The Polish Principle

"Lookin' Good!" thinks Helen of Troy in this 1898 painting by Evelyn de Morgan.

Due to a variety of circumstances beyond my control (or so I tell myself), I haven’t had a mani-pedi in six months. Half a year. If you’re currently recoiling in horror, don’t judge, this could be you, too, someday. To everyone else, I know this may not seem like a long time–my mother hates people touching her feet and has never had a pedicure (yes, she is lovely, but a bit of a pervert in that way), although she has regular manicures, like a lady. But to me it’s an eternity. Growing up in central Massachusetts, I had never had any kind of beauty service beyond a haircut until I graduated from college. But four days after graduation I started working at Allure, a beauty magazine in Manhattan, and threw myself, nails first, into the world of beauty. Now there’s hardly a part of my body that hasn’t been painted, waxed, tanned, highlighted or threaded at some point or another. In my latest incarnation as a freelance writer, I still don’t wear makeup every day, but I maintain a deep respect for the power of beauty rituals, how much better they can make us look–and feel. And I remain the worst kind of beauty hypocrite, occasionally walking around with grown-out highlights and unpainted toes but still wanting to rush up to women wearing too-pale lipstick that makes them look like a corpse, wipe it off and slap a little Fresh Sugar Rosé lip balm on them, just for a little bit of color and hope.

Anyway, yesterday, that magic day, armed with a coupon from Living Social, a deal site here in Miami, I finally had a mani-pedi. I lingered at the polish racks, choosing a color. For me, the hue isn’t as important as a name. My mother thinks that’s ridiculous–”no one chooses a nail polish based on what it’s called!” But she’s never had a pedicure, so how would she know?

My nails are now a coral hue called Melon of Troy, which is just SO fitting. First, because Helen is the Anglicized version of Eleni. And second because Helen of Troy,  a great beauty, undoubtedly had fabulous nails. They say it was her face that launched 1000 ships, but maybe it was her manicure?

Melon of Troy takes a coffee break.

My toes are now a deep pink oddly called Paint My Moji-Toes Red, which seemed appropriate, given that the beautification was taking place in Miami.

When I was a little girl my (pedicure-less) mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and so I made a list that involved great jobs including working in a bookstore, “shoe-shopper” (I’m still not sure how one would monetize that) and being the person who names nail polishes and lipsticks. I must have been a child visionary using The Secret because I sort of had that last job in all my years as a beauty editor. Perhaps you remember my People story on blonde celebs dying their hair brown about six years ago, “Brown and Out in Beverly Hills”? No? How odd. You must have been busy reading Proust.

The thing is, one woman’s “Fire and Ice” (by which I mean Revlon’s classic lipstick shade, not Robert Frost’s ditty) is another woman’s “Going Up in Flames”, as I discovered when I found this hilarious site called “Stupid Nail Polish Names” which hates Paint My Moji-Toes Red (and for valid reason–see the explanation on when a pun is not a pun:

Regardless, I love my toes, and my demi-goddess fingers, I loved getting them done and listening to Evgenia, the Ukrainian nail specialist, complaining about the girls on Spring Break who dress “like prostitutes, showing it all–and the boys, they don’t even notice any more!” I now feel more like a real person having a rich and varied life instead of an automaton just getting through the day. What a difference a couple of chemicals, strategically applied to one’s nails, can make.

For the past decade or so, every six months I had to have unpleasant medical tests to check for cysts on my ovaries, tests that involved putting my bare feet in stirrups (discretion compels me to stop there, but, ladies, you hear what I’m saying). And I always made sure to have a fresh pedicure before any exam. Looking at my painted toes gave me comfort and the illusion of being in control of at least some part of my body. Which makes me think that beauty rituals are not so different from cultural rituals–both serve to ease anxiety, offer a fleeting feeling of control, and make the world a lovelier place.


  1. Congratulations on the mani-pedi and the glamorous weekend ahead. Hope you have a great time!

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