1 Month Bite-Free: A Retrospective
I’ve made it one month without biting my nails. Hallelujah! On the one hand it’s been a challenge to learn how to manage stress without the relief of gnawing my fingers. On the other hand it’s been surprisingly easy because my lifelong love affair with nail polish reasserted itself with a vengeance. The promise of new colors and sparkles has been a great motivator. I’ve gone a little overboard buying new polishes, particularly when you consider that most have been purchased within the last 3 weeks. But hey, if it keeps me from biting my nails, it’s worth it.
I’ve quit biting a few times before, but usually in the past I just put up with ragged stubby nails and slapped polish on regardless of how it looked. My 1-month anniversary got me thinking about my relationship with nail polish and I thought I might blog a little about it. I’m going to date myself here, so bear with me, youngsters.
I grew up in a small town back when nail polish was pretty much pink, red, pinky red, and reddish pink. In middle school I discovered a love of colored fingertips and would prowl the cosmetic section every time my mom dragged me to the store. Pink and red bored me, seeming like a hold-over from the old-fashioned previous generation. I wanted options. Wet n’ Wild had a flat white, and then at some point released navy blue and hunter green. Larger markets may have had other color options, but that was it for us. Even purple was rare, aside from pinkish lavenders.
Halloween brought the epiphany of black polish, again in the form of Wet n’ Wild. I hoarded that black polish, knowing it would be a year before it would show up in stores again. In the eighth grade I decided I was tired of my choices and realized I could mix my own. I have a crystal clear memory of sitting on the family room floor with a piece of paper and a tooth pick, mixing white and royal blue to get a pale pastel sky blue. I worked quickly to move the rapidly-drying cheap polish to my fingernails. The sense of accomplishment was amazing. No one I knew had ever come to school with pastel sky blue nails. I had invented something (as far as I knew). I mixed white with green, white with pink, I tried mixing colors directly on my nails. I didn’t need halloween anymore, I could just mix my own unique tones.
If you’ve ever seen the 1990 movie Total Recall you may remember the receptionist’s manicure set that changed her nail color with a touch of a wand (image credit goes to mygeekblasphemy.com). In her first scene she holds up a hand full of blue nails and the message is clear: we may not wear these colors today, but in the future we will. In 1990, mixing my own colors, it felt like the future was now.
As is common with kids, I got attached to other hobbies (such as crushing eye shadow and “dying” my Barbies’ hair by rubbing the powder into the nylon). I forgot about nails for a few years. I rediscovered it in late high school/early college when my intense Depeche Mode fanhood blossomed into an obsession with electronic music. I discovered artists like Orbital, The Orb, Future Sound of London, Aphex Twin and Plastikman. Underworld became my new favorite musical act, a title they retain to this day.
I came into my formative years as the Detroit rave scene was reaching its pinnacle, and I went to school a mere hour and a half from the epicenter. Right around this time metallic cosmetics started appearing in stores. Silver lipstick was my first purchase, followed by silver nail polish. Sally Hansen released a line of chrome lacquers that looked as sleek as the T-1000 Terminator (another Schwarzenegger movie reference? WTF?). I still have my first Sally Hansen chrome, purchased in the late-90s, hoarded like the precious treasure it was. Revlon released a line of Street Wear polishes, my favorite of which was called Gun Metal. Metallics were great for an electronica lover. Dancing in a condemned warehouse wouldn’t be the same without a shiny shirt, shiny shoes (mine were sparkley red), pigtails, body glitter and silver lips and nails. And of course wide-bottom jeans, a wallet chain and a pink sparkly wallet. This was my 1997 uniform, along with blue streaked hair and an an assemblage of dog chains around my neck.
By the early 2000s cosmetic companies were pumping out colors that would have previously been considered crazy or unusual. I pounced. Here’s an old photo of my collection from somewhere around 2001:
This photo was taken during another lull in my interest. These polishes had been sitting around for a while, unused and unloved, slowly separating in their bottles. This was partly due to my damn fickle nature, and partly due to the fact that I was now out of school and attempting to look semi-professional in the workplace. Taxicab yellow didn’t seem quite conservative enough, especially on gnawed nails with unkempt cuticles. My natural hands weren’t exactly professional looking, but color seemed to draw attention to their state of failure.
That was my last foray into the world of polish. Sometime after this photo I decided to throw away anything I didn’t think I would use again or seemed like it had thickened beyond use. I got rid of my big silver caboodles makeup case and forced my collection down to fewer than a dozen polishes. And even those collected dust.
In 2004 I got married. Embarrassment over my chewed nails sent me into a nail salon for the first time. I noticed the racks of professional lacquers in all sorts of interesting colors but I was focused on one thing: give me classic french tip acrylic nails so I’ll look normal for photos. Acrylic nails certainly stopped the biting, but I hated the thick feeling and I hated the maintenance. I kept them up for about 4 months, but a few weeks after our honeymoon I soaked them in acetone and peeled them the hell off.
It was a cosmetic downhill plunge after that. I bit and chewed and took more and more stressful jobs. It was an outlet for anxiety and went from habit to compulsion. In 2008 I gave birth to twins and justified my nail biting by telling myself that short nails were a necessity with babies. I put everything that was purely for my own benefit or enjoyment on a shelf and only did things that benefited my offspring. The last 3 years have been a low point for self-care, and I’m only just now getting to a point where I’m rediscovering the things I used to love and trying to carve out time and interests for myself.
The discovery of /r/redditlaqueristas on Reddit late last year inspired me to take on nail biting for my 2012 New Year’s resolution. The discovery of nail blogs made me aspire for better manicures. The discovery of Pinterest helped me assemble a wish-list of appealing nail art. Two weeks ago I walked into an Ulta for the first time in years and made the best discovery of all: while the Total Recall instant wand may not be reality yet, the promise of every imaginable color is. And nail art has finally made sufficient inroads into mainstream culture that I can wear taxicab yellow to the office without causing a stir. I can stamp, I can shine and I can glitter without violating a dress code. And I don’t need to hoard between Halloweens anymore.
It’s a great time for nail polish. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I still want to bite my nails, in fact I constantly have to remind myself not to even tap my teeth with them. The temptation is strong. I’ll always be a nail biter, but I can be a nail biter in remission.
It’s been a month since I’ve bitten my nails. They’re still shorter than most people would wear them, but they’re longer than they’ve been in years. I’m strangely proud of my little stubby nails and ragged cuticles and dry skin. Now I just have to try not to go broke buying up every nail polish I see.