Growing up, I never had the luxury of having long nails. The uncontrollable force behind my short and stubby nails was my overwhelming anxiety. In every situation I encountered, I’d find myself biting my nails. The only two options to alleviate the anxiety or fear were to chew on my nails or bite my lips. Not only was this the source of a lot of ridicule at school and at home, but everyone around me placed a large emphasis on the state of my nails.
My mother would always explain to me that the first things people notice are your smile, your eyes, and your nails. She advised me that if I ever wanted to be treated with respect, then my nails would have to reflect my strength. However, what she really meant was, if I wanted to be taken seriously by anyone, I would have to look the part. At that time, I wanted nails for aesthetic purposes. I wore acrylics for two years and my own nails grew underneath. By the time I started college, my relationship with my own nails had begun to deteriorate. I hated them and kept wearing acrylics until my real nails were damaged.
After experiencing horrific incidents at nail salons, I began to do my own nails. With the pandemic, I didn’t want to risk someone doing a bad job. During this time, people have turned to press-on nails, the cheaper and easier alternative to nail extensions done at the salon. I ordered a reusable pair for twenty dollars. Once I received them, I realized I’d made a mistake in sizing and had to forcibly fit them onto my nail bed. On top of that, the length was an accidental homage to Edward Scissorhands. I decided to use this as an opportunity to not only test my confidence but my ability to wear such long nails while doing classes on Zoom.
- First thoughts
At first it was difficult to do basic things. Typing on the phone and even on the computer were dreaded tasks. There wasn’t a message sent without at least one typo. Eventually, I had to rely on my knuckles and the sides of my fingertips to type. I was a bit nervous to wear such flashy nails. They were light blue with a cow print on one finger—not overtly flashy but still enough that it was clear they were not my authentic nails.
Class started and I did my best to keep my hands next to my body. I didn’t want anyone to notice my nails. However, I soon discovered my overreliance on talking with my hands as it was difficult to get my point across during discussions in breakout rooms without them. Eventually I began to flap my hands around and show my classmates my extremely long claws. No one mentioned anything until we got back to the main room and talked about the norms associated with our nails. A member of my group mentioned that some men found women with longer nails unattractive or “fake.” It was a blow to my self-esteem because she’d only mentioned her experience at the sight of my nails.
Even so, she was right, I had been picked on freshman year by a guy for wearing unique eye makeup and long nails. He said they’d be a giant red flag to any guy trying to approach. It hurt at the time, but I quickly got over it because I never wore those things to impress others. It’s true that some men in my past experiences have made assumptions about femininity and women’s appearances. They assumed women’s self-care was to benefit and impress them.
- Papers, papers, papers
As the week passed, the deadlines for several essays approached. After being the topic of conversation in class and acknowledging the fact that these nails had a life of their own, I began to treat them as icebreakers. When meeting new people during class, I would mention the challenge I was completing. I was met with compliments and stories about how nails were such an important aspect of developing one’s personality. One of my classmates explained to me her attachment to nail art and how she’d use it to showcase her mood.
Taking a look at the nails I’d chosen for this challenge, the reasoning behind my color selection was to feel at peace. It was a pale blue color, and any time I would look at it, I’d feel reassured about what I was doing. The challenge proved difficult when it came to normal tasks, but it was an enlightening experience that opened doors to new people and a new perspective.
I could no longer use the excuse that my fake nails provided me with confidence. With or without nails, I always managed to find confidence within myself. The only purpose the nails served was to enhance what was already there. After slowly letting the nails fall and seeing the short nails underneath, I hoped to let them grow alongside my confidence.