I grew up during a time in our history when girls dressed like boys. That’s so far from today’s look for young people, it’s hard for many to envision, but, trust me, we all looked like ragamuffins. Flannel shirts and jeans. Hiking boots in the winter, Jack Purcells in the summer. In high school we graduated to a tad more feminine style with blousy peasant shirts and burgundy clogs. No one wore makeup. Ever. Fingernails were cut short, never painted. Pedicures were unthinkable.
Fast forward to the spring of this year, and I am looking at the toes of my sons’ athletic trainer, who is wearing flip-flops. Her specialty is treating students injured on and off the field. On numerous occasions, I’d walk by her office and see a linebacker with his elbow wrapped in ice. He was in heaven, what with all that doting. Those toenails were painted orange. “Orange! Wow!” I said to the trainer. “Everyone is painting their toenails.” Indeed, she said, as she rushed off to find medical supplies.
A few weeks later, I was sitting in a comfy leather chair at Angell Nails with my feet in a small tub of warm bubbly water. A kind woman was sitting on a stool in front of me, massaging my feet and skillfully using her pedicure equipment to tidy things up. She asked what color I wanted. I am a decisive person, except when it comes to grooming and clothes. Paralysis often sets in. I asked her what colors were in style. “Bold colors,” she said.
My toes were not a mess. In fact, they were rather attractive—short nails, minimum dirt, no calluses. Why was I here? I recalled a conversation I had heard in my office of mostly female co-workers. “I like your sandals,” said one woman. “Thanks!” replied the recipient of that compliment. “I couldn’t wear them until I got a pedi.” Her toenails were painted fire-engine red. This must be a Rhode Island fetish: women can only wear sandals when their toes are dolled up. The pressure was mounting.
Angell’s shelves hosted millions of bottles of polish, from neutrals and light pink to green and black. I panicked in the way a reclusive forest dweller might when forced to choose a tube of toothpaste from a big-box drug store. “Neutral,” I blurted out to play it safe. The technician nodded her head. “Go with something you can see,” she said. She explained that she has been painting toenails professionally for years and knows what would go best with my light skin color. “Purple!” she said. Oh, golly. I never wear purple, but she was persistent, and the woman with her feet in the bubbly water next to me was taking okra, so I agreed.
Each brushstroke brought a sense of empowerment. I thought about joining a women’s group. I willed myself to love the new look. Artistry completed, I transferred to another station to paint my fingernails the same color. I paid up and emerged onto Wayland Square feeling well-groomed and complete – for five seconds. I thought of the crooner Deniece Williams: silly of me to think I could ever have you for my color. I had descended into madness, pressured to conform to Rhode Island beauty standards.
CVS was around the corner. I raced to the makeup aisle and settled on Beauty 360’s Advanced Gel Nail Polish Remove Pads. Back in my car, crouched in my front seat, I returned my fingers and toes to their natural state. I discarded the purplish pads in a dumpster. My adventure on the catwalk was over.
Whew. Be who you are.