Why I Said Forget It and Stopped Painting My Toenails

02/10/2018 - 02:51 PM

Photographer: Sheila GimNo Restrictions: Editorial and internal use approved. OK for Native and co-branded use.

"Gross!" After more than two decades, I confronted my bare toenails for the first time. And I did not like what I saw. Like shaving my legs, I considered painting my toenails required grooming. I suddenly felt naked without polish.

Sure, I had seen my toenails peeping through chipped polish, but they were never completely bare. I would get a fresh pedicure for any occasion that required open-toe shoes or bare feet. Weddings, poolside weekends, and basically the entire Summer provided plenty of excuses to try out the latest nail polish color trends, and I'd had enough Winter beach getaways or hot tub outings to keep my toes legit during the cold season.

Why I Quit

Why did I decide to stop painting my toenails after more than 20 years? Well, I didn't. The choice was made for me. At 39 weeks pregnant, I read the preparation materials given to me by my hospital. The checklist stated that I should remove any nail polish from my fingers and toes. Apparently, nail polish can hinder a doctor's ability to monitor your well-being and could also interfere with finger probes. This could be especially important if you need a C-section.

Nail polish often contains toxic ingredients, and I hadn't given my poor toes a break from them since the '90s.

I know plenty of pregnant women who do the opposite, pampering themselves with fresh mani-pedis in the days before their due dates. Their nails look gorgeous clutching their newborns in those first postlabor photos. But as a lifelong rule follower, I removed my nail polish like my hospital told me to. (Well, my husband helped me take off my toenail polish since I couldn't bend over.)

While it wasn't strange to see bare hands, I couldn't even recognize my feet. My toenails looked scary. They were white and uneven. Nail polish often contains toxic ingredients [1], and I hadn't given my poor toes a break from them since the '90s.

Once I got home with a new baby, however, I had little time to worry about my toenails. Finding time to paint them or get a pedicure wasn't happening. Plus, it was November. I was safe from anyone seeing them . . . for a few months.

Natural Is Beautiful

Before I knew it, it was June, and I had a Summer wedding on my calendar. I had to make a decision. Would I go bare or paint my toes? My instinct: if I was going to show up to a wedding in open-toe heels and with bare toes, I might as well not shave my armpits. To me, it felt like the same type of statement — that I rejected society's expectations of female grooming. Was I ready to do that? I'm a beauty junkie! I hadn't stopped painting my nails because I wanted to make a political point.

I now feel empowered to reject the idea that women's natural bodies aren't enough.

But now that I thought about it, it was crazy that I felt pressure to hide something as innocuous as my natural toenails. And after a few months of being able to breathe, they looked healthy. What was the big deal?

I decided if anyone was shocked by my unpainted toes, that was their problem. Not that I couldn't relate. Just a year before, I'm sure I would have done a double take if I saw a woman all dressed up with bare toes. But I had changed.

Embracing my unpolished toenails aligns with my dedication to clean makeup [2]. I now feel empowered to reject the idea that women's natural bodies aren't enough. It also saves me time and money. I no longer have to fit in a pedicure when I know my toes will be out. Although I do plan to get one soon without the polish. Who can resist a foot massage?

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