Thursday, January 21, 2010


I've always considered myself a study in contrasts. A little of this, AND a little of this. X, but also Y. You might consider this, but then again on the other hand that.

And so it goes when it comes to beauty. I went to a traditional women's college, one that wasn't quite as feminist empowering as I've always imagined Smith, say, or Wellesley, maybe, to be. While there, I grew my fingernails long-ish and painted them regularly.

Then I was accepted, for graduate school, to a large state university in the deep south with a huge football program and plenty of greek life and very definite ideas on femininity and the door was literally but not figuratively always, always held open for me. But I was accepted into a science program, hardcore physics / math / chemistry / bio-geo-chemistry sort of work, male dominated, where you had to fight to be heard and taken seriously. I showed up the first day in my neat t-shirt tucked into clean pressed shorts (a look I thought said serious student), long hair, long fingernails, and my beloved Tretorns (remember those?) and my professor took one look at me and I swear sighed a little sigh. Everyone else (professors included) wore ripped cutoff shorts and ragged t-shirts and birkenstocks and the other women certainly didn't give a fig about hair or makeup. It was serious, fieldwork science, strap on your work boots and get out in the dirty field and collect and process samples and then go out and do it all over again. Who had time for painted fingernails? I kept doing it, for a while, because I found it relaxing and I liked the dichotomy of long hot pink nails and hard core field science, but eventually I stopped because I knew people didn't take me seriously, and sometimes image is everything and perception is reality.

And then I got an office job where we just looked at other people's science and thought about what it meant and I kept my fingernails bare because I wasn't really an office person I was a field scientists and hard core, dammit. But then I realized I wasn't ever going to be a scientist in the field ever again and it was kinda fun to paint nails, so went back to it on and off, but kept my nails short. And then I worked for a non profit advocacy environmental organization and you better believe there was no nail painting, but then I started pedicures because that could be something fun for me and no one else had to see it and I could still be taken seriously as an environmentalist and still have fun painting my toes (or, the ultimate luxury of having someone else paint my toes!).

Through all this, I've never worn much makeup, and almost none at all now since the goopy eye incident of 2008. (Which never really resolved, despite new makeup - since that day, makeup makes my eyes itchy. Who knows.)

I have a small stash of polish, which my 4 year old discovered and loves. Loves, loves loves. I painted one of her hands blue and the other pink last night, and she could not wait to get to school and show her friends, all of whom also had painted nails.

You wouldn't think a person could write so much about nail painting, would you? Except I saw a beauty story in a magazine and became fascinated with a color I saw and googled it and would you believe there are (a large number of) blogs devoted to nail polish? I had no idea. And that's only what came up on page one of google for one color. Who knew this? Seriously, over here we have the infertility community, and over there the food people, let's not forget the political blogs of all types, and the mommy bloggers and then there's the illness bloggers, and then fashion, and over there - the nail polish bloggers. The internet is a fabulous, fabulous place. What in the world did we ever do for info before the internet? I'll tell you we didn't type that much, that much I know, cause if my nails get more than a quarter of an inch past my fingers I suddenly can't type well at all.

I've always been mostly a deep rich ruby or pink or plummy kind of gal, though anything goes on the toes. But I've seen a lot of darker colors lately, especially on short nails. So today I stopped by a salon and picked up this dark green color and when I was on a conference call I put on a base coat and then two coats of color and though it's been a while didn't do too bad of a job, if I do say so myself.

I couldn't quite get the proper nail blog pose right, but had to show off. OPI Here Today Aragon Tomorrow, from their spanish line fall 2009.

It was fun to paint my nails. I'm considering doing it more regularly, though I still have these weird feelings that painting my nails says something about me that I don't want said. At least out loud. So my question of the day, do you paint (or have someone else paint) yours? Do you wonder if you have painted nails that you won't be taken as seriously? Or is this just something I worry about?

eta: I know the answer is do whatever makes you happy and why in the world did you write too many words about this? I know that, and I'll do that. I do wonder, though, if anyone else wonders about the image they project, and if being too, hmm, "feminine" for want of a better word, means they aren't taken seriously as professionals or intellectuals or whatever elite term you'd prefer to use. Would you wear polish (mod, dark polish? pale pink only?) to a job interview? Is there a benefit or a detriment to being feminine in a man's world? What do you think?


Kymberli said...

Once upon a time (read: before children), I painted my nails once a week or so. For some reason, I've never exactly figured out the proper sequence of basecoat, color, topcoat to keep my polish from chipping within a day or two of painting my nails. Being the lazy bum that I am, I shifted into using clear polish so that my hands didn't look as ghetto if I went a week or so without doing anything to my hands.

Now, I rarely take the time to polish my nails with color. If I do, it's usually in the summer when I have the time to devote to the upkeep. I prefer the deeper wine/red colors.

Given the fact that I'm a teacher, the profession is largely dominated by women. I don't think many of us really pay too much attention to whether each other has manicured, polished nails or not.

Astarte said...

When I was working at Hellish Job before Patrick was born, I went through a phase where I had fake nails and had them done every two weeks. It was so ridiculous and expensive! Other than that, I never paint my fingernails, although now that you mention it, it might be fun to try it out once in awhile, since I'm not changing diapers or scrubbing vomit out of things fifteen times a day. I do my toenails, but usually only in the summer.

I think having fake or really well manicured nails does say something about a person, in the same way that expensive clothes, or birkenstocks, or pink hair do. They are all choices you make that come from your own personal sense of what's important. When I see women in stores with three-inch nails laquered in sparkly flowers, I definitely have an idea of what they might be like.

I don't wear makeup, other than mascara and the occasional nude lipstick when my lips are dry. I choose this because I am frequently hugging or kissing a kid or a pet and don't want to leave marks / get dog hair stuck to my mouth. I don't wear fancy jewelry, not even the stuff my mother hands down to me.

I hope it's normal to have two sides, because occasionally I do dress up, or do something with my hair, for a few days or weeks. I know when I go into the classroom to teach, there will have to be a happy medium between dressy and casual.

B's Mom said...

I have never worried what my painted nails say about me- quite the opposite really- I worry about what my naked nails say about me! :)

Even if I don't paint my nails, I keep them manicured. I make sure they are cut evenly, filed, and I keep my cuticles nice. Often I will paint my nails with a nude shade or a clear coat. It only takes a few minutes before I go to bed.

FYI (I know you are DYING to know!) I always keep my toes painted. It can be any color, but it has to be done! I also envy women with long fake beautiful fingernails.

The Yak said...

Just not a girly girl... I have never painted my nails or my toes. Reasons? Too girly, too much trouble, too "fake" (as with makeup, I feel if people started seeing me wearing it every day, then if I skip a day they'll be, like, "Are you sick?"). Also there are other things I;'d rather do with my time and money. So I guess I'm the wrong person to comment. Ask me about books instead.

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