There is no such thing as the perfect manicure. The best salon job, with a gel finish, thrice-baked under ultraviolet lights, will eventually chip or peel. Even acrylic nails do not last; your natural nails begin to grow out from the cuticle, and there is inevitably a point at which a gap of exposed, unpolished fingernail reminds you of your flaws and vulnerabilities.
Nail painting and its inherent imperfection are experiences so often associated with womanhood in our culture that their absences are noted in the patriarchal dystopia “The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood. “I remember the smell of nail polish, the way it wrinkled if you put the second coat on too soon,” the heroine recalls in the novel. Even worse is the familiar devastation you feel when, to test to see if your polish has dried, you accidentally leave a fingerprint on the surface of a lacquered nail.
Still, those of us who like our nails painted continue our fruitless pursuit of flawless fingernails. Forget second coats and wrinkly polish, any girl who has attempted a do-it-yourself manicure has faced the challenges of painting with her non-dominant hand. There are so many aspects to consider — it’s no wonder some people jest that a woman is most vulnerable when her nails are drying, or that some women prefer not to paint their nails at all.
As a tomboy and self-proclaimed nail polish freeloader, I know far less about manicures than the girlfriends I bum colors off, but I do not think we are as vulnerable as some would believe. Sit in a nail salon for 20 minutes, and you will see at least one woman turning magazine pages or texting for a friend while her companion holds her arms T-Rexed under a UV lamp, immobile for fear of smearing polish. Friends will do anything short of feeding each other like baby birds in such a time of need.
A woman is probably at her least vulnerable when her nails are drying, as long as she has a friend by her side. I think women should have each other’s backs this way all the time. We can all be there to paint each other’s dominant hand, metaphorically speaking.
Let me put it this way: When I see a girl with chipped nail polish, it makes me smile. It’s not because her flaws make me feel like I am somehow superior — quite the opposite. It’s because I often do not have time to fix my chipped nail polish; knowing how many other women have the same experience of imperfection makes me feel like I’m not alone. I’m not saying we should bring half-painted nails into style, but we can acknowledge our collective vulnerabilities and work from there.
Women have so much to overcome in our lives; we have no time to waste hiding perceived flaws or fighting among ourselves. We need to spend that time using our talents to lift each other up and improve our world for the women of future generations. We can start by recognizing that we all have vulnerable moments, but our support for each other allows us to emerge from them better off.
Life is like a manicure. It is neither perfect nor easy, particularly for women, but we should still be dedicated to making it as beautiful as possible for each other. Life is fleeting and changes its color with the season. It’s going to chip away no matter what, so we might as well use it to give a helping hand. Then, when the polish does crack, we can look at our nails and be reminded that, though we are imperfect, we are beautiful and have each other’s support.
In the coming weeks, this column will discuss the beautiful and supportive nature of feminism as it applies to a variety of topics and experiences, but I wish to note here that I write it with a limited knowledge of the experiences of others. It is called “The Accidental Feminist” because I do not make any claims of expertise. The name comes from a moniker bestowed both lovingly and critically on me by some of my friends. I derive my ideology as a reaction to the situations that women I know face in their daily lives. As such, I encourage further discussion of such situations so that we all may become better informed.
Molly Cooke is a junior in the College. The Accidental Feminist appears online every other Tuesday.