Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nail Salons: A Study in Awkwardness

I should perhaps preface this by saying that I did not grow up in a make-up friendly household.  My mother doesn't wear make-up.  The only make-up rattling around the bottom of our bathroom drawers were red lipstick containers, blush, and blue eye shadow--relics from my and my sister's dance recitals. (Where we were required by the company to be rouged up like 18th century french prostitutes.)

I was five the first time I painted my own nails.  We were at my grandparents' farmhouse and my older cousins had brought over red nail polish.  I wasn't allowed to have my nails painted, so, when no one was looking, I swiped the bottle, snuck it into the upstairs bathroom and painted my own goddamn nails.  As you can imagine, given my shaky motor skills and inability to successfully color inside the lines at that age, I strutted downstairs and defiantly showed off my bright new red nails...and fingers.  Everyone was horrified.

I was twenty-two the first time I ever entered a nail salon.  My friend and Thai Cuisine co-worker Mary treated me to a pedicure as a college graduation present.  I knew none of the choreography--when to put my feet in the water, when to take them out, when not to put them back in--I felt like a bumbling idiot. It was like trying to put shoes on a toddler.  I was trying so hard to anticipate what the pedicurist wanted me to do that it turned into a struggle.  Eventually, I went limp and that seemed to help.  Overall, it was a pleasant enough experience but I couldn't help feeling slightly embarrassed by my ignorance, incoordination, not to mention the sizeable callouses I've mentioned previously (the stuff of pedicurists' nightmares, I would imagine).  Yes, yes, I know.  Attractive.  But whatever.

Since moving out to Los Angeles, I've inexplicably decided that getting manicures and/or pedicures are relaxing, necessary, and pampering activities of self-care.  And yet, my stomach knots and churns with stress whenever I go and get one and here's why:

A. Any or all manicurists or pedicurists that I have ever gone to have criticized me in someway.  Some of it is warranted.  I do have large callouses, I do bite my fingernails and cuticles, BUT, if I wanted to be scolded for this...well, I don't.  I don't, in fact, want to be scolded for it.  And yet, I keep going back.  It's like I am some sort of strange masochist that craves the verbal abuse I was never subjected to as a young adult.  Two manicures ago, the manicurist lectured me for nearly  fifteen minutes about how men don't find short nails sexy and how the next time I come to see her that I should have long beautiful unbitten nails.  I smiled awkwardly and fought every urge to pry my hand away and nervously gnaw on my cuticles.  I'm sure some of it is cultural but as seeing that every hair dresser I have ever visited in LA has exhibited the same reprove, it must just be some weird beautifying salon karma. I'll never forget the time I got my hair cut at a fancy Russian salon in Westwood and the hairstylist told me: "You have long face.  Long hair makes your face look longer.  Like horse.  Also, I am having problem with Moose and Squirrel."

B. I never know whether or not I should attempt to strike up a conversation with my manicurist/pedicurist.  Is rude not to?  Do they just want me to shut up so that they can quickly and quietly do their job?  What do I even talk to them about?  Nails? Celebrity gossip? (Do I know any celebrity gossip?)  Gun-control?  How do I have a conversation?  And so on.  I recently had a manicurist who I was 99% sure was pregnant and I debated the entire time whether or not I should ask her about it.  Is that safe?  Is that something that I should have asked her?  And here we go again.  I mostly just sit there quietly and awkwardly and have these conversations with myself.

C. I don't know how to communicate what I want.  When manicurists/pedicurists ask me a simple question like: do you want your nails trimmed or filed? Or what shape do you want your nails filed into?  I panic.  I don't know what type of shape I would prefer.  What are my options?  I often sit next to these women that give their manicurists detailed instructions precisely how they want their nails done and I am in awe of them.  I can't articulate those things.  Partially because I don't know how to articulate those things and partially because I am far too mousy to.  Maybe it's a side-effect of working in the service industry for so long, but I never advocate for myself in these situations, mostly because it feels imposing and I hate feeling like I'm imposing...

D. ...which brings me to my next point. It feels shamefully extravagant to get my nails painted.  Especially considering that I myself now possess the necessary motor skills and 50 bajillion shades of nail polish cluttering my polka dot make-up box to paint my own goddamn nails.  But, remember, this is a fun, relaxing activity that I do for ME.  Or do I?  Who knows.

E. No matter how many manicures and pedicures that I have gotten, I still don't know exactly what I am suppose to do and when, so I am still a clumsy mess.

So there you have it.  Will I stop feeling uncomfortable about getting manicures/pedicures?  Probably not, no.  Will I stop getting manicures/pedicures?  No siree.  Much like shopping, I like the having it afterwards so much that I am willing to put up with process of getting it. Then why complain? I guess I just enjoy displaying my neuroses for all to see. I do have a blog, after all...


  1. I googled how not to be awkward during a pedicure and this came up. Thank u u r just like me

  2. I've learned to embrace the awkwardness...sort of. Thanks for reading, Sophie!