By Sydney Lerner
When I was a graduating high school senior, my Mock Trial team gave me a captain’s farewell gift. It was very sweet and unexpected. It had candy, a signed card, a team photograph, some small knick-knacks, and nail polish. My co-captain got the same gift. We pulled out the nail polish and immediately laughed with one another. Her and I have the same quiet affliction. We’re nail-biters.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one. Whether I’ve noticed consciously or not, I’ve gnawed at keratin on my fingertips and ripped the cuticle with my teeth. When I was subjected to the middle school torture of braces, I even had to adapt a new way to bite. My nails have always been stubby and childlike, never extending past the fingertip. I’ve never had the traditional womanly nails, and I never thought I needed them.
Until I got them. The summer before my sophomore year of college, someone suggested I try out fake nails. “I don’t really care, though,” I retorted, having never seen a need to have long, painted additions to my fingers. Still, though, for some reason I went to Silk Nails Salon and got a Full Acrylic Set in essie’s “Lilacism.”
And I loved it.
I loved being able to strum my fingers on surfaces and make that covetable authoritarian sound — the sound of an important woman waiting for a response. I loved being able to hold my phone in front of me and swipe through pages, my beautiful nails framing the screen. I loved wearing rings and bracelets, because I loved the way my hands looked. I loved my fake nails.
My manicurist had told me that they would last two weeks, so exactly two weeks later, I called to make an appointment for them to remove and then reapply my acrylics. When I got there and they looked at me confused and pitying my nail innocence, I realized I’d made my first fatal mistake in the world of nails. With acrylics, they simply fill-in and re-polish your fake nails. With this new knowledge, I confidently chose essie’s “Tart Deco” because, honestly, essie was the only nail polish I knew and it seemed chic.
I spent the rest of my summer with acrylic nails, and intermittently throughout the school year I’ve gotten them applied and removed. They’re really a hassle to deal with. Every two to three weeks they need to be filled in, otherwise they look gross and chippy. If you can’t find a salon near you to remove them, you have to soak your hands in acetone (which feels like you’re burning your skin off, by the way). And getting them taken off in the salon is pretty painful too! Even getting them applied can be painful if you have an aggressive nail-filer. So why did I do it? Why was it worth it?
Last week I was getting a full acrylic set applied (by one of the aggressive nail-filers) and really contemplating why I was doing it. The woman next to me leaned over and said, “Excuse me. I see you’re getting those put on, but why? You asked him to cut them pretty short, so why even bother? Does it last any longer than regular nail polish? Sorry, I’m just curious.”
Here we are, everyone. The reason I’ve written 500 words on fake nails. I smiled back at her (I love talking to strangers) and said, “Well, I don’t have nails. I always bite them. So with acrylics I finally can have them. And honestly,” this is the moment in which I did some serious soul searching in a tiny nail salon next to a kind Orthodox woman, “they make me feel confident.”
People might laugh at fake nails for being tacky or cheap (even though they cost more than a real manicure), but that doesn’t matter. They make me feel confident. They make me feel like I can take on the world. They make me feel like I can write a killer essay. They make me feel like I can talk to intimidating people. They make me feel confident, and so I am confident.