Since I was about a year old, I’ve had a terrible habit. Breaking it back in December allowed me to do something last night that I have never done in my life, yet you probably do it every week. I cut my fingernails.
I know – It was pretty traumatic for me, too.
I don’t remember when I wasn’t a dedicated onychophagist (AH-nee-co-FAY-gist). That’s fancy for “nail biter.” Only a handful of times in my thirty-nine years have I been able to grow my nails out beyond the tips of my fingers, much less groom or polish them.
For my daughter’s birthday in June, she wanted us to have a Girls’ Day getting our nails done. That marks my first manicure. It cost me ten bucks to let an Asian lady NOT give me the wonderful hand massage I’d heard so much about, file my nails unevenly after she complimented “how nice I keep them,” then paint them about as well as my 3-year-old niece could in an Asian-speaking shop with 22 religious posters and Italian Mass being held on TV at full volume. I did learn the value of the topcoat, though – It makes your nails look permanently wet. Lesson #1 was totally worth ten bucks!
Chalking this experience up to the poor decision of getting a manicure at a place with ‘Express’ in its name, we tried another place. This young woman gave no massage at all, but my nails were perfect! I also learned about something called Shellac. It’s a gel polish that is bonded to your nails so it never chips. If you press it with something hard enough to make a dent, wait a few seconds and it will disappear as the gel fills it back out. Pretty cool stuff.
Unfortunately, you have to go back to the salon and soak it off. I didn’t really have time for that and straight acetone doesn’t even dull the finish, so I peeled/scraped it off myself. Lesson #2 – Do NOT peel gel nail polish. It makes your nails look like sheetrock after you rip off wall paper. Not good. Lesson #3 – Base coat hides these flaws.
It feels a little vain, but I’m very proud of my fingernails. They represent the determination it took to break a habit that was almost as old as I am, and I do believe it’s broken. Even the length of my nail bed has grown since I stopped, and my nails are stronger than they used to be.
Like every other habit I’ve ever broken, I had some slip-ups. Decades of them, in fact. This time is different because I was ready for a change. This time I grew them for no other reason than I want pretty fingernails. They make me feel feminine and graceful, and I no longer worry about what people think when they see my ragged cuticles and tiny nails, chewed past the quick. I never even think about biting them anymore and can’t imagine ever being a nail biter again.
I’ve neglected my hands a bit in the last couple of weeks. Filing them back down to a manageable length would take more time than I had free last night, so I was forced to bring out the nail clippers. The concept of cutting off a chunk of the beautiful nails I’ve so painstakingly cared for was daunting. What if I cut too much and had to make them all shorter than I wanted? What if after cutting them straight across, I couldn’t get the perfect roundness back? What if they weren’t even? I finally dismissed myself with a shake of my head and began snipping.
Guess what? Nothing horrible happened! They didn’t suddenly fall off like I once dreamed, there were no unsightly gashes or weird edges, and I had them to a nice length and pretty, even shape in no time. Clipping a sliver off the tips of my hard-earned nails is not destruction of all my work. Occasional pruning is the small price I pay to keep the beautiful nails I’ve put so much energy into having.
These ten symbols of who I am are beautiful because I made them that way with attention to detail, persistence, and consistency. If I want to keep them, I must continually manage their care and my dedication to it.
I suppose lesson #4 is that the work isn’t finished just because you reach your goal. To stay there, you have to do a little maintenance.