On nail biting, and a good book.
I love the line about my body being my own. It’s a hard won concept. I’ll be 60 in May and I’m really working on it. Old lady hands (and neck) and all.
Another thought about hands: I am an illustrator, and on occasion I have been asked to draw hands for book cover artwork. I use my own hands as reference, and twice I have been told that the hands I've drawn have been too masculine, and to make them look more delicate/feminine. I just want to scream "BUT THESE ARE WHAT REAL HANDS LOOK LIKE!" Apparently women's fingers should be dainty little wafer sticks.
I went through a several year stint in my 20s studying pottery, which cured me of any tendency to fuss with my nails. It also always felt terribly classist, the expectation to never have to do enough with your hands that you might have to muss a manicure. Now, I just can't be bothered. I like my hands. They're more wrinkled these days, yes. But my fingers are long and my pinky is crooked because I broke it climbing Mt. Kenya thirty years ago and now I have a very pronounced freckle on the back on my right hand. It feels like a testament to all the time I've spent outside in my life-- camping, hiking, canoeing, gardening. My hands have worked and journeyed and they show it, which is fine by me.
I think your hands are lovely. And your ring collection is fantastic. A good collection of bulky silver rings are meant, to my mind, to be worn on hands that have clearly lived.
Hi! After reading this, I upgraded to a 1-year paid subscription to “The Unpublishable.” I’m realizing that the subscription costs around the same amount that I used to pay for a manicure-pedicure + tip. This was my twice-a-month “self care” ritual that ended during the pandemic shutdown, and I just never returned to it.
I enjoy thinking about the time and money I’ve saved, which I can direct toward better experiences.
I don’t have Jessica’s gift for words to describe the sense of relief(?) I feel when learning that other women share my lifelong habit of nail biting and cuticle ripping. I just wish that there were language to free us from feeling shame about it. “Old woman hands” seems like a decent starting point—older women should be celebrated, after all. My hope is that, as more of us reject beauty culture, we can also find more positive ways to describe that choice.
I love that book - the descriptions of Frederique's baggy clothes too. And I feel you on the hand thing. I have a years long habit of biting my left pointer finger when I'm concentrating. As a result there is a large bubbly callus below the nail. When I see it, and my gut reaction is 'ugly! worthless!' I try to pivot slowly to 'it means I've been writing. This, though not pretty, has worth'.
Omg thank you for thinking then writing about nails. I am currently fretting over the fact that I have two weddings to attend this year, and I am not a person who usually wears makeup or does my nails so if I turn up with bare face and nails, is it going to look like I’ve not made an effort?? If I turn up in open toe shoes but don’t paint my toenails will that seem disrespectful, like I couldn’t be bothered to make myself look nice for a dear friend’s (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime event? Aghhh
I have a friend who never wears polish and her plain, healthy nails always look so elegant to me. Too bad I've been trapped in the pedicure cycle. Last week, I finally left the polish off so my nails could "breathe." I planned to go to the pedicure place as soon as we arrived here on vacation, but thanks to this piece, I've decided not to run to the salon to avoid "offending" people with my natural (if damaged) toes. The good news is, I can see the healthy, rosy nail halfway down just hoping to emerge. I'll give her as long as she takes. It requires little encouragement to overcome these practices we think of as "self care." Thanks, as always, for the reminder. 👊🏻
I looked down at my hands one day about a decade ago, and suddenly didn’t recognize them as my own, but my mom’s. I was the age she was when I was in elementary school, when I was old enough to notice things and spent the most time with her. For a second it freaked me out, but that quickly changed to comfort and pride. I use my hands for both my work and everything I enjoy doing, and looking at them as part of a lineage, like my face and the rest of my features, has made me that much more grateful for them. (Also the last time I got a mani pedi was the day before my first wedding—a marriage that quickly ended in divorce—and the nail techs we horrified by my unshaven legs and tried to shame me into waxing and instead I just never got my nails done again.)
a million times this. i’m a life-long cuticle-monger (i even wrote a song about it for the dresden dolls’ first record) and i love that my hands are getting splotchy and veiny. well worn; well used. work hands!!! and when i paint them, it’s only black and i love looking like a teenage goth again for a few months while it chips away and it’s almost of a more anti-care statement.
that being said: when the anxiety ramps up and my cuticles are really taking a beating, if i have the time (which of course i don’t and that’s all tied in with the anxiety) i go to a nail salon JUST for the cuticle cutting to help me stop. clear polish. usually in and out in 20 minutes. xxx
Thank you for this. I have hideous, large, gnarled, man hands. Which, if you remove all the adjectives, are just hands. They look like my dad’s (he’s gone and I miss him so much). They are capable and strong, but I shouldn’t have to justify (again with the adjectives) why I like or don’t like them. And, the whole thing about being able to tell a woman’s age by her hands…is due to the fact that you can get “work done” to your face but your hands, well those just stay old. I can’t put into words all the societal bs and make it make sense as well as you can, so I just want to thank you again for how and why you write.
Wish I could post a pic of my bitten naked fingernails! I was recently tempted to do some kind of nail thing- but then I remembered how expensive it is to get them done and how much damage manicures do in natural skin and nails and was like, nope. People are gonna have to love me as I am or not at all.
When I was in college, a teacher--himself an artist! It was an art school!--looked at my hands and said, “that’s why I never dated art girls.” Even when clean and not sliced up by X-acto blades, my hands have never been graceful or “beautiful.” I’m glad I knew and accepted that even before the comments started. Now I’m my 40s and they really have taken on an old-lady dimension. They ache sometimes, too. But they’re still good at what they do.
This is so timely as I’ve been thinking about my nails a lot lately as I try to find and express my femininity without giving in to capitalism and the patriarchy. I’m also a nail biter and haven’t gotten my nails done in over six years (also before my wedding). Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my nails... wouldn’t a colorful manicure be fun? But also is nail polish just plastic? What makes me feel like I need a manicure? I turn these questions over and over in my head. I really appreciate your newsletter for giving me permission to accept my body the way it is.
Love this. Makes me think of my thumbs: skin worn away in thin pink shelves on each finger-facing side of them. The skin there has been picked and bitten away for years (gleefully, absentmindedly, stressfully) as my gross little goblin snack. Haha! Is that too much to reveal to strangers on the internet?
I have a short story about nails.
As a ukulele player and rock climber, I also cannot have long nails. A few months ago I had to go to a work conference for a week and decided to get acrylics done for the first time in my life. I LOVED them. They clacked, clicked, scratched, and looked pretty. I understood. With some sadness, I clipped them as soon as I returned home - I couldn’t play music and the thought of climbing in them was unsettling.
Fast forward a few months, and The Ridge is about halfway across the nail bed. Though they’re kept short, I can tell that my nails so much thinner than usual. I can see exactly where I’m growing out the damage from my foray into acrylics.
I’m visiting my hometown and go into a boutique and the nice sales attendant asks me what I’ve been up to and I say “rock climbing” and then we start chatting about it and she talks about how she wants to try it.
The conversation ends with me noticing her acrylics, and saying “Oh, you’ll have to cut your nails though.” And she says oh no, she could never. And it made me a little sad.
My hands look the way they do because of WHAT they do. There are freckles and scars and stories, picked cuticles, and some wrinkles. My hands have made music, folded origami, grown gardens, baked birthday cakes, sewn, knitted, and handwritten letters to dear friends. They are exactly the same size as my partner’s hands, his brown and mine pale, when we press our palms together. I use them when I fidget and stim, and they help me express my ideas when I speak. They may not be beautiful to others - that is not the point. I love them for allowing me to create.
Another beautiful piece with some wonderful quotes and a much needed reminder. Your writing (as well as most of the comment sections on your Substack) are such comforting places to exist in. So life-affirming and realistic in the most beautiful way. Thank you for creating this space, Jessica! ❤️