Minutes after dropping more money on extra-long nail extensions than I did on two weeks of groceries, I felt a pang of buyer’s remorse deep in my stomach. It wasn’t because of the expense. I had just discovered, upon heading to the salon bathroom, that my Edward Scissorhands kept me from pulling down my pants.
I tried wrapping my fingers around my belt loops and pulling, but the extensions kept me from getting a firm grip. Then I tried wiggling my hips and dragging my jeans down with my wrists. After a few tries, this did the trick. I finally got my pants off—and then found my next battle to be with a piece of toilet paper I needed to rip off of its roll.
I love my new nails, even though they keep me from getting anything done. I can’t open packages. I have the best excuse for ignoring the dirty dishes in my sink.
When I dropped my MetroCard on the ground and tried to pick it up from the subway floor, my nails kept mashing into the tiles. I couldn’t grab it. “Just let it go,” a woman called to me as she entered the turnstile, sporting a rainbow-colored manicure herself.
Typing—that thing I do for work—has become very difficult. I now have to hit my keyboard with the middle of my fingers, rather than my tips. After years of making fun of Nicole Kidman’s Grinch-like clapping at the Oscars (you know, the GIF where she looks like a seal slapping its flippers around), I now fully understand her pain. Nicole, I am sorry.
My manicure left me feeling indolent and incapable of completing the most basic adult tasks, but I don’t regret a thing. For as long as I can remember, I’ve chewed my nails to bits. Not even COVID could cure my habit; I stopped touching my face when it was asked of us last March, but I continued to bite my fingers.
So whenever I see a woman with stiletto-esque extensions, I am impressed. On Instagram, I watch friends and acquaintances show off their manicures, clasping books or coffee cups as accessories.
They look so put-together, performing that type of easy-breezy femininity I am old enough to know does not actually exist. I realize that just about everyone feels burned out and exhausted these days, but those nails communicate a fashionable resilience. It reminds me of being a child and walking by beauty salons, staring into the store windows in awe and hoping that someday, I’d be there too.
There is a prize that comes with committing to these established, if tedious, beauty rituals: leaving the salon with pristine nails. I carry myself differently now. An itchy nose is a chance to show that I am a woman who takes care of herself. Any time I gesticulate is an opportunity to remind others: I still care about how I look.
A McKinsey report from last year found that sales of nail care products were way up. Amazon alone saw a 2020 sales spike to the tune of 218 percent. Even as people lost interest in makeup given the laissez-faire standards in quarantine, polish sales were up 24 percent, according to data published in the trade publication Cosmetics Business.
I would be remiss if I did not note the Lizzo Effect, which might not be an official, studied thing but is very much a force in my life. A few nights before I got my nails done, Lizzo posted a video showing off her extensions, done by artist Eri Ishizu (who is also responsible for J.Lo’s manicures).
The clip was part ASMR, part art, and pure hypnosis; in it, Lizzo clicks her nails together over and over again. The taps are loud and a little cartoonish, but so satisfying to hear. It’s as if Lizzo is speaking in a range only other manicure people can hear too—she looks good, and she knows it. So do we.
As my nails tech glued on my gel extensions, she told me that her last client kept asking for longer, pointier nails. She was on her way to a first date and said, “I need them to be sharp, for protection.” And so I also asked for a razor-edged manicure.
Creeps beware: I may not be able to eat nachos without getting a nail bed full of sour cream. I find it hard to blow my nose without inadvertently sticking a nail up my nostril. I prioritize phone calls over texts as it takes me around three minutes to type a single sentence. But make no mistake: my nails are prepped for battle. And they look fabulous, too.