Many Years O’ Biting
I’m a nail-biter from way, way back. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t bite ’em. Over the years, the many, many, many years, I have tried to quit. Here’s what happened.
When I was about nine or ten, I discovered nail polish. I can’t remember if I was biting then. Picking cuticles and ripping off my poor, sad, flimsy nails… Probably. Anyway, I discovered polish. Cutex, to be specific. I loved every color. I wanted every color.
My mother bought nail polish for me, along with a cuticle kit and files and all the trimmings. I purchased more bottles with babysitting money or allowance. Then I proceeded to paint my nails repeatedly. I did manicures with friends, by myself, and on any pet that would sit still. I painted my mother’s nails, which were big and smooth and oddly shaped because she never bothered with them. They broke all the time, like mine.
My father was a biter like me. I asked my mother how he stopped. She shrugged and said that one day he just quit doing it. I’m wondering if it had to do with smoking because he was big into cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. She said no, he bit and smoked at the same time.
One afternoon, I remember painting my nails repeatedly with different colors, one on top of the other, just because. I must have been bored. I barely waited for the coats to dry as I applied and reapplied every color I owned. The polish became a thick layer on my nails. I kept messing them up as I was listening to records or reading magazines. Finally, one nail stopped sticking. I peeled off a thick layer of polish, all different colors, and spent some quality time inspecting it. I peeled the other layers off and placed them on the table to investigate. They were little smooth oval plastic dots.
After a thorough inspection, I started over with a fresh layer of polish, carefully applied on each nail again. I was trying to apply it perfectly so there were no marks on my fingers, but at a certain point, I gave up.
I remember going through periods of time when I stopped biting and grew the nails out. Then I would lose focus and peel them all off. Not the polish, but the nail itself. I repeated this pattern for a long time.
When I turned 50, I didn’t think I would ever have nice nails. It wasn’t in the cards. I just bit and picked my way through life. But after speaking with the wonderful people who are involved in The Balance and Beauty Collective, I learned that Yolanda Britt, nail artist and founding member of the collective, would help me break my habit. All the people I spoke to at the Collective told me Yolanda was the one.
She was and she did. Yolanda looked me in the eye and talked to me about nails. She showed me how to take care of my nails and still keep them natural instead of using extensions. Not that extensions or acrylics are a problem…but I wanted to keep mine shorter and natural.
This is an early picture, when I first got my nails done. I can’t remember if this is the actual first picture, but it is close. Yolanda enticed me with gorgeous Shellac color and hand-created designs.
Yolanda told me to oil cuticles all day every day, as much as possible. We identified when I felt most compelled to pick and I thought of other things to do with my hands at those moments.
I had to learn to be a little careful with the nails. These babies are totally mine. I can eat pie, grade papers, and write assignments on the computer.
For more strenuous work, I need gloves. Rubber gloves for washing dishes and cleaning, which is fine, because I was using them anyway. I purchased heavy-duty, waterproof work gloves and now I make myself use them for outdoor work. I use them for some indoor work like moving boxes or furniture, etc. If I can remember.
I can spray paint a backdrop for a project, but it does have to be the same color as the shellac. I forgot my gloves and got lucky. My mani was fading anyway.
Usually, I need to sit and enjoy the mani for a day after it is completed. My day is often Friday or Saturday morning. Friday is better because I can do more teaching work and less physical work. I have to let the mani cure…haha…before I do any heavy lifting or else I will have wasted my money.
One time, I came home and canned tomatoes afterwards. Not a good choice. The shellac peeled off after one week.
If I’m careful and oil my cuticles, I can make the mani last a solid two weeks. My nails are very dry as is my aging skin. I have to keep track of oiling and lotioning hands all day. Some days I do better than others.
If, by chance, I lose a piece of shellac, I want to pick and peel. It’s just there looking at me and it’s hard to resist. Yolanda does not recommend peeling off the polish as it peels off a layer of nail, too. I don’t have much nail to begin with. I need all the layers I can get. I try to trim off any parts the might flake or peel back instead of pulling them off my nail. Sometimes I’m successful. Sometimes it’s too much for me to resist.
I have started to purchase “dupes,” that is, duplicate or similar colors of polish, from the drugstore. I use these to cover up areas of nail that have peeled or chipped. I don’t see the chip and refrain from picking. Mind games!!!
You know what gave me that idea?
Yeah, the spray paint.
To Rest or Not to Rest
Some people question whether or not you should have ongoing manicures or whether you should let nails rest and breathe. For me, it’s not a question. The shellac is both weakening and strengthening, I guess. If it’s off my nails, as happened one time when I took off the polish myself, I’m more likely to pick. The nails are weak and break off. I can’t get enough moisture or oil on them to compensate. Regular polish does not strengthen my nails the way gels do.
That being said, though, my nails are weak and breakable to begin with. They are like my mother’s nails, which were soft and bending. I have never had strong nails, so I don’t mind keeping them covered at the risk of “weakening them.” Hell, they are already weak. So it’s better if I keep them covered and strong with gel than to take time off and let myself start up picking again. I was not successful when I removed the gels myself and had a couple days before my next appointment.
I would rather cover my nails with pretty colors and pay money to keep my hands looking good. If you are someone who has never bitten nails, you may not understand the depth of my feelings about this topic. But it’s very important to me. And gels didn’t exist when I was younger. Regular manicures peeled and chipped in a day or two. It wasn’t worth it then. It is now.
Living Happily Ever After
Overall, I’m really happy. I have broken the habit of peeling nails and picking cuticles. My hands are something I can be proud of and I receive compliments on my nails now. I don’t mind having shorter nails. I ask to keep them short so I don’t break them off or get annoyed with them. I believe the longer they are, the more I’m going to mess with them. And the more likely I am to damage them as well. I’m bashing my hands against everything in this house as I go about my day.
Now and again when I’m anxious, I try to start something. Find a baby hangnail and start working it. But these days I’m able to catch myself. I oil up, lotion up, and woman up.
I love my nails. Seriously.