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She's Making the Break This Time

"My nails were never merely polished. Often, they were airbrushed in multiple colors. Or decorated with hand-painted designs."


It was an extremely difficult decision to make. After all, I was about to end a relationship that had spanned nearly two decades. But, as often is the case in life, I'd come to realize that the pain and aggravation finally outweighed the rewards.

So, two weeks ago last Saturday, I walked in, took a deep breath, looked my manicurist straight in the eyes and unflinchingly said:

"I want them off."

Yes, I voluntarily requested the removal of my acrylic fingernails.

This was an extremely courageous move on my part. Not only was I risking arrest (Southern California women are legally mandated to have artificial nails and, depending on their ZIP code, two or more artificial body parts as well), but I was on the verge of drastically altering what had long been a central aspect of my identity.

I had my first "full set" put on back in the late 1970s. At the time, I was convinced that introduction of acrylic nails represented the single greatest technological achievement of the 20th century, with the possible exception of the wrap skirt.

It had been love at first sight. My new artificial nails were long, smooth and perfectly shaped. For the first time ever, my fingers didn't look like portly thimbles.

My nails quickly developed a reputation of their own. Friends and co-workers routinely would ask to see my nails. I always complied because, in truth, they were quite wonderful to behold. My nails were never merely polished. Often, they were airbrushed in multiple colors. Or decorated with hand-painted designs ranging from flowers to seascapes and, in at least one misguided instance, a portrait of Michael and Kitty Dukakis.

One of the proudest moments of my life came when I was showing a dear friend delivery room photos of me holding my newborn son. She examined the pictures, and then, with absolutely no prompting, exclaimed, "Your nails look great!"

Over the years I observed that, in addition to attracting attention, acrylic nails do something else: They break. Frequently.

In fact, at least once a month, in an effort to not appear in public with ghastly looking appendages, I would attempt to reattach broken nails by applying generous amounts of Super Glue directly to my still-raw flesh. For those who have never endured such an experience, think pain--deep, excruciating

don't-give-Pauly-Shore-another-TV-series-type pain.

(When I was younger, I could tolerate this level of discomfort. I was even capable of sitting through an entire Peter Frampton concert.)

My decision to go "natural" was also prompted by the realization that I had surpassed the age at which it is socially acceptable to--in broad daylight--wear one or more Snoopy bandages. On too many occasions, when nail-repair attempts were unsuccessful, I was forced to do just this.

Fortunately, my manicurist took my decision in stride, as she thoughtfully pointed out that--and I believe these were her exact words--"Your nails are going to look like crap."

Thankfully, the woman could not have been more wrong. From what I can tell, it will probably be several months before my nails look like crap. At the moment,they look more like those Mars rocks we've been seeing pictures of--bumpy, misshapen, otherworldly.

On the other hand (so to speak) there are advantages. Not only am I saving valuable time and money, for the first time in many years, I can easily fasten jewelry and buttons.

I'm also assuming I'll have no trouble putting on gloves.

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