Last year I had surgery and in preparation for it I was told I would have to remove all nail polish from my fingernails and toenails. Now, if you know me, then you will know that my nails are my thing. We all have that one and mine has always been nails. The OR nurse told me this information and I freaked out. My first response was an indignant ‘why’?? The nurse patiently explained it was to be able to monitor my vitals better and to be able to see if my nails were turning blue. Not OPI Russian Navy blue, but you know dying kind of blue. I wasn’t having it. I pushed and persisted and she told me to call the surgeon’s receptionist if I really had a problem with it. I called their office and left a voicemail as I was walking into a weekly therapy session. The irony is not lost on me. Just as I was walking out of therapy, the surgeon’s office called back. “Why do I have to take off my nail polish for surgery?” I pretty much barked. Can’t there be an exception? I wear gel polish and I can’t take it off myself.” I have no doubt that this kind receptionist was likely rolling her eyes at Malibu Barbie’s request. She informed me that these were the rules and if I didn’t like it I could cancel my surgery – which I actually considered for an hour. I even dialled the number to the surgeon’s office to cancel before I got hold of my senses.
I sat in my car and drove. And drove. And probed myself for answers. Why was this bothering me so much?
Earlier that year I had started dating a wonderful man. A wonderful man for whom I always made the effort to appear made up and beautiful. Hair did. Make-up was done. Outfit on point. And of course, nails did. He was supposed to be coming in just as I was waking up from surgery. The thought of him seeing me without nail polish was making me ill. My body actually recoiled at the thought of it. Here I would be, in a bed with no make-up, hair not done, nails unpolished, groggy, weak, tired but mostly, vulnerable.
I wanted to run away from this vulnerability like my child runs away from house chores – at lightning speed and never looking back.
I love getting dressed up and feeling pretty but somewhere along this journey of mine, I confused my appearance with my strength. My motto had been, “the worse you feel, the better you dress.” I was hoping that the outside would impact the inside. And I realized, my insides of self growth but also fear, were being masked by my outsides. I was using make-up, nail polish and my appearance as a shield – layers between me and the outside world. I can’t be hurt if I’m protected.
Now, we are all stuck in our homes, grey hairs, nails outgrown, and make-up with nowhere to go. But more so than that, the world outside our front door leaves us vulnerable. We are susceptible to illness and death and that makes those we live with just as vulnerable. We are all physically vulnerable and we stay in our homes to protect that vulnerability.
For the first time in a very long time, my nails are a disaster. But more so, it’s not bothering me. It could very well be that it’s because no one sees me and I may very well be the first person breaking down the door when nail salons open again. I’m watching my nails regrow and I’m feeling freedom from the internal pressure to always have them ‘done.’
That wonderful man from last year is still around and shockingly to me, doesn’t care about my nails. His love is not dependent on my nails. I know this sounds ridiculously obvious for most, but even just typing it has chills wash over me. Because my own love for myself has been dependent on how well I ‘present’ for so long.
I am learning that my strength is not linked to my nails being done, my worth is not attached to my grey roots and my value is not dependent on the clothes I wear. Now, this doesn’t mean I will abscond all material possessions and let my hair and eyebrows grow into one cohesive unit. It means that I will push myself to do these things with mindfulness. Am I getting my hair done for my date with the wonderful man because I think it will make him love me more or is it because it’s something that makes me feel good? Am I getting my hair done to feel good or to feel worthy?
I don’t expect to always make the emotionally healthy choice but I expect myself to know the difference.
After all, life is never as black and white as the Clairol boxes make it seem.
Life is lived in shades of grey.
As evidenced by the current state of my hair.