Thursday, October 7, 2010

Nail Polish and Insecurity

For years people asked me about my big left toenail.

Complete strangers would look at my toenail with crunched up faces and boldly ask, "What happened to your toenail?" I was amazed by their brazenness and wandering eyes, and was completely baffled by their perception and concern. I thought, again and again, "Why are people even looking at my toes? I don't look at other people's toes, let alone the details of their toenails. And why do people even care about my toes?" But, the question was inevitable, everywhere I went with my toemail parading around in flip flops or with bare feet.

Initially, I wasn't shaken by the question. I had embraced my toenail, or rather, the absence of one. In general I don't put too much emphasis on my appearance, so I wasn't about to let one of my big toenails give me a complex. Time and again, I responded to the question, baffled anew each time. But, rather than worry about my toenail, I legitimately worried about the people who asked me about it. I really worried about them because I simply could not console myself with sufficiently satisfactory answers to my own questions.

But, with time and continued recurrence, their question did begin to affect me.

For a brief period of my life I actually fretted over the toenail. I only wore sandals that covered my toes, even while living in a hot climate. Every week I spent extra time smothering layer after layer of nail polish over it. I worried about going to the beach or a local swimming pool. I worried about allowing my big toenail to be seen in public - ever. I began to wonder what I could possibly do to change my big toenail, to cover it up, to replace it, to make it look normal again. Eventually I wondered why I had been dealt such a cruel hand, and actually began feeling sorry for myself - because of my toenail. I had allowed the questioning from people, strangers and friends alike, to actually get to me.

I had begun to care deeply about what other people thought of my big left toenail, of me.

Luckily, there was only so much worrying I could do over my physical appearance, and I had to move on. I stopped worrying. Maybe this too is genetic. Maybe I matured, maybe I got tired of stressing over something that I couldn't change about my body. Maybe I was just too busy for a complex. Maybe it was more of "the benefits of turning thirty."

People stopped asking.

I realized today that it's been at least two years since anyone has taken notice and inquired about my strange looking big left toenails. My toe looks exactly the same. I stopped covering it up.

Maybe it was my focus on and attitude towards my toenail that changed.

Is it possible that we sometimes fret over our physical appearance in such a way that we actually draw others' attention to it unknowingly? And even if we are not worried about an aspect of our physical appearance, are we open and curious enough to discover what people think about it, and therefore draw attention to it? How do we get over something about our physical appearance when the world around us continuously reminds us that it is not acceptable?

I don't know - I am totally baffled by the case of my big left toenail. But I do know that I wish I had just ignored my big left toenail during that brief period years ago. I wish that I had not let other people's questioning bother me, and lead me to my toenail, and myself, in a negative way. I wish that I had not felt so insecure and self-conscious. I wish that I had not focused so much mental and physical energy on avoiding disrupting others' views of my toes.

But, mostly I wish that I had never been insecure about my toenail, about myself. Maybe I have matured and grown out of all of that now, even without the help of the nail polish and toe-covered shoes.

Now, that would be nice.

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