. So what if they’re not the prettiest part of the body? They’re laborers, and there’s more real beauty in that that just about anything, I think. End foot rant. End blog post.