I'm a big fan of pedicures, but the manicure has always left me cold. Most of the time, my fingernails are bare, as well as ridiculously short. I played violin for many years, which requires nails that do not extend at all past the fingertip. To this day, I feel twitchy when they get too long.
But I always thought the manicure was an optional extra. You know, if you wanted to feel all girly. So I was somewhat dismayed when I recently read an article about preparing for job interviews that listed a “professional” manicure as a requirement, right up there with groomed hair and professional attire.
Huh? Did I miss a memo?
I mean, come on: the manicure is NOT practical. It just isn’t. Humans do things with their hands. I’m not a scientific expert, or anything, but I seem to recall that the development of opposable thumbs was a key moment in our evolution. One of the things that allowed us to rise up out of the primordial ooze was our ability to make tools and use them. With our hands.
True, in a modern, industrialized society, most of us don’t have to chop wood, create fire, or skin rabbits with our bare hands. But we do have to type. Dig keys out of our purse. Pry open modern packaging that was clearly designed as a practical joke to thwart us. All of these things are hard on a manicure.
So now you're telling me it’s a requirement for working women to maintain manicures that are poorly suited for doing any actual work? Really?
I’m sure the impracticality of this is part of the point. Like high heels, tanning, and other beauty trends, I expect that manicures originated as ways for the privileged classes to demonstrate that they don’t have to work. If you have servants and personal assistants to carry things around and open jars for you, maybe you can go more than one day without chipping your nail polish.
But the fragility of the manicure is not the only issue. Even if you wore gloves every day, your nails would grow. Say you manage to protect that polish, by re-applying protective top coat daily, shunning all metal objects, and carrying your keys in your mouth. How long will it take before the growing nail emerges, unpolished, and makes the nails look sloppy? Three or four days? Maybe a week, at most? (Is it just me, or do fingernails grow a lot faster than toenails?)
At minimum, we’re talking about something that needs to be done weekly, right? So you either pay somebody to do it, devoting scarce money and time to this endeavor, or you engage in the entirely absurd process of trying to do it yourself.
I’ve tried both, I must confess. Despite all the practical arguments against manicures – or maybe because of them – I occasionally get the urge to have one. I consider it a fun, pampering, special kind of treat to enjoy once in awhile. I’ve gone to see professionals a few times, and I do like how my nails look -- for about 4 days.
Even with the palest, most neutral shades available, ugly regrowth is still visible pretty quickly. And once it's time to remove the manicure, I discover that the manicurist has diabolically applied a Teflon-hard topcoat that will not come off. (A ploy clearly designed to make me come back, yes?)
Sometimes, foolishly, I've chosen the do-it-yourself manicure. Ha! First of all, I have horrible, horrible cuticles. I swear that a couple of them extend practically halfway across the nail bed. Hangnails, scraggly bits, these are constants in my life. (So are dry skin and constant paper cuts, but I digress).
Since a polished nail can actually draw attention to these kinds of flaws, I must attack those cuticles before attempting a manicure. Soak, moisturize, push back, back, back. Swear because this action causes cuts and abrasions and swollen redness, making everything look worse. Buy liquid cuticle remover. Apply. Wait. Wipe off. Swear again, because cuticle remover can’t tell the difference between cuticles and actual skin at the base of the nail. More scraggly bits, more redness. More swearing.
Once we get to the polish stage, I’m already exhausted. So now you expect me to deploy hand-eye coordination? And wait, doing nothing, for each coat to dry, one hand at a time? Are we living on the same planet? Well, ok, I kind of like the idea of being forced to do nothing. But, you know, I might have to go to the bathroom. Eat a snack. Scratch an itch. (I've tried quick-dry nail polish, but the color selection is just not the same).
Sometimes I think this battle is too big for me to fight alone. Maybe I should go see a nail professional on a regular basis. Maybe I’d find this to be a relaxing, pampering activity. Maybe my lovely nails would give me joy.
But then I remember all the horror stories you hear about people getting nasty infections from nail parlors – even supposedly clean ones. It’s Russian roulette, right? The more times you go, the higher your chances of getting hit by the bullet.
The fingernails and cuticles are fertile breeding grounds for bacteria, they say. No nail salon can ever be clean enough, they say. If you really want to be sure, you should buy your own manicure kit, and bring it with you, they say.
Ok, let's stop right there. I try to keep an open mind, but I am notthe kind of woman who can be bothered to purchase and carry her own manicure kit to the salon every week. Just, no.
Yet, I have to admit: I was intrigued when I recently stumbled across this article, describing newer, more durable, long-lasting manicure technologies that were new to me. The author describes both methods in detail, and the older of the two -- the gel manicure -- is probably familiar to many of you. Apparently it involves some kind of space-age substance that's applied to the nail and then fused to it by being heated under UV lights.
They say this manicure will last for weeks and weeks -- until regrowth forces you to remove it. Or, more correctly, until regrowth forces you to return to the salon and have them remove it by drilling into the nailbed! Or by soaking your entire hand in acetone. Um, no, thank you?
The newer "shellac manicure," which is also remarkably chip-resistant and can last about two weeks, sounds a little less scary. Like the gel manicure, it can only be applied and removed in salons, and it involves UV light. But apparently, it can be removed by just dipping the nail beds in acetone -- for something like 15 minutes.
Although the writer of this article was very pleased with her results, I don't think I'm ready for all this. I’m not sure that pretty nails are so important to me that I'm willing to have chemical substances fused to my body. (Do the technicians wear HazMat suits and those goofy UV-resistant goggles?)
So the way I see it, I have two choices. Either I carry on with the half-assed, hit-or-miss, occasional manicure system that I have right now…… or I position myself at the forefront of the Great Anti-Manicure Rebellion of 2011.
What would you do?
More from beauty-style