Our Toenails, Ourselves (Reprise)

If you’ve been following the Great Back Pain saga here at The Frump Factor, you will be happy to hear that I made it through both of my summer parties this week without resorting to frumpy footwear.  I wore the black and grey shoes — which looked and felt surprisingly good!  (How did I forget that I owned these for so long?)

Furthermore, I was able to do this without the help of drugs.  Unless wine counts.  (But the wine was purely for medicinal purposes, you understand).  Thanks to all of you for your shoe advice and moral support.

What I didn’t tell you was that I was also supposed to re-do my pedicure before these parties.  That was simply not an option, so may I just say: thank God for the long-lasting properties of Maybelline’s Express Finish nail color!  My pedicure for the parties was over two weeks old and still looked good.

But we all know that even a great pedicure isn’t forever.   While I am not exactly pain-free yet, I was finally able to re-do my pedicure yesterday.  I won’t pretend it was easy.  I won’t pretend it was fun.  I won’t deny that there were a few awkward moments when I had to pull myself up from the bathroom floor, hanging onto the doorknob with one hand and the sink with another.  But I did it!

To honor my great achievement, I have decided to re-run an old post about my love of pedicures.  I’m hoping that I can get away with this because I wrote this almost a year ago, when my regular readers could be counted on one hand (thank you, loyal readers!)  For those of you who are newer followers, I hope you will enjoy this ode to summer.

Our Toenails, Ourselves

It is now officially pedicure season.  Living in the Great Frozen North of New England, this makes me absurdly happy.  It’s part of the joyous seasonal change — just as the hummingbirds return to nest and feed, so do our poor, shrivelled toes emerge from months of hibernation in wool socks and clunky boots.  No longer shivering in sub-zero temperatures, they are now out in the open and ready to party!

I love watching the spunky young toes almost as much as I enjoy watching the seasonal wildlife.  There’s such an endless variety of colors out there — from elegantly sexy muted tones to bright, cheerful splashes of pink and red.  Even the names of the polishes sound joyful.  Tropical Temptation!  Party in my Cabana!  Speedy Hot Tamale!

For those who are color-challenged, pretty nail polishes are a relatively low-cost, low-risk way to experiment.   (For the record, I am now in a “plum” phase, having moved through the beiges, the browns, the pinks and the oranges).  There are always new colors to try, and the financial commitment is small. Even if you’re overly practical and frugal like me, and hate wastefully discarding a color that didn’t work, just trade with a friend!  Have a pedicure polish swap party!  With Margaritas!  See, aren’t you having fun already?

Part of my love affair with pedicures stems from the fact that they happen in summer, when I am on vacation from my teaching job.  In fact, I started giving myself pedicures after a particularly stressful semester when my job was still new.  After having spent months obsessing over every aspect of my work, and taking no time for myself, a pedicure was the perfect antidote.  Instead of poring over books and student papers, I had time to soak my feet, buff away the rough skin, tend to the nails, and wait for two coats of polish to dry.  I found the ritual to be therapeutic.  The fact that it seemed rather frivolous was part of the fun.

Now my teaching job is no longer new, and I obsess a little less.  But I still take joy in the start of pedicure season.   I’ve even started doing pedicures from time to time during the school year — when my toes are hidden — just to prove that I can.  (Ha!  Take that, student papers!).  And yes, I’m still strictly a do-it-yourselfer.  Many women love the pampering of a salon pedicure, but the thought of strangers handling my feet just makes me twitchy.  I will do my own pedicure until I can no longer reach my toes — or until the calluses and rough skin take over and I can no longer beat them into submission with one measly Pedi-egg.    The soothing process of the pedicure, and the bright, shiny results, are still enough to make me smile.

Watching for the re-emergence of colorful summer toes is so much fun, I almost can’t believe that it didn’t always happen like this.  However, I seem to recall that, in my younger years, toenail polish was only for the truly high-maintenance Diva.  Unless I’m mis-remembering, it seems that  most women didn’t bother.  (Though I suppose it could be that most women I knew didn’t bother — maybe because most of them were low-maintenance, or under the age of 18).

In any event, though, polished toes are certainly the norm now.  Just to check, I did a little research at a local strawberry festival yesterday.  Now, New England strawberry festivals are not exactly a hotbed of high fashion.  (Who are we kidding?  New England is not exactly a hotbed of high fashion).  However, my preliminary results indicate that over 80% of all open-toed-shoe-wearing women had colorfully polished toes.  If I limit the sample to women under 70, the figure is closer to 95%.  (Of course, this being New England, there were a whole bunch of sneaker-clad women who may have skewed the data.   We will just ignore them).

You get the point.   Polished toes are here to stay.   I think the change really started about 10-15 years ago.  That’s when I started my do-it-yourself pedicure habit.  But when I discovered that my mother was doing the same thing, well, that’s when I realized a cultural shift had occurred.

My mother raised me with a feminist sensibility, encouraging me to keep personal appearance in perspective, cultivating other skills and interests.  She turned an understandably disapproving eye to most of the beauty input I received from the popular culture of my adolescence (braless Farrah fighting crime; former Playboy bunnies cavorting on “The Love Boat.”)  Even though we do share fashion and beauty tips, as mothers and daughters will, when my mother is around I still try to maintain the illusion that I don’t think about such things very much.   (Case in point:  She doesn’t know about this blog).

However, ten years ago, Mom had a major surgery.  It was a pretty scary one, actually.  A few days before the surgery, she did her toenails in her favorite shade of pale, metallic plum.   Then, on the day before the procedure, she received instructions from the hospital telling her to wear no nail polish.

Apparently, she mulled this over at great length.  Why on earth would they forbid nail polish, she wondered?  Could there be some reaction — loss of circulation, perhaps — that would be masked if her nails weren’t clear?  Did this apply to both fingers and toes?  If her fingers were clear, might it be ok?  Should she remove her polish?  Should she call the hospital and ask?  Or should she just say nothing, and risk having her pedicure unceremoniously stripped away while she innocently slept under the influence of anesthesia?

Ultimately, she decided to keep her mouth shut, and she emerged from the surgery with her pedicure intact.  “It was actually rather important to me,” she admitted, with some embarrassment, after the surgery.

Hey, I get it.  We know that beauty fades.  We know that life is temporary.  We know that, ultimately, we will lose everything.  We even know that, by the time we are old enough to realize what our physical bodies mean to us, they are already in decline.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, everything ends in decay.

But not today, dammit.  I am here.  Pretty toes and all.

How about you?  Do you prefer colorful toenails, or do you dare to go bare?  If you choose pedicures, do you enjoy the salon treatment, or are you strictly DIY?  Share your story!

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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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11 Responses to Our Toenails, Ourselves (Reprise)

  1. redkathy says:

    Hi Anne, I can so relate to that awkward pulling action! Glad to hear your back condition is improving! I love colors, especially bright colors and never “go bare”. Salon pedicures are something I could never do either. Enjoyed the honorable re-run, have a great week 🙂

  2. Yay! For perserverance! I laughed out loud at the grabbing-the-sink part; been there. Glad your recovery is coming along, and your footwear has stepped up (!) to the challenge. I hadn’t seen your pedicure post before, and enjoyed it tremendously.

  3. BigD says:

    Glad you’re feeling better!
    I paint my toenails totally out of social pressure and obligation. I fear being judged if I don’t. (That’s my raw honestly and major personality flaw laid bare.)
    That is balanced by my willingness to actually wear sandals/open-toed shoes.
    I have horribly ugly toes, so it’s only been in the last five years I’ve been able to wear them away from home. I’m so self-conscious about the gnarly digits I inherited from my father.
    I finally decided “to hell with what others think” and started wearing sandals to work and church. Then, I fell to the social pressure of doing my nails.
    I keep the color a neutral pink, because I certainly don’t want to call any attention to this bodily feature!

    • Aww, I’m so sorry about your feet! That’s kind of how I feel about my hands, actually (don’t want to draw attention to them with polish). But I’m glad you are wearing footwear that makes you comfortable! (And I”ll bet nobody else even notices the “flaws” that you see).

  4. I can empathise re: the bad back, mine literally is a pain in the arse! Not helped by spending hours at the computer, – though like yourself I find a glass of wine helps.

    Brightly-coloured nail polish looks fab in summer and yes, I leave mine on for weeks too. I’m a bit rubbish at the rest of the pedicure malarkey but have just found out there’s a cheap beauty parlour down the road that apparently is very good.

  5. denise:) says:

    Glad you’re getting better, little by little! Love the post- pedis are very important! I do get mine done at a salon, but at a quickie place. I don’t need all the massage crap. Just get the callouses, trim the nails nice and paint them please! I usually bring my own color so I can do touch ups. Nekid toes seem weird to me now!

  6. Paula says:

    love my painted toenails too! Love the story of your mom–can relate to the womans lib thing and then the glory of painted toes. And the weather does make it more meaningful in NE–
    Lets see mine are OPI’s Cajun shrimp right now-what are yours?

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