I’m peering down at my not-yet-chipping ice blue toes, painted this past weekend with a new color from the fabulous Butter London makeup line.
Blue. Since when did one paint one’s toes with blue nail polish? It seems so teen-y, so young, so un-me.
But over the past few years, I have discovered that I really enjoy the alternative looks in nail color. For a few years it has been really dark browns and purples, close to black, that feel a bit goth. I’ve gotten used to these dramatic colors on my toes, and just this year, I actually let them migrate up to my hands a couple of times, both times with exhilarating results. I like how much they look like a young, cool person’s nails.
And how far a cry they are from my mother’s Misty Lilac and Strawberry Pink nails.
For the first decade of my life, my mother did not use nail polish at all. She barely wore makeup, except for the bright gash of Revlon’s Persian Melon lipstick (which sounds a lot prettier than it was – a pinkish orange, which was the exact wrong color for my mother’s olive complexion.)
Then one day, when I was about 10 or 11, my mother started painting her nails. Never a real manicure. She was a do-it-yourself person, always at home, with cuticle sticks and emery boards and pinks and reds and berry colors galore. Once she started, she never stopped. To the day she died, she had one of those colors on her nails, in the dim hope that they might distract from the ropy blue veins that pervaded her slender hands.
I was not impressed. As a teen who preferred overalls and Earth shoes to dressing up of any sort, I thought painted nails were anti-feminist, a product of the male-dominated military-industrial complex, and as a result, not for me. Also, anything that my mother did at that stage of my life was anathema to me. So I continued to bite my nails and ignore any siren call of adorning them.
Many years later, after college, a friend dragged me into a New York City nail salon. It was the mid-80s, and the salons were cropping up like weeds all over the city. $5 manicures – who could resist? All I remember was how pretty my hands looked once they were shaped, clipped, softened, moisturized, massaged, and painted. And although I couldn’t go any more radical than a very pale pink, which was quite demure, it was really quite beautiful.
I was hooked.
It took me a few years longer to agree to let anyone touch my toes. For some reason, I had the willies about toes and feet --- had never even worn sandals (although I liked to walk around barefoot in my hippy phase) – and a pedicure just seemed outlandish. But one summer, deep into my anti-foot stance, I realized that if I just had a little color on my toes, perhaps baring them in a sandal wouldn’t be so embarrassing. So it tried it, going a little more wild than the pale pink of my fingers, and painting on a deep red.
The rest is history.
Today, I refuse to bare my toes without color. And if I had the time and energy and it didn’t chip the minute I started making dinner or doing dishes, I would have a manicure every week. Having my nails done makes me feel polished – no pun intended – and pretty.
And now, it is also something I can do with my daughter. My 14-year-old has never had any hesitation about wanting to do all the girly things that 14-year-old girls like to do to make themselves up. She loves nail polish – has probably 25 different colors in her room, and changes it up all the time. She wears jewelry. She dabbles in make-up. No overalls and rebellion for her.
So from time to time, I treat her to a pedicure when I am in the mood for one myself. It’s really fun. She usually chooses some outlandish neon green and I go in for the more muted taupes and blues. We sit next to each other, chatting a bit, reading silly magazines, and checking our phones. Just like girlfriends, but better. I love the chatter in the nail salon, with women of all ages, shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds sitting together, communing over this simple but remarkably empowering beauty routine.
My hands are starting to age, looking more and more like my mother’s hands every day. Every time I look down at them, I think of her veins and her pink polish. How I wish she were here so I could take her with me and my daughter to have them shaped, clipped, softened, moisturized, massaged, and painted together. So that someone could take her hands and make them feel beautiful. We could read silly magazines together and chat. I know she would like the treat, and I would so enjoy the company.
photo by jfeuchter via Flickr