What is the Real Symbolism Behind Nails and Nail Polish?

"Polished Nails"

The saga continues. I was going to wait a few more days or weeks to buy this particular polish colour. I can’t be accumulating nail polish at a rate like this: Eight bottles of OPI in the past two weeks. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how good Live and Let Die looks. More dark polish with glitter bits! I swear I was just going to buy a sandwich and somehow found myself at the mall again.  I didn’t even deliberate or stare at the bottle, I just grabbed it off the rack, and justified buying another dark blue as well since it was on sale. I could get into all the scientific stuff about addictions and brain chemicals, but today I’d rather take a philosophical approach to understand my compulsion. That’s right: symbolism.

The observation of one’s waking life as if it were a dream is a meditation technique based in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. One observes the symbolism in their waking life just as one would the symbolism of their dreams. Morten Tolboll mentions this symbolic approach to understanding the self in his document Meditation as an Art of Life: A Basic Reader.

Toboll explains that, “So the images in the movement of time are shattered reflections of the great vision of the Universe. They are shadows, dreams, masks, fables, fairy tales, fictions, and they flow in the movement of nature itself – they are, as the Tibetan Buddhism says, relatively valid dreams.”

First of all, it’s interesting to me that the name of the polish I wanted was Live and Let Die. I’ve been in a bit of crisis mode last few days because I fear my father will die because of me. Then I have to remind myself that I am not responsible for him or how he chooses to deal or not deal with his shit. But in hearing that his health is failing there is a magnification of that feeling I’ve always had that I was responsible for him, and it’s a big reason I stayed in blissful denial that he was ever capable of really sexually abusing me. Breaking the silence seems to be making my worst fears manifest – that I could provoke my fragile father’s death with the truth. It’s really testing my clarity on the situation. So, “live and let die” might actually be the very thing I needed to hear. Not exactly a cryptic or vague symbol. In fact, this is so literal I’m not sure it counts as symbolism at all, but what an interesting coincidence.

Nail polish also reminds me of a piece of poetry I wrote as a teenager. “Painting innocence on my nails” was part of a line in that poem. Could this point to an unconscious association with fresh manicures and a return to innocent times? Fresh manicure = fresh innocence? Also, nail polish is also a distinctly feminine accessory that literally leaves one feeling “polished.” I also have a hand washing compulsion, so maybe there’s an unconscious desire to both clean and polish my “dirty” hands?

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Any other guesses at why I’m choosing nail polish for my brain chemical rush rather than other consumer goods?

~ “The quickest way to know a woman is to go shopping with her.” – Marcelene Cox

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Is Nail Polish A Real Addiction?

"Nail Polish Addict"

There are literally dozens of blogs out there authored by self-proclaimed nail polish addicts, but relatively little in the way of actually discussing the psychology behind this obsession. I first alluded to my addiction to nail polish in a previous posting on drugs and addiction, but is nail polish addiction even a real thing? Could I just be passionate about it instead?

For me, even though I don’t own hundreds or even dozen’s of polishes, the obsession has led me to lose sleep, spend money I don’t have, and time I could have spent better. I know enough to know that it’s not really about owing the polishes, since I often don’t actually buy most of the polishes I want, it’s more about the process of searching, the occupation of my mind with nothing else but polish. There is probably a rush of dopamine going on in my brain right now just from talking about it.

According to Dr. Gabor Maté, author of  In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, addiction is any relapsing behaviour that satisfies a short-term craving and persists despite its long-term negative consequences. The question is, who is in charge? Me or the polish?

As a teenager, I used to paint my nails almost every single day. I had a couple bottles of cheap Wet ‘n Wild nail polish, and a few more expensive Hard Candy polishes, the ones that come with the little rubber rings. When I got home from school, I’d sit at my desk and do a new manicure. My favourite was always metallic navy blue with silver sparkles as a topcoat.

I used to bite my nails as a child. I’d bite them so bad that on a few occasions I’d actually peel the whole top layer off, which always took a few painful months to grow back.  For me, nail biting was a way to relieve stress and anxiety. When I began painting my nails in high school, I found it was a successful way to stop biting them, and I often picked at the polish instead, knowing that I would redo the manicure later that day anyway. It was like a nervous tick, always fussing with my nails. I’ve seen my mother and my aunt do the same thing too, always nervously fiddling with their fingertips.

I think I simply exchanged obsessively biting and peeling my nails for extreme manicures. When I did a manicure, I would cut all traces of my cuticles off. I’d push them back way too far and use a little pair of manicure scissors to cut them right off. I drew blood pretty much everyday, and the skin was always red and inflamed. I did this for years, and I don’t think I stopped cutting my cuticles off until I was in my early 20s.

I know there is something about my current obsession with nail polish that harkens back to those days. Scouring the Internet for new colours, making lists, comparing swatches, searching for the perfect dupe. I haven’t obsessed like this in a very long time, but it all started up again when I was in Montreal this summer, escaping the messy aftermath of telling my mother, sister, and brother, that her husband, our father, had sexually abused me as a child. I was really depressed in Montreal but I’d always cheer up when I was scouring the city for the latest OPI collection, though I didn’t actually buy a single bottle while I was there.

When I am searching for colours I like, it is as though I am in a trance state, not unlike that which I’ve experienced with bulimic binge eating. Same goes for nail polish – nothing else exists while I’m trying to achieve the perfect application or when I’m scouring the Internet for new colours.

Here’s where it got heavy for me recently. When I realized there was a limited edition mint green that I missed out on – OPI’s Damone Roberts 1968 – I could feel the obsession escalate. I could only find two bottles for sale on Ebay for $50 apiece, and neither seller shipped to Canada. I searched high and low for acceptable dupes, with none to be found in my neighbourhood. I actually experienced two nights of insomnia since discovering this polish that I could not possess!

I took it to a whole other level when I decided I would dupe it on my own, DIY-style. I bought three bottles of OPI that I couldn’t afford and got to work mixing. After testing on a palate, I found the winning recipe – half Alpine Snow, half Greenwich Village, with a splash of Jade Is The New Black. That was yesterday afternoon into evening, and I was fine-tuning it even more today since I had access to natural daylight.  Although I am very happy with the finished product, the truth is I really didn’t need it and I’m not sure I’ll even wear it more than once. I just spent $30 just to make a mint green nail polish, and I’m supposed to be on a budget right now! But the immense sense of relief that came over me when I perfected my homemade dupe was what made the anxiety go away, not actually possessing the colour. You’d think I’d put in on right away, but so far I’ve just been admiring my handiwork in the bottle.

On top of that, I just ordered another $30 worth of nail polish online, and it’s not lost on me that two of the colours I ordered are a navy blue and a silver sparkle topcoat. So who’s in charge here? Me or the polish? Methinks it might be the polish.

~ “She goes from one addiction to another. All are ways for her to not feel her feelings.” – Ellen Burstyn