2008-04-14 • Volume 2 • Issue 6

In Defense of Unpolished Nails

Today I happily approached my first manicure only to experience the stark realization that while bubbly and predictably dim young people take care of facials and massages, the majority of pedicures and manicures are undertaken by middle aged, immigrant-like, English-impaired Asians. And there is something indescribably awkward when a person like me receives such an annoyingly-mindless middle-high class service from them, such as a manicure. Hard to describe, but after speculation, I’d characterize it as a mix between culture clash, class conflict, national pride, relativism and shame.

The biggest discrepancy occurred near the end of the procedure, where my manicurist—whom I undeniably panicked by answering all of her perfectly normal and socially acceptable, although slightly accented, questions with bizarrely homegrown, stiltedly inoffensive, and politically correct responses—reached across the table at my newly polished hands and did something between massaging and smashing a disturbing amount of lotion (which I sincerely hate and try to avoid at all cost) into my hand. Because when she grabbed my hand, I could clearly see hers too, lingering under the light. I could see her own unpolished, untrimmed nails, with specks of my custom-chosen nail-polish flickered on various places and the skin beneath it, rough and dry.

And as I slowly waited the advised two hours for my nail polish to dry (unfortunately, I only lasted 1/12th of that time; hence my currently messed-up nails that are bringing me no end of torment, although that’s another story) and my friend Teri’s manicurist to finish, I stared at my scarlet nails (I thought it’d be the most economically beneficial to get a noticeable color, thus the reason why I didn’t stick with a more preferential pink or clear), and pondered whether a few moments of being pampered and being able to truthfully sing Glamorous to myself was worth the guilt and excessive thinking this trip to InSpa had taken me. And what of the manicurist? Did so obviously serving a girl that was only one third their age (approximation, of course), one with an Aerie bag rather than an Armani one, whose hair was black rather than blonde, and who, if born just a little earlier, may have been in the exact same salon, working on the same side of the table as them—did this make them feel degraded? Offended? Did it spark them to think about life—hope for something better? Or did they just continue along, smirking as another overindulged and naïve kid came in for this ripoff—called a Classic Manicure that could easily be undertaken by anyone over the age of twelve—thinking that, if they were older, at least they were wiser?

My thoughts were interrupted by the “thank yous” murmured by both my manicurist and Teri’s, as we headed towards the shiny white outside compartment of InSpa, where well-groomed blonds, who looked like high school students working there as a summer job, cheerfully rang up the money they were ripping us off for. My last glimpse inside the depths of InSpa gave me the clear view of two dark-skinned, dark-haired middle-aged women, bent over the feet of a curly haired juicy-clad teenager, and a fifty-something woman whose dyed hair and fake-tanned skin contributed to her looking disturbingly better than myself. Both the clients were reclined in their chairs, with their eyes closed.

The closed eyes got to me. Because as one who rarely frequents a salon, I had always associated shut eyes with the whole relaxation-calming-spa-atmosphere cliche. But this time as I looked at their dropped eyelids I wondered if perhaps it was for a different reason. What if they had adopted my mindset? What if their eyes were closed not because they were comfortable, but because they were uncomfortable? And, caught somewhere between bourgeois regret and the delirium of luxury, they held some crazy hope that, if they closed their eyes, if they didn’t see it, then maybe it wouldn’t be real, maybe this wouldn’t be happening, and just maybe, they might be doing something better with their time.

And then I thought about how mainstream it has become to be a hypocrite. But at least when I get manicures, I keep my eyes wide open. Because insight really is wherever we care to look.

subscription information

The magazine is distributed on campus (free of charge for the first copy or two). Contact us if you are interested in receiving or distributing the Rice Standard in quantity.

You can also download the current issue in PDF format: download current issue in PDF format

If you prefer to have articles delivered to the content reader of your choice, subscribe to the RSS feed: subscribe to RSS feed of recent articles subscribe to RSS feed of recent blog posts

You can also donate to the Rice Standard to help us publish future issues.