A few weeks ago, I lamented the fate of my acrylic fingernails during the COVID-19 lockdown. When I wrote that I had been wearing the nails for over 30 years, something inside me blushed in embarrassment. How could I have been wearing fake fingernails for so long? Time has been marching on over my lifetime. And it seems it has been marching past me with acrylic fingernails.
This epiphany started me thinking about what motivated me to pay someone to paint artificial material mixed with toxic chemicals on my hands every few weeks over the past 30 years. Arguably, the whole acrylic fingernail thing is a ridiculous notion. I have been embracing it for over half my life. How is this possible?
My journey towards three decades of acrylic nails started long before anyone ever even heard of acrylic nails. I was a terrible nail-biter as a child. It started with thumb-sucking and escalated. I could not seem to keep my fingers out of my mouth, no matter how hard I tried. My parents didn’t make a big deal about it, but they tried to help me overcome the habit in every way they could. They tried manicures. They tried bribes. They tried coating my fingers with various solutions designed to discourage me from putting my fingers in my mouth. They put a rubber band on my wrist to snap when I caught myself biting my nails. It was so bad that I often left myself with only nibs of nails. Sometimes, I had to go to the doctor to be treated for infections because of the nail-biting.
Most kids outgrow nail-biting. I was not most kids. As I grew older, I did lose the thumb-sucking habit, but was never able to control the nail-chewing urge. I picked and broke and bit my nails well into adulthood. My hands were always in shambles. I can’t count the number of times I tried to stop, but I always failed.
Fast forward to 1989. My ex-husband left me in 1988 and I was just starting to think about dating again. This was long before internet dating sites (it was long before the internet, period). In those olden dates, the pre-cursor to match.com was the newspaper personal ads. I had no idea how to meet people. I think everyone I knew socially was married. No one seemed to have any suitable gentleman friends with whom to set me up. I eventually met the first man I dated after my divorce through a personal ad. After a few phone conversations, we agreed to meet in person.
I was terrified. In retrospect, I probably had no business dating at that point. I was still too broken from a bad marriage and divorce. Besides, I was almost 30 years old and had not been on a first date since I was 17.
The day we were to meet, my nervous system was in armed revolt. To soothe my squirrely spirit, I went to the mall. Shopping is kind of my drug of choice when I need a little artificial serotonin. As I wandered through the stores, every stress response in my brain pushed me to buy something. I ended up buying some pretty underwear. That didn’t really do the trick for me. After all, I told myself, I had no intention of letting anyone see my underwear that evening so what difference did it make if it was new? I kept wandering and looking for something I could buy. I had already told my date what I was going to wear and, since that was the only way he would recognize me at the bar where we were meeting, changing that particular horse didn’t seem like a good idea. As I walked past the beauty salon, I noticed a sign for acrylic nails. That’s it, I thought, I can buy new nails!
Acrylic nails were just starting to become the rage at that time. I didn’t know anyone who had them. I just saw them as a quick and easy way to gain some confidence for the evening. I knew that my date was likely going to be disappointed in my looks, so I thought that I could at least buy myself some pretty hands. Honestly, if I’d known at the time that you had to come back every few weeks to have more acrylic applied to your fingers, I doubt I would have done it.
I guess ignorance was a good thing in this case because I did like my new nails. I guess I liked them a lot since I’ve been maintaining them ever since.
My hands were nice. They were way nicer than the guy I wanted to impress deserved, as it turned out. I dated him for about a year before realizing he was kind of a jerk and way more trouble than he was worth. I broke up with him, but I did not break up with the acrylic fingernails.
Speaking of breaking up… or, rather… not breaking up… one of the benefits to the acrylics was durability. I can’t say that I completely stopped biting my nails when I got the acrylics. However, the consequences of biting my nails were much more limited. They were so strong, I didn’t demolish them every time they got near my mouth. It was like there was more intervention time. When I put my fingers to my mouth, I had enough time to realize what I was doing and remove them before I did any damage.
All in all, once I had the acrylic nails, I couldn’t imagine not having them. My hands, another shameful secret in my repoirte of unattractive qualities, were no longer a source of embarrassment. I guess, overall, acrylic nails and I have had a decent partnership. But 30 plus years? That just doesn’t seem reasonable. Still, I had every intention of starting over again once the salons reopen. I figured, with the acrylic-related damage incurred by my natural nails and my uncontrollable nail-biting, I’d be lucky to have fingernails at all by the time we are released from lockdown.
Surprisingly, though, my natural nails are doing fairly well after four weeks of freedom from acrylics. They are not in great shape and I’d love to have a manicure, but I don’t seem to be destroying them. The nail atrophy that I expected was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. The nails are flimsy and rough but seem to be holding up against normal wear and tear and many, many hand-washings. Even more surprisingly, I don’t think I’m biting them. I smooth the edges each day with a manicure block because they do seem to fray a bit, which also seems to help.
Maybe that the reality of fake is that I don’t need the fake after all!
What is the most fake thing about you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a real day!
PS: EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT! My latest book, Random (A)Musings will be released on Amazon.com on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Please look for it and consider buying a copy… or several dozen! The book will be available in paperback and kindle editions.