When A Trip To The Nail Salon Becomes Sexual, We've Got A Problem

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woman getting nails done

I'm a tired work-at-home mom, always trying to balance nap schedules with my need for personally productive time. It's exhausting.

This week was particularly impossible, so Wednesday I got a sitter and took a lunch break from my meticulous grocery budgeting for one of my nearly-forgotten, 45-minute pleasures: the mani/pedi. (So be it if it meant nothing organic in next week's groceries.)

When I escaped to the nail salon, I was scattered and angst-ridden from worrying about my baby's sleep changes, my lack of writing time, and my husband's recently increased work hours. But after three minutes in that shoddy little nail shop with the lovely aroma of acetone mingling with the scent of noodles cooking in the back, I was at ease.

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It all came back to me: the crockpots bubbling over with pink eyebrow wax, the stacks of month-old People magazines, and the mini-fridges stuffed with too-hot towels. (Gotta love that feeling of not-quite-luxury.) As a suburban-born kid, I've craved nail salons ever since I saw my first updo in Tigerbeat when I was 12, and my mom let me in on the secret of her acrylic nails.

So on this visit, I didn't even put up a fight when the tiny, doting manicurist pushed the extra five-minute hand massage and the paraffin wax (which I think came from the eyebrow wax crockpot, but whatevs). Put it on my bill, baby! This was my time.

After she finished applying the clear topcoat, I leaned back to admire the handiwork. I loved the perky red color I chose. I turned the bottle over and squinted to make out the name. "Thigh-High" is what it said. The name of the nail polish I chose was "Thigh-High"?

I felt strange like I shouldn't be wearing the color. I don't even own anything thigh-high anymore; in fact, I don't know if I ever have. I'm more of a barely-above-the-knee kind of gal. I chose the color for its bright and cheerful addition to my tiring week, not to feign seduction-by-nails.

Suddenly, the sweet, slightly authoritative command to "go pick your color!" I've always heard that entering a nail salon held a new meaning. I wondered what sort of colors I'd been choosing for myself over the years. Had I been sending subliminal sex messages, when all I wanted was to keep my cuticles from taking over my hands and perhaps make my feet a bit cuter in flip-flops?

I waved my hands in front of the fan, partly to help them dry and partly to shake off the sordid hue. I had to find a better color. Waddling as fast as I could with my toenail separators in place, I squatted by the polish shelves.

The first red I picked up was "After Sex." "Hot Commodity" was next, followed by "Throb" and "Strip Down."

My cheeks started to warm, betraying my fear that the soft stream of Vietnamese being exchanged behind me involved the entire nail staff making fun of me. Maybe they also knew that the $45 I just dropped should've gone toward raw, organic milk for my toddler.

After checking out the final blush-inducing title, "Fondola Gondola," I left the red section.

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I moved over to the pastels, and plucked a pale pink from the shelf, feeling better already about my sometimes anxiety-ridden, but overall demure life and my need for soothing colors.

That nasty little bottle was called "Cabana Boy." The next pink? "Nude Beach." The next, "Aphrodite's Pink Nighty." And the last, "Orgasm." I decided to skip the pinks, too. What is it about coloring one's nails that's like putting an "open for business" sign on your sordid sexual desires?

A boring beige would have to do. I flipped the first bottle. "Vinyl Bikini." Dear God, is there such a thing? Another read "Below the Belt." I noticed a nice peach bottle that seemed pleasant, but the bottom read "Apricotcha Cheating."

Listen, I love sexy time as much as the next hot-blooded thirty-something desperate for a date night, but I'd like to think that a midweek cosmetic treat doesn't have to be a way to express my sexual desires.

Finally, I saw a crisp white. This one had to be normal, right? I flipped the bottle to find "Overnight Delight."


I slammed the bottle down and huffed back to my chair so my "Thigh-High" could dry.

Why does a thirty-minute pampering break from my kiddos have to mean an indulgence in brash come-ons and late-night trysts? There's got to be an overlapping space for women in all life stages to dwell in peace, away from the pressure to sexually perform.

Because how can a modern, practical woman expect to be comfortable in her own skin if she can't even face her nail polish? I thought that safe space was a nice, twirling manicure chair.

I decided to rename my adorable red nails. The polish is now called "Felt Like Getting My Nails Done and It Didn't Have Anything To Do with Sex."

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Brit Tashjian writes on the collisions of Christ & culture and tradition & progress.