Manicures as “self care”

Anyone who really knows me well knows that I have the most disgusting nail and cuticle picking habit. And I found out that there’s actually a name for this: Onychophagia – it’s body-focused repetitive behavior and is considered a disorder. The picking habit supposedly stems from anxiety, whether it’s conscious or subconscious. For me, I know I tend to pick my cuticles and nails when I am either bored, irritated, or just idle. Ed actually had a nail picking habit, too, when he was around, and when I think about it, I realize we both got this terrible habit from our dad. My dad picks at his cuticles and his dry skin on his hands, and as someone who worked in construction, his hands were alway dry, flaky, scaly, and pretty scary to look at. My mom always used to lament that when she first met my dad, he had such smooth, beautiful hands… then, after years of working in the glazing industry to install glass, his hands became her worst nightmare.

However, there is one time when I will definitely not pick at my nails or cuticles at all, and that is when they are polished. It doesn’t matter if it’s regular nail polish, gel, Calgel, whatever — if I can see that they look beautiful and presentable, the picking just does NOT happen. And when I was spoiled with manicures every few months while working at a agency, when Google used to take my small team for mani/pedis on the regular, I realized how nice it could be to be treated to something that I once thought was so superfluous and superficial.

I tried painting my own nails on and off. I really just don’t have a very steady hand, especially painting with my left hand. I also don’t have the patience to let it dry completely. I resorted to just painting my nails clear since that was enough to prevent my picking habit, plus clear dries so much more quickly. But when I met up with a friend in Boston last summer and noticed how nice her nails looked, she told me that she made time to do it every week, once a week on the same day. “It’s my self care,” she said. “This is the time I get to myself to focus on my nails, and then I am rewarded with this for the rest of the week!”

“Self care.” It seems to be a term everyone is talking about now. I even get Instagram ads targeted to me in regards to self care — this pertains to everything from manicures, spa treatments, bath salts, scented soy candles… all of that. I’m not sure how I feel about this because as a marketing ploy, anything could be labeled self care as a justification for purchasing whatever it is, whether it’s an object or an experience.

If I get my nails done professionally, I might get them done once or twice a year, and I realized that last year, I didn’t get them done a single time. So I decided to splurge today on a gel design at a trendy Japanese nail salon near my office. My nail technician spent an hour and a half on me — longer than I anticipated, but I appreciated the level of detail she gave me (and even the Harry Potter movie I got to watch while she worked on my nails).

After I left the salon, I kept staring at my nails and admiring them. It wasn’t cheap to get a design with a gel, but I justified it in my head because a) I didn’t get my nails done at all in 2019, and b) they told me this would last for 3-4 weeks. Well, maybe this really is self care. And maybe these little splurges are worth it, if not just to express creativity in a different way, but also to prevent myself from skin and nail picking.

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