Nail Polish: The Beginnings Of A Self-Care Revolution

As someone who is in recovery from anorexia and struggles on a daily basis to keep my anxiety and depression at bay, the mantra of SELF-CARE is constantly promoted by my treatment team. Self-care, for me, can be as simple as appropriately feeding myself and buying clothes that fit, to learning how to responsibly consume alcohol, go out and have a good time with friends, and not end up hiding in the bathroom. These actions might seem simple enough for the average twenty-something, but for someone from the land of the cray, these “simple” actions have become landmarks for rediscovering and embracing my identity.

One of the primary mechanisms that perpetuates the positive feedback cycle of mental illness is shame and negativity. I know, rationally, that they are very real, valid, biopsychosocial illnesses. Unfortunately, the irrational often reigns and attempts to convince me that it’s my fault that I am plagued with a wonky brain, and dammit, I should directly and indirectly punish myself for being so screwed up. Enter my therapist and dietitian firmly tell me that I need to practice some self-care, even if I don’t want to, and just fake it ’til I make it. As a result, until very recently, my attitude towards self-care could be largely summed up by the inspiring gif below—especially regarding appearance-focused self-care:

Fo’ reals, y’all. I would get so PISSED

But then in an uncharacteristic act of bravery, before one of the October nights that I attended garbaI decided to paint my nails so I would look doubly fantastic in my dancing gear. I hadn’t painted my nails since about 8th grade, when my careful nail painting jobs were destroyed by the work we were doing in my shop class. I hesitantly dug out some of the polish I had on hand (because by no means do we let the toenails see the light of day without being tended to), and chose a black base with some silver crackle to top it off—go big or go home, right, darlings? Against all odds, I felt empowered and basically awesome, despite the fact that the bold polish looked oddly garish, to me, on my previously undecorated hands. That was the beginning…

Up until that point this past fall, I had forgotten how much I used to love painting my fingernails when I was younger. But starting up the forgotten hobby reignited my fondness for color, and perhaps even more important, kindled a tiny fire of fondness for myself where there had been only dank gloom before. Painting my fingernails (versus my toenails) required time, patience, and taps into the creative side of myself that the scientific rigor of my academic program had all but burned out of me. It also helped me to reluctantly let my nails grow out from the stumps I had been cutting into the nail beds for the past several years, as a kind of punishment for struggling with dermatillomania. I magnanimously let them grow out, carefully shaped them, trimmed my cuticles, and cared for my hands, and slowly that field of consideration widened to include wider swaths of my body.

There is something innately girly about painting one’s fingernails, which is an aspect of me that I had previously shunned. My thought process ran something along the lines of, “I am smart, so it doesn’t matter if I’m dressed nice and look pretty,” and I did not actually believe that I was at all pretty/cute/attractive/anything-positive-about-my-appearance, so why try? I once actually said to a friend that I didn’t feel the need to put much care into my appearance (beyond basic hygiene, obviously) because I wasn’t trying to catch a man. I came to realize that being girly is not an insult or a weakness, despite what the world tries to tell us. Little did I realize that in the end, I would end up charming the feminine side of me that wanted to look nice and have fun with fashion as a means to the end of loving myself.

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Fast-forward to this present day, and I can say that I still look forward every week to the day that I can paint my fingernails. It’s an act of self-care that I carve out within my busy week, and it’s a small art project that keeps the creative juices flowing amidst the stainless steel world that I spend most of my time in. I’ve come to fully appreciate makeup, clothing, and accessories as tools to accentuate my strengths and express who I am. Heck, I can actually acknowledge my strengths where I was previously adamant that I had none. I have always believed that each and every person is beautiful in their own unique way, but I am finally reaching a point where I can see the unique beauty of myself. Little did I know it would start with a little bottle of nail polish and a dusting of self-care.

What’s your mode of self-care and how has it evolved over time? Tweet us @litdarling!

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