I stood at the gate of my flight and watched the Delta gate agent type on her keyboard. As she typed, her long fake fingernails made loud clicking noises on the keys, drawing my attention to her dainty little hands. Her nails were long, bright red and very plastic looking, and two of her fingernails were embellished even more with little sparkly rhinestones. She had rings on almost every finger.
I looked down at my own hands and felt a sudden wave of embarrassment.
My hands are far, far from dainty. I’ve always had large, rugged, somewhat- masculine hands — the kind that scour pots and pans with Brillo pads, scratch skin riddled with poison ivy rashes during the summer, and dig in dirt on the weekends. My fingernails are almost always short and raggedy, and during the wintertime, my skin is as rough as sandpaper. Now that I’m in my late 50s, my hands are covered with a network of blue veins that remind me of my grandmother’s hands.
Some women treat themselves regularly to professional manicures and pedicures. I, on the other hand, do not. I prefer treating myself to a tray of pansies from Lowes or Home Depot from time to time, or swinging by the McDonald’s drive thru and ordering a shake to enjoy in the car on my drive home. I’ve never been to a nail salon, and truthfully, if I went, I’d be a fish out of water. They would laugh at me for being so unsophisticated.
Many women take pride in cultivating beautiful hands and nails, turning them into an extension of their personal style, and I’m certainly not knocking this practice. It’s fine. To each his or her own.
But I find it interesting that women spend so much money on their fingernails, and that nail care has become sort of an art form in the last two decades, including elaborate manicures, intricate nail designs, and an array of nail polish colors providing a means of self-expression. The beauty industry has responded to this demand with a vast array of products and services dedicated to enhancing the appearance of fingernails.
During the holidays, you can buy nails that look like tiny Santa Claus replicas, like miniature snowmen, like the ugly Grinch, or accented with little crystal snowflakes. You can buy fingernails that are long and sharp like an animal’s claws. You can buy nails that look natural or nails that look rather Bohemian (or Boho) — showcasing different colors and patterns. You can even buy fingernails that are shiny like chrome. Of course, these nail extensions, gels and wraps are not really fingernails at all. They are fake.
A real fingernail is a thin, protective plate composed of keratin — the same protein found in hair and skin — that serves functional purposes like aiding in tasks like gripping, protecting sensitive fingertips, scratching dog ears, and plucking splinters out of fingers and feet. And they grow. The growth rate varies among individuals, and is influenced by factors such as age and overall health.
When I was a young girl growing up in the 1970s, I remember seeing a photo of an Asian man in my family’s Guinness World Records book who had long, curly fingernails that looked like giant earthworms dangling from his fingertips. And in 2022, there was a woman in Minnesota who held the record for the longest fingernails on a pair of hands ever. One of her fingernails was 4 feet 7 inches long, and cumulatively, the combined length of her fingernails was almost 43 feet. She had been growing her fingernails for over 25 years, and I doubt she has done any chores around her house in that time frame, and I bet she couldn’t even wash her own hair. What kind of life is that?
Again, my fingernails are repre- continued from page
sentative of my lifestyle. Most of the time, they bear the marks of my outdoor pursuits. The earthy stains tell a story of dedication to maintaining a garden, and the roughened edges speak to the tangible efforts put into creating an outdoor sanctuary.
In the end, whether adorned with soil or meticulously polished, fingernails say a lot about a person. Each set of nails carries its own unique tale, and the contrast between the utilitarian hands of a gardener, like me, and the elegant hands of a girly-girl underscores the diversity of experiences and priorities in our lives.
So to the Delta gate agent with the long sparkly nails, I say, “Rock on, sister! Rock on! You have beautiful fingernails.” As for me, I’ll just stick my hands in my pockets so no one can see them.