My sister had her nails done the other week. Done as in built – beautifully long and strong, French manicures. I’m doing the low-budget version of it, fixing my own sorry excuses for nails up. It doesn’t look nearly as nice. Although I also got myself little glitters. Real girlie. It’s terribly impractical, but hey… One day I’ll probably have mine done, too. But not today.
There’s something fascinating about long, polished, strong nails. They’re symbols of so much. They signal, for one, that you have a social position where you don’t have to toil, you don’t have to work with your hands; if you did, you could never keep them long and beautiful. Like being pale was a signal of wealth in that you didn’t have to work in the fields, until suntan became a signal that you could afford going abroad and didn’t have to stay in your office all summer.
They’re also sexual symbols, of course, which naturally goes together with the whole not-working-business. If you signal that you don’t need to work, it means that you’re something of a luxury item. And luxury is desirable, no? Also, if you don’t have to work, what do you do? Do you lazy about in your sweats? No, of course not. You lazy about in something completely different. Think lingerie and negligees; jewellery and high heels; Chanel Nr 5 and champagne. And if you can’t really work, then you’re dependent on whoever you’re living with, right? And if you can’t really use your hands, it’s pretty easy to control you, as you can’t really take care of yourself. The same is of course true for high heels (it takes a looong time to learn to run in them, and if you’re wearing stilettos, it’s out altogether), corsets (properly bound, like Scarlett O’Hara, who had a 40-cm-waist, you don’t really breath too well; hence the fainting) and lotus feet (try running with those). It’s sexy to be just a little useless. That’s what luxury is – the stuff that we get that we don’t really have any immediate use for. And dependent. If your woman is dependent of you, you have to show that you’re a real man, who can provide. And she won’t get by without you. Isn’t that sexy? (For those of you who don’t know me: I’m being terribly sarcastic here.)
Then there’s one more thing, that doesn’t really seem to go with the idea of women as luxury items, but bear with me. Picture a woman’s hand, with long, shiny dark red nails. The hand sits on an arm, wrapped around a man’s torso, the hand pushes against the man’s back. Suddenly the woman is digging her nails into the man’s flesh, beyond control… Yes, of course nails are sexual. But why? There are more men interested in long nails than in pain, I reckon. Well… Imagine you have access to this piece of luxury. A piece of luxury which spends a lot of time maintaining it’s status as such. Imagine you have the power – to say nothing of the right – to affect it in such a way that it gives up its control over its attributes. Messy hair, smudged eye-liner, the risk of breaking one of those nails…
To me, nails mean something else.
For as long as I was living with my parents, every night we had the same good night ritual. My mum would come into my room and scratch my back. It always made me calm and relaxed. Like a baby. The best back scratcher, however, was my grandma. She didn’t cut her nails in a smooth half-moon shape like my mum did. She made two swift cuts on each nail, leaving the nails sharp and triangular. Like claws. Actually, that’s what we called them. When we kids wanted her to scratch our backs, we asked her to use her claaaws. Always with emphasis on every single sound (in Swedish: k-e-looor-ö-na – actually klorna. There are phonetic rules behind the weird pronunciation of course. Ask me – or better yet: ask a better phonetician – if you like). I still love having my back scratched. Whenever my sisters and I meet, that’s one way we show our affection for one another; we scratch each other’s backs. That’s what really makes me purr like a cat. Scratch my back – properly, not too hard, not too soft, but just so – and I’m wax in your hands.
This text has taken me forever to type. You see, one way that long nails make you useless is that it gets really hard to type. Especially when the nail polish isn’t dry yet…