Nail Envy: From Brittle to WOW!

I am not, nor ever have been, an attractive woman.

I’ve had a few things on my side, such as an active lifestyle and a decent metabolism, which meant I could eat pretty much anything I wanted until I hit my mid-forties. Don’t envy me, however. That just set me up to be the kid who made straight-As without trying in high school, who never learns how to study and therefore struggles when the course work in college gets much harder.

But I’ve always been a bit vain about my hair and nails.

You see, if I were a superhero, I’d be Keratin Woman. Hairdressers would comment on the sheer weight and volume of my hair every time I went to the salon (and invariably tried to thin or tame it in some way). My mother was told to stop putting “Miracle-Gro” on my hair when I was a child. Strangers commented on my nails in line at the grocery store. People would ask me if they were real (they were). I could open pull-top cans with my nails. I could crack the tartar off a cat’s teeth with my nails. If I did break a nail, the fragment shot across the room like a ricocheting bullet. It was gratifying, especially since I wasn’t a girly-girl. Instead, I was a tomboy who rode horses and worked cattle. And I had the nails everyone envied.

Like most things one takes for granted, there came a day when this ceased to be true. Be it stress, a poor diet, or changing hormones–or all three–my hair started to thin and my nails became brittle. The slightest activity caused them to split and peel. Don’t get me started on my hair–that’s a post for another day–but I found myself incredibly angry about losing the only things I was even remotely vain about.

In retrospect, the anger was symptomatic of much bigger problems–such as the stress and grab-food-on-the-go lifestyle that probably corrupted my nails’ integrity. I was angry at my body’s failure to keep up with the demands my work and mindset demanded of it. How dare my body begin to show wear and tear? How dare it demand I take better care of myself on almost every level?

Oh, the privilege of health. It’s not until it is compromised that you realize just how much you take for granted.

And so I began having my nails professionally done. First with artificial tips until my own poor nails could grow out some, and then short, neat, and professional for work, but with nearly indestructible SNS powder, which lasted for weeks and protected my nails.

Or at least, that’s what I told myself.

I became addicted to having manicures done. Such high-powered nail polish required soaking in professional-strength acetone to remove it, and scheduling salon sessions had to be done every 3-4 weeks to keep it up. I told myself it was a little luxury I did just for me, and turned a blind eye to the expenditure. The day job was hard on my hands. With a professional manicure, I got my “old” nails back and could feel good about my little vanity again.

Then Covid-19 hit.

I saw the writing on the wall in late January, and cancelled all of my usual “upkeep” procedures: haircuts, manicures, chiropractic care, massage therapy. By Valentine’s Day, we made the decision to divide our household into high-risk and essential worker. I began buying extra items of the things we used most with every shopping trip and when the Great Toilet Paper Crisis hit, we were in good shape.

See how simple that is, Mr. President? But I digress…

When I managed to strip off the SNS powder at home, I got a good look at how damaged they were without another masking coat of polish to replace it. I began looking at products that promised to restore the health of your nails As Seen On Instagram. There were a lot of products out there. Each time I ran across an ad, I’d check out the reviews online, which were usually disappointing. Many also required continuous auto-shipping of products that were difficult to cancel. In the end, I went with none of them.

I’d been taking hair and nail supplements sporadically for several years, and consistently for at least a year by this point. I decided to step up my game. I will state for the record, I’m not a dermatologist or cosmetologist or any kind of beauty expert, and you have to remember I started out as Keratin Woman, so your results may vary.

This picture was taken in February of this year.

If you look closely at the middle and ring fingernails, you can see the splitting at the tips. The weird shape of the pinky nail is as a result of the pressure of the SNS powder as the nails grew out–I had a tendency to push my manicure appointments to the 4 week mark. Also, you can see the line of demarcation at the midway point of each nail that indicates the how much has grown out since I stopped having manicures professionally done. I’m wearing clear nail polish here in a desperate attempt to keep the nails from splitting.

I wish I could say I cleaned up my diet and reduced my stress, but given the world events, let me just laugh hysterically here for a moment. If anything, my stress levels shot through the roof and I began eating like a six-year-old left to her own devices. I put away a box of sugary cereal every 48 hours and turned into a baking fiend.

But I began taking vitamins and supplements on a regular basis:

The vitamins were mostly about strengthening my immune system: if you don’t know it, they’ve shown that people with Vitamin D deficiencies get sicker with Covid-19. I had a Vitamin D deficiency a few years back and have taken a supplement since. Did you also know the widespread use of sunscreen (which is necessary) increases your risk of Vitamin D deficiency? Talk to your doctor.

The supplements were for my hair as well as nails. I’d been disappointed in the efficacy of previous supplements touted as improving hair and nail integrity, and after some research, settled on these:

After the first few months, my panic levels stabilized, and while I still struggle with the need to carb-load to get me through the workday, I’m no longer running on pure sugar.

As for the nails themselves, once a week, I removed the clear polish (sadly with an acetone-based remover, I still need to get one that’s milder) and then put on a base coat of either Orly’s Nail Defense or OPI’s Nail Envy, followed by a coat of Sally Hansen’s Hard as Nails Extreme Wear Clear and a quick-drying top coat of clear by Live Love Polish, which is a fabulous site if you’re addicted to polish. My only rule was that I had to keep them all of similar length, so that meant if I had to cut one nail back for breakage, they all got cut back.

And after five months of this combined treatment, I realized today my nails aren’t in such bad shape anymore. Okay, they’re still brittle compared to what they were in their heyday, and I wouldn’t attempt to dig off a label with them or open pull-top rings without taking some care, but they’ve grown out semi-normal looking again. Better than when I first began going for manicures, that’s for sure.

Why does this matter? I don’t suppose it really does in the grand scheme of things. Things are bad the world over, but especially here in my country, and it looks as though we can only expect it to get worse. That’s why it’s okay to celebrate the little wins.

Sometimes we need proof that we can make things better, with time and perseverance. Maybe small steps are better than big ones we never take. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll get that diet and exercise thing right, along with the whole life balance thing too.

In the meantime, be safe. Be well.

Sharing Traits with Your Characters

Most writers are familiar with the saying, “Everything is grist for the mill.”

Our life experiences, especially those that brought us pain or had to be overcome, have a way of ending up in our stories. Perhaps not in the same form, but transmogrified to convey the same elements within the structure of our stories: the way it feels to sit beside a family member in the hospital, or to know your nemesis is waiting to beat you up after school. It’s there when we imbue our characters with the knowledge of what it feels like to be other, and when we give them the joy of knowing home and family aren’t necessarily the standard experiences.

Sometimes we base our characters themselves on people we know. Not directly, and certainly never such that the people in our lives could recognize themselves. It may be a prototype: a frenemy from your past, an encouraging mentor, a domineering parent, a supportive lover. What prevents these depictions from being two-dimensional characterizations are the little quirks we give them. On any given day, we human beings are a complex mix of conflicting emotions, drives, and desires. It’s what makes us interesting as people, and it’s what gives life to our fictional characters.

I’m not a girly-girl. I live on a farm with dogs, cats, and horses. My footwear tends toward hiking boots, usually covered in mud. I live in blue jeans and graphic T-shirts. I rarely wear any jewelry, makeup, or perfume.

But I love these things.

I have a major weakness for nail polish. Growing up, nail polish was one of my main identifiers of my not so readily apparent feminine state. Blessed with the ability to grow thick, strong hair and nails, I took these things for granted. My nails rarely chipped or broke. Hair clips frequently trembled and sprang open under the weight of my hair. People stopped me on the street and asked if my nails were real and what I did to make them grow so long and strong, and hair stylists joked about how I should stop putting Miracle-Gro on my hair.

Once, when I was opening a can of soda with my nails, someone asked me if anything ever broke them. I smirked and replied, “Kryptonite.”

When I was in theater, I had the best of both worlds–the ability to be my tomboy self 90% of the time and yet indulge in my desire to go all-out in costume, complete with makeup, hair, and nails. When we had our full dress rehearsals, the act of putting on the outfit, whether it was a period piece or something modern, transformed me into that character. Putting together all the outward trappings of my character was like slipping into a suit of power and I became the person I was portraying. It was a very heady feeling.

Recently, I’ve discovered the joys of having my nails professionally done. I tend to be a bit on the conventional side when it comes to polish. I like strong colors, and I adore temperature sensitive polish like the one depicted in the picture above. But I don’t have the patience for nail art. Durability is the key for me now, and while getting manicures is a pure indulgence, it’s one of the few things I do indulge in. With the advent of SNS powder, a manicure can last me 3-4 weeks now, a far cry over something that needs to be touched up every few days.

So it doesn’t surprise me that I gave this love of nail polish, makeup and vintage clothing to one of my characters. Another loves horses and rode competitively as a teenager. Still another has a secret girly side at war with her no-nonsense professional image for work. Another is a sci-fi fan, while yet another can sing along with every Disney Princess.

But while these traits come from me, those characters aren’t me. They’re weaker in some respects, stronger in others. They have a different story arc. Sometimes they’re more selfish, frequently they are braver. They react when I probably wouldn’t, and I’m pretty sure I can’t turn into a panther or a dragon (though I’d dearly love to!) So while I put a little of myself into every character I write, when you see one of my characters, you’re not seeing me. Just a sliver.

But the next time you read one of my stories and I’m describing nail polish, you’ll smile and know where that came from.