Hard as nails 

The first nail varnish I owned was a bright, metallic royal blue. It was never meant to be mine to keep, really. My sister had bought it for me so that I could take part in a “nail varnish exchange” chain – sending it to someone and receiving six more in return – but my parents vetoed, and that was that. 

So the bright blue polish was mine to keep. And perhaps it was meant to stay mine all along. It matched perfectly my blue corduroy Tammy Girl minidress, which in turn matched the silver teddy bear pendant with the blue charm on its belly. I loved all three things, wholeheartedly. In them, I was Baby Spice. I was invincible.

And so began my relationship with nail polish. I have spent days of my life and a terrifying amount of my salary on those tiny, jewel-like jars. I have more colours and textures than any one woman could possibly need – yet I cannot walk by a bargain Illamasqua set in TK Maxx without at least picking it up to coo over. 

I have had exactly one professional manicure in my life. It was the result of being hoodwinked by some sneaky salespeople in the street in my first couple of weeks of university. Pay x amount upfront and get all these treatments you neither need nor want at a bargain knockdown price! 

I was mostly confused or scared of all the treatments I’d become eligible for, but a manicure seemed manageable. I wanted a French polish, the height of sophistication to my 18 year old mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for it. So instead I got a nondescript pearlescent pink. It chipped within four hours; I’ve never seen the point of paying, since.

I paint my nails at least twice a week. Base coat, colour, top coat – all bashed out with less concentration than it takes me to make a toasted sandwich. Though I lack dexterity and finesse in all other areas, I can create ten perfectly neat nails without even thinking.

Unfortunately, I have a terrible nervous habit of picking at the edges of my polish. The tiniest hint that there might be something peelable, and within minutes I’m surrounded by shards of coloured shrapnel. If I’m having an uncomfortable conversation at work, I’ll suddenly become aware that I have a lapful of nail polish flakes and two scrappy looking hands. I’ve taken to keeping a plunge pot of nail polish remover in my desk drawer so that I can break the cycle if it begins – but it can’t save me when I’m trapped in a meeting room, or visiting someone offsite. 

The only way to not pick it off is not to paint my nails in the first place. And yet. 

And yet there’s nothing as soothing as painting them. 

And yet there’s nothing as satisfying as the first ten minutes after they’re set.

And every time might be the time I keep them intact for a week. This might be the time I become a put together, sophisticated, grown up lady – the type that can wear a French polish, just casual, nbd.

Today it’s foggy and my nails are a murky misty grey. I’ve got Sunday night blues, and nails to match. I doubt they’ll make it through Monday – but send me good thoughts, and maybe this is the time all ten of them will survive.

The three fundamental truths of nail polish:

  1. Seche Vite is expensive but it is totally worth it, and it can transform the cheapest and most rubbish of polishes into something that looks sleek and professional.
  2. Barry M nail polishes will clog and go lumpy distressingly quickly, but they cannot be beaten for throwaway fashion shades that you just want to whack on a couple of times to catch a trend.
  3. Instagram manicures are a lie perpetuated by evil robots and no real human can recreate them.
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