Monday, September 28, 2009

The Great Nail Debate

One of the nice things about returning to where you’re from is that it gives you a renewed appreciation for things you’ve stopped noticing when you were living there. The perspective of the holidaymaker is always refreshingly romantic and this trip was no exception. Ooh! There’s so much choice! The pedicures are so cheap! The ocean is RIGHT there! And would you look at that skyline!

And then there are a few of the less obvious things I began to notice. One: you can get pretty much anything pomegranate flavoured – from sparking water to shoes, America is all about the pomegranate these days (I blame Oprah). Second: the amount of radio play the mediocre 80s rock band Journey receives far outweighs the contributions they made to the world of music. And thirdly, I was reminded that most lifestyle trends begin in America. While this can be a good thing, I’m not sure how I feel about the issue regarding The Manicure – the nail salon seems to have replaced the local butcher as a standard fix in every neighbourhood.

One day while I was out shopping – at a supermarket, no less – I spotted some glue-on nails. Odd, because like Journey, these seemed to have had their heyday in the 80s (having been slowly phased out by your ubiquitous local Pretty Pretty Fancy Beauty Nails salon). What caught my eye was that these glue-on nails had pictures airbrushed on to them.

Of the Disney Princesses.

I cringed. If a girl is young enough to still be into Belle, Ariel and Cinderella, aren’t they just a little too young to start worrying about something as superficial as their fingernails? And, practically speaking as the mother of a born diva, I don’t even want to begin to imagine the rage that would ensue when Jasmine gets chipped after a rugged afternoon in the garden digging for snails – or worse yet, if we lost Snow White altogether, buried alive amongst the worms. Call me old-fashioned, but I would’ve thought a minimum of Hannah-Montana, tweeny-aged appeal for the glue on nails.

Which brings me to the next part of this issue. When to manicure, if at all? It seems nearly inevitable these days. When Eva was nearing the three-year-old mark, she came home one afternoon with a pedicure, courtesy of my dad. ‘You took her WHERE?!?’ I blurted. While he of course had the best of intentions and thought it would be cute, I couldn’t help but think it was far too young to be doing that sort of thing. Yes, it’s completely harmless – it’s not like he took her out behind the bleachers of his old high school and treated her to her first Marlboro Light with a Wild Turkey chaser. My problem isn’t even the JoBenet Ramsey issue with the early sexualization of our children, although that too is bothersome.

For me, it’s that it begins to raise the expectation level. That is something that’s happened right across the board as we struggle to parent in the midst of life’s often-enjoyable-but-also-complicating factors: the elaborately-themed birthday parties, the dvd player in the car, the bouncy castle at every event, the Baby Einstein crap, the video games for three year olds, the minimum of four activities that we need to have everyone scheduled into from 2.9 years onward… It’s all suddenly so complicated.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a kill-joy. After television, I would probably vote the bouncy castle as the greatest invention for parents in the 20th century. (Well, that and the cot-tent would be in a close race for second. See previous column.) We as parents have higher expectations for our own lives than our own parents probably did of theirs: we want the bigger houses with home theatres and fancier holidays. We don’t just want our skinny soy lattes and regular facials. We expect them.

As a child I can remember my mother sitting in front of her then state-of-the-art Clairol magnifying makeup mirror. (I’m sure it had a much more jazzed up name, like the Clairol Magnifique 2000 or something.) She’d plug it in to illuminate the rows of light bulbs on either side of the mirror and sit down to do her basic maintenance – which in the 1970s consisted of some heavy duty eyebrow plucking followed by lots and lots of shimmery eye shadow in the area the eyebrow once called home. A spritz of Charlie perfume and she was out the door.

Ah, the good old days. Now it’s off to our facials and Reiki, manicures and Brazilians. To paraphrase one of my favourite columnists Mia Freedman on this issue, as women we now are required to do as part of our basic maintenance things that were once only in the domain of the rich or famous. While many of these things are enjoyable (not the Brazilian, per say) they’re undoubtedly complicating factors in our lives. We have to create windows in our precious time – away from family, friends, work – just to be groomed.

And these grooming rituals are not only seen as essential, but also as a female rite of passage, a way to do some bonding, to kill two birds with one stone: ‘I can find out how my four-year-old’s day at preschool was while we get our nails done together!’ Cash rich, time poor. Of course this isn’t even an issue for men, and not because their grooming rituals are almost non-existent, but because there really isn’t an inappropriate age to attend ball games – and thankfully in most civilised countries, there is a legal drinking age. Like it’s not enough that they get to pee standing up.

As any parent will tell you, those years with little kids go so quick, especially with girls – it all just slips through our fingers too easily. But for now, I’m only planning on keeping my own fingers manicured.

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