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CNN recently published an article titled “On main street and the runway, nail art is the new lipstick.” The article explains that intricate nail art has become a renewed pastime for American women because it’s “a democratic form of self-expression in which anyone can participate” and “relatively cheap.” I couldn’t help but think of back in the day when I used to get a fresh set of acrylic tips with designs on my ring finger to show off in my high school lunchroom — as usual, the mainstream is super late on a black trend that is in its twilight. But I thought of this because, as much of a memory as high school is these days, I still indulge in and love nail art.

My Michael Jackson Tribute Nails! Right hand silver for the glove. WORD.

In late 2007 I found myself miserably depressed. I was having a hard time with my career, had just broken up with what I thought was the love of my life, couldn’t adjust to my new city, and was just generally lost. I was seeing a therapist who was great and totally worth the $15 per session co-pay. We’d sit and talk and I’d bellyache about all of the problems in my life. I spent some of that time simply letting it all out, which was necessary, and the rest of it justifying out loud that I had real reasons to be sad and that it wasn’t all in my mind. Maybe I was clinically depressed, maybe I was reasonably sad, but my feelings were real and I didn’t know how to change them.

One day I realized that talk is great but if I wanted to lift myself out of the deep dark hole that I was in I’d need to be a bit more proactive. That’s when I realized that my weekly therapy co-pay was more than the cost of a new eyeshadow, a new lipstick, or a manicure. I bought a few eye shades, bought a few lip colors, and finally stumbled on my old standby of a fresh full set with a few designs. I felt amazing! This is how I became a nail queen again — I replaced psychiatric therapy with nail art.

Since 2007 I’ve rocked so many different nail designs that I can’t even count them — one for Obama’s election, another for a Ghostface concert, another in tribute of Michael Jackson — and haven’t seen a therapist again. Lee at Gary’s Nails in West Philly would patiently work with me to figure out my designs and confirm what I wanted in broken English. He became the only man who was allowed to hold my hand for months at a time, and when he let go I was always satisfied. I got some disapproving glances from co-workers but ultimately did not mind.

I’m still protective of my nails, having Kim at Glamourous Nails do my re-fills, occasionally heading to David in West Hollywood for designs, and always taking the risk of brushing on a homemade creation just in time to head to a professional to fix the DIY mess I’ve made. I keep them very short but bright when my mood is low, dull when I need to slow things down, and painted to a theme when I’m excited about an event or feel the need to rep something. I never see anyone with acrylic nails anymore so when I walk into a shop and ask for them I sometimes get funny looks; even those who are part of the trend use their own nails without protection, hoping that washing dishes and bumping into things won’t destroy their cherished artistic creations. But for me. when I take my acrylic shields off I feel a little bit naked and my iPhone doesn’t even recognize my fingers so I guess they’re here to stay. I’m resigned to that and always excited about the next design.

The funny thing about my nails is that even if I’m broke, as soon as I get enough cash to make my nails pop that’s where it goes. I know there are better ways to spend that money in theory, but when I think about how happy it makes me to take care of myself in that small way, how glad I am to look at the color du semaine on my hands, I know that it’s worth it. It’s hard to be glum when every move you make is guided by ten perfect hot pink ovals (or red, or paisley, or electric blue). So a nail princess I am and that’s what I’ll stay.

Do you put energy into you nails? What’s your routine? Speak on it!

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  • Fox

    Doing my nails and sometimes putting designs on them is calming. Nobody can bother me or pull me from it, because “oh nope, my nails are wet.”

    Anyway, it’s a form of self expression, just like picking a certain hairdo or shoes. So what one thinks is unprofessional or tacky is art to another.