Polished people have polished nails.
I have always believed this. Even when I was a kid, nothing said “I am a put-together,” more than a manicured hand.
This is why I make regular trips to the nail salon: so everyone, including me, will feel I am a real-life adult who can handle things.
I don’t watch the nail techs work anymore. You should know that I am a middle child, which means I am the biggest people pleaser and avoider of conflict you will ever meet. When I started going to the salon, I tried so hard to be a good client. I would tilt my hands to and fro, unasked, which I thought was “helpful” for my nail tech. After a few exasperated bouts of my manicurist chirping, “Please, stop!” I understood my active participation was neither helpful nor necessary. Now I let the professionals do their work as I watch close-captioned HGTV.
The nail techs know their clientele. HGTV is the salon’s go-to network, though sometimes they humor the token male client by turning one TV to ESPN (hey, guys, there’s no shame in the nail game).
Without fail, Fixer Upper is always on.
For an hour the lucky citizens of Waco, TX, and I sit googley-eyed as their houses transform into a farmhouse chic dream. Women of all ages drool over these houses. Baby Boomers like my mother covet the sleek, updated version of homey they’ve always wanted and, after decades of work, can finally afford. As a Millennial woman who longs to create a happy, comfortable, welcome to my humble abode, isn’t my life stylish and cozy? home, I want to drag everything I see on TV to my 99 Pinterest boards and max out my credit cards at Wayfair.com.
There are many reasons Fixer Upper is so popular: the gorgeous results, the down-home family charm of the Gaines.
How on earth do these people not claw out each other’s eyeballs, we think, let alone make a TV show and look adorable while doing it?
If you’ve ever lived through any sort of home renovation, you know it’s kind of awful. Dust everywhere, boards stacked in every corner, blown budgets, timelines that are mere suggestions, and God forbid you step on a stray nail. It’s loud. It’s hot. It’s unpleasant at best and the fourth circle of hell at worst.
Funny how we never watch the paint dry in realtime on Fixer Upper—can you imagine what the ratings would be?
Nobody wants to see the work in the middle.
We all have our own problems. We all work—we know the minutiae of keeping a business running makes, keeping a family running. When I’m finally done with my own work, stress-eating a bag of Green Chili Verde Kettle Chips on the couch, I don’t want to shoulder the problems of someone who isn’t part of my immediate circle—I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth for that. I want to believe in people the way I did when I was a kid: that adults who looked put together actually were put together. Nothing bad ever happened to them, but if it did, the problem would be a minor hiccup, and the adult would know how to diffuse it quickly. Said problem would just be a blip on the radar.
Polished people can polish away their problems? Sign me up, baby.
Can I tell you something?
Nothing brings me shame quite like this:
This. Oh, the horror of a broken nail.
It’s the punchline meant to demean frivolous women everyone, but I guarantee those jokes are written by men who spend two minutes in the shower and call that their entire beauty routine.
To me, nothing says “I’m a failure who doesn’t give a crap” more than a chipped, painted nail. I don’t know which part of that statement scares me more: that people would think I’ve failed, or that people think I’m lazy and don’t care. This is a maelstrom for a high-achieving people-pleaser who wants to keep it all together.
You know what’s funny?
Nobody else seems to have chipped nails.
Everyone on my social media feeds is problem-free and killing it. Professional degrees. Weddings at vineyards with rolling hills. Adorable babies with doe eyes. Brand-new owners of Oh my gosh, that must be drug-dealer money! houses.
Meanwhile I’m cleaning dog pee off the carpet again and wondering how I’m going to pay my student loan bill because my check engine light decided to make a surprise appearance after I drove my twelve-year-old car home from the mechanic a mere two weeks ago. Not to mention caring for family members with failing health while my parents and siblings are each going through a major life transition this year.
And, on top of it all, now my nails are chipped. I’m just going to keep that to myself and pray nobody notices when I reach for my glass at dinner.
I know you’re tired. I am, too.
I’m tired of seeing calls for authenticity coming from social feeds bolstered with filters and hired help and marketing campaigns. I’m tired of inspirational quotes and beautiful food and gym tips and twenty-five-year-old business “experts” vying to be the next lifestyle brand.
I’m tired of the word brand altogether.
A brand involves curation. A brand is the virtual hair and makeup team standing off camera, itching to spring forward at commercial break to keep the forty-four-year-old anchor as dewy as a sixteen-year-old ballerina.
A brand seems to be the opposite of authenticity. Of vulnerability. Of something real and human and flawed, but funny and sweet and good.
There’s no life in a brand—not a real one, anyway. At the end of the day, a brand is an image we project, a veneer of a life we hope followers will want for themselves. We hope they buy into this image so much they’ll literally buy pieces of our image we put of up for sale so they, too, can create their own versions of our perceived satisfaction for only $X.99 a pop.
Social media isn’t so much about sharing as it is selling.
And nobody wants to buy into sadness.
You know, I get it. I really do. Like I said, I don’t want to come home and shoulder the world’s problems—you don’t, either. We have enough activities and emotional baggage competing for our attention. At the end of the day, I totally get tuning into something light and amusing—this is why I’ve watched the nine seasons of The Office a billion times.
That’s not the problem.
The problem is we believe curated media is real life.
Our phones are live TV cameras; our homes are production studios.
We have turned the beautiful ordinary into a cheap TODAY Show segment with flawless do-it-all mothers, adorable children who start philanthropic organizations at age 7, angst-ridden political rants praised as smart, credible news, and 9 ways to make paleo brownies your friends will slit their wrists for—because you aren’t feeding your philanthropic wunderkind anything but gluten-free and GMO-free and cruelty-free and grain-free and pasture-raised, right?
What are we doing to ourselves?
Life is hard—way too hard for us to pretend we have our stuff together. We have become too busy, too intimidating for others to come ask us for help.
Because that’s another problem we’ve created: when we turned the cameras on ourselves, they became the only things we let ourselves see. We have turned totally inward.
You can see it in the new houses springing up across Nashville: none of them have front porches—none of them. We don’t need them anymore, do we?
We’ve become so focused on speaking our truths that we’ve forgotten we need to speak to other. But more than that, we’ve forgotten to listen to each other, to the truths of our neighbors, the people who are like us and the ones who aren’t.
Instead of asking people if they agree with us, we should really be asking, “Do you have what you need? Are you doing okay?”
When we scroll through our feeds, we become media rivals competing for ratings. We no longer hold out a hand for help; our hands are too busy fumbling with our measuring sticks.
What I’m about to say isn’t new. It isn’t groundbreaking. I’m just another person reminding myself, again, of what helps me breathe a little deeper.
There’s a lot of noise out there. You can close the door, pop in your headphones, and listen to a simulated rainstorm.
You’re allowed to keep things private.
It’s okay to keep your circle small. Small, and weird, and wonderful. You need a few people who actually know you, who hear the weird voices you use to speak for your dogs but they still deem you sane enough to hang out with anyway (I, um, don’t know this from personal experience).
You need people who can see you with your sweat pants that make your butt look it belongs to a normal person instead of a Brazilian model.
You don’t have to follow the people who make your heart palpitate. You don’t have to follow anyone at all.
Give everyone else a break. Life is hard. On everyone.
You’re going to chip your nails. All hard workers do. And your chipped nails are just as Instagram worthy as someone’s selfie they took twenty times to make sure the shadows on their cheeks made their face look like it was carved from marble.