Manicure, Schmanicure

I’m a big fan of pedicures, but the manicure has always left me cold.  Most of the time, my fingernails are bare, as well as ridiculously short.  I played violin for many years, which requires nails that do not extend at all past the fingertip.  To this day, I feel twitchy when they get too long.

But I always thought the manicure was an optional extra.  You know, if you wanted to feel all girly.  So I was somewhat dismayed when I recently read an article about preparing for job interviews that listed a “professional” manicure as a requirement, right up there with groomed hair and professional attire.

Huh?  Did I miss a memo?

I mean, come on:  the manicure is NOT practical.  It just isn’t. Humans do things with their hands.  I’m not a scientific expert, or anything, but I seem to recall that the development of opposable thumbs was  a key moment in our evolution.  One of the things that allowed us to rise up out of the primordial ooze was our ability to make tools and use them.  With our hands.

True, in a modern, industrialized society, most of us don’t have to chop wood, create fire, or skin rabbits with our bare hands.  But we do have to type.  Dig keys out of our purse.  Pry open modern packaging that was clearly designed as a practical joke to thwart us.  All of these things are hard on a manicure.

So now you’re telling me it’s a requirement for working women to maintain manicures that are poorly suited for doing any actual work?  Really?

I’m sure the impracticality of this is part of the point.  Like high heels, tanning, and other beauty trends, I expect that manicures originated as ways for the privileged classes to demonstrate that they don’t have to work.  If you have servants and personal assistants to carry things around and open jars for you, maybe you can go more than one day without chipping your nail polish.

But the fragility of the manicure is not the only issue.  Even if you wore gloves every day, your nails would grow.  Say you manage to protect that polish, by re-applying protective top coat daily, shunning all metal objects, and carrying your keys in your mouth.  How long will it take before the growing nail emerges, unpolished, and makes the nails look sloppy?  Three or four days?  Maybe a week, at most?  (Is it just me, or do fingernails grow a lot faster than toenails?)

At minimum, we’re talking about something that needs to be done weekly, right?  So you either pay somebody to do it, devoting scarce money and time to this endeavor, or you engage in the entirely absurd process of trying to do it yourself.

I’ve tried both, I must confess.  Despite all the practical arguments against manicures – or maybe because of them – I occasionally get the urge to have one.   I consider it a fun, pampering, special kind of treat to enjoy once  in awhile.  I’ve gone to see professionals a few times, and I do like how my nails look — for about 4 days.

Even with the palest, most neutral shades available, ugly regrowth is still visible pretty quickly.  And once it’s time to remove the manicure, I discover that the manicurist has diabolically applied a Teflon-hard topcoat that will not come off. (A ploy clearly designed to make me come back, yes?)

Sometimes, foolishly, I’ve chosen the do-it-yourself manicure.  Ha!  First of all,  I have horrible, horrible cuticles.  I swear that a couple of them extend practically halfway across the nail bed.  Hangnails, scraggly bits, these are constants in my life.  (So are dry skin and constant paper cuts, but I digress).

Since a polished nail can actually draw attention to these kinds of flaws, I must attack those cuticles before attempting a manicure.  Soak, moisturize, push back, back, back.  Swear because this action causes cuts and abrasions and swollen redness, making everything look worse.  Buy liquid cuticle remover.  Apply.  Wait.  Wipe off.  Swear again, because cuticle remover can’t tell the difference between cuticles and actual skin at the base of the nail.  More scraggly bits, more redness.  More swearing.

Once we get to the polish stage, I’m already exhausted.  So now you expect me to deploy hand-eye coordination?  And wait, doing nothing, for each coat to dry, one hand at a time?  Are we living on the same planet?  Well, ok, I kind of like the idea of being forced to do nothing.  But, you know, I might have to go to the bathroom.  Eat a snack.  Scratch an itch.  (I’ve tried quick-dry nail polish, but the color selection is just not the same).

Sometimes I think this battle is too big for me to fight alone.  Maybe I should go see a nail professional on a regular basis.  Maybe I’d find this to be a relaxing, pampering activity.  Maybe my lovely nails would give me joy.

But then I remember all the horror stories you hear about people getting nasty infections from nail parlors – even supposedly clean ones.  It’s Russian roulette, right?  The more times you go, the higher your chances of getting hit by the bullet.

The fingernails and cuticles are fertile breeding grounds for bacteria, they say.  No nail salon can ever be clean enough, they say.  If you really want to be sure, you should buy your own manicure kit, and bring it with you, they say.

Ok, let’s stop right there.  I try to keep an open mind, but I am not the kind of woman who can be bothered to purchase and carry her own manicure kit to the salon every week.  Just, no.

Yet, I have to admit:  I was intrigued when I recently stumbled across this article, describing newer, more durable, long-lasting manicure technologies that were new to me.  The author describes both methods in detail, and the older of the two — the gel manicure — is probably familiar to many of you.  Apparently it involves some kind of space-age substance that’s applied to the nail and then fused to it by being heated under UV lights.

They say this manicure will last for weeks and weeks — until regrowth forces you to remove it.  Or, more correctly, until regrowth forces you to return to the salon and have them remove it by drilling into the nailbed! Or by soaking your entire hand in acetone.  Um, no, thank you?

The newer  “shellac manicure,” which is also remarkably chip-resistant and can last about two weeks, sounds a little less scary.  Like the gel manicure, it can only be applied and removed in salons, and it involves UV light.  But apparently, it can be removed by just dipping the nail beds in acetone  — for something like 15 minutes.

Although the writer of this article was very pleased with her results, I don’t think I’m ready for all this.  I’m not sure that pretty nails are so important to me that I’m willing to have chemical substances fused to my body.  (Do the technicians wear HazMat suits and those goofy UV-resistant goggles?)

So the way I see it, I have two choices.  Either I carry on with the half-assed, hit-or-miss, occasional manicure system that I have right now…… or I position myself at the forefront of the Great Anti-Manicure Rebellion of 2011.

What would you do?


About Anne @ The Frump Factor

Reflections on beauty and style, for women who weren't born yesterday. Bring your sense of humor and "Fight the Frump" with me!
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24 Responses to Manicure, Schmanicure

  1. Sue says:

    I’m in the anti-manicure camp to begin with, and the tale you tell of super high-tech manicure processes has me somewhere between being aghast and chuckling uncontrollably. But I bet most of us fixate on one or another element of style as our talisman. In the last year or so I’ve gone for higher heels in boots, shoes, and sandals because (for deep and bizarre psychological reasons, no doubt) they make me feel like the most confident, most powerful person in the world–and, anyway, I usually wear them for only two or three hours at a shot. However, my smart, sharp friend in academia who couldn’t care less about most fashion trends and hates high heels with a passion is never, and I mean never, without a pedicure.

    • That is such an interesting point. I, too, know somebody who can’t be bothered with fashion but always has impeccably done nails. (And I’m totally with you on the heels! I don’t wear super high ones, but high-ish ones absolutely give me that powerful feeling).

  2. Hi Anne, actually I agree. I cannot remember the last time I had a manicure. I cannot justify the expense because I mess them up so quickly. Housework is usually what does it. This would be the same for me as purchasing a $30 blouse and tossing it in the trash as soon as I wear it once! I might get one for my daughter’s wedding…only because that is a very special occasion!

    • A daughter’s wedding sounds like the perfect occasion for pretty, absurdly impractical nails! (Plus, maybe it will prevent you from doing any heavy chores that day). I’m glad you vindicate my views on the “everyday” manicure, though.

  3. Donna says:

    Anne, you and I are on the same page regarding the manicure issue. My oldest daughter and I got pedicures as a special treat a few years ago and the smell from the chemicals that were being used on the manicures gave me a migraine. I’ve loved pretty nails ever since I was a child but not enough to go through all that rigmarole. A co-worker got a bad infection on a toenail from a salon so I’m leery all round about the mani-pedi bit. I admire the well-tended, well-groomed ladies but guess I’ll have to muddle through on my own.

    • That doesn’t surprise me about the migraine. I used to go to a coffee shop with a nail salon adjacent to it, and the chemical odors made it all the way in there, interfering with the pleasant coffee aroma. Makes you think. (I do enjoy the do-it-yourself pedicure, though. Not sure why!)

  4. Franca says:

    Yes! With you there! I have stopped any attempts to grow (they bend, they break, I start picking and ruin them even worse) or beautify my nails, I am just accepting that they are short, and plain. I don’t like anything being a requirement!

  5. Fashnlvr says:

    I have done the mani/pedi thing – occassionally. I always keep my toes up to date (unless it is winter) and yes, I think they do grow slower than fingernails. Or maybe it’s because they are so far from my face I can’t tell as soon. Anyway – in my twenties I kept my natural nails long and polished myself. It would take me a good 2 hours or so every week. Then I got much busier in life, learned to play the piano and my teacher made me cut them. So they stayed short and unpolished. Last summer I grew my nails out and kept them polished. Added a layer of acrylic over them (I will NEVER do that again) then cut them off to grow out the drill ridges (ARGH) Mostly, my nails are short and unpolished or I only wear a clear coat. I just don’t have the patience to sit still while all the primer, color and top coats dry. I can never make mine look as nice as the salons do and I too can’t stand the idea of spending a small fortune to keep them up by visiting every week.
    That is my story – go long or go short but go natural. I’m considering it part of the green movement. 🙂

  6. Well my fiancee took me for my first manicure last week and it was amazing. I’ve been in the food service industry forever and my nails have taken a beating. 2 to 3 of them are perpetually split to mid-nail. It’s uncomfortable and unattractive and we have been trying to manage it on our own. The place that my fiancee took me to does manicures for only $10. It’s been almost 2 weeks now and my nails are still in much better shape than they were. I can’t wait to go again!!

  7. Gail says:

    Speaking from the UK, I have to tell you that we’re brainwashed into thinking that US professional women are extremely well groomed with perfect nails and blow outs (blow dries as we call them). I’ve found it largely true, and baffling because many of those manicured nails actually have acrylic nails, which are even harder to maintain – I tried it for a while. I try a DIY manicure every week and get to grips with cuticles by applying an oil every day – it’s the only thing that works. But I never have a manicure done professionally, my nails are too short.

    • Very interesting. I’ve often thought that, in other countries, the prevailing image of U.S. women comes from TV and Texas, where women may be a bit more “done.” (But at least one of my commenters is a non-manicured Texan!) I “just say no” to blowouts, too, as you can tell from my photos!

      You may see more “done” women because you see them in a rather high-powered professional setting, no? But those acrylic nails always sounded like bad news to me. May have to try some cuticle oil one of these days. (I tried a cream but it didn’t seem to do much).

  8. Terri says:

    You have just encapsulated every reason I do not manicure. I keep my nails short and clean and do not trouble myself about cuticles at all. I have read a few interesting bits about the Sally Hansen patterned nails. I think these are just bits of some special tape…easy to apply for a person who has coffee tremors.

  9. GingerR says:

    I’m not big on manicures or nail polish, but I think having one prior to an INTERVIEW is probably a good idea.

    The job market is tough and I wouldn’t want someone on the hiring side of the desk to disregard my superior qualifications because my hands/nails look like I’m a gardener and not a Systems Analyst.

    That said, light colored polish doesn’t show chips as easily so I always go for that or no polish at all.

  10. Rae says:

    My nails grew in strong and long after I had my son and I love wearing nail polish although I very rarely bother with getting them ‘done’, just paint them my self – I used to have well over 100 colurs but cut back and now have about a dozen, but I shall have to have them cut ultra short soon when I start my massage course… didn’t think that one through too far did I?

    On those new gel nails, I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole, I hear too many horror stories of infections etc… ew!

  11. b says:

    A lot of things required in the grooming department for job interview is not practical. But there is no fighting it…unfortunately. I have the gel manicure and wait a little over a month to have it redone. A good manicurist will not hurt you or your cuticle and your nail will always look good. Even if you dig in the dirt. All you need is a good nail brush to clean them. Ask me. I know!

    Good luck. I gave up and do the nails and toes. It is just less painful to go with the flow. Sigh!


  12. denise:) says:

    Love the pedi and can make one last a month (I bring my own polish so I can do touch ups in between), but I hate the mani, for all the reasons you listed. Thank you for posting; my short, nailbitten, splitting, ratty cuticle “man hands” appreciate having company!

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