Red Nails and What Ifs
On a typical Saturday, at a typical nail salon, I looked at nail color offerings. My eyes searched for the palest pale options. I grabbed three bottles to determine the palest. These man hands of mine – these hands that can palm a basketball, open tight jars, and snap a varmint – were accustomed to the palest of pale when they had polish, which wasn’t that often anyhow. I’m large. My hands are large. My personality is large. The less I can do to draw attention, the better.
My friend continued her selection process, forcing me to wait, but leading me down an interesting path. I grabbed the reddest of reds thought, “What if I painted my nails red rather than pale? Okay, let’s give it a shot!” A bit later, as the nail technician applied the reddest of reds, I was taken aback. “Wow,” I thought. “Look at that. I’m fancy now. It looks great. Why was I so scared of this?” I made a mental note to edit my hand-talking use while wearing the red. Surely I’d clean it off in a few days and go back to the palest of pales and extreme hand gestures. But I didn’t. A week went by – and there I was again at the same salon, but this time I brought my own red. And so it continued for about two months. I’d get my nails done or do them myself – for that window of time they were perfectly red.
During that time, I’d catch myself staring at them and apply my preconceived notion of what red nails meant: that you were fancy, important, and had somewhere to go. Regular people didn’t just wear red polish for shits and giggles. But I did. And I’m not fancy or important or have somewhere to go. As I maneuvered through the thought process, I came to see how wrong I was about wearing noticeable nail polish.
This one shift opened up my heart and mind, bringing me to a place of self-love and acceptance that I never imagined was possible. If I was wrong about this one thing, what other theory did I need to check. First on the list: how I look when I work out. We think we look like this girl in Exhibit A – perfectly toned and slightly sweating. Her hair is out of place, but perfectly so. So I had my trainer take a few videos and pictures of me jumping up on a 24-inch box. Initial reactions contained a slew of self-hate criticizing my hair, elbow, pants, and giggle. I stewed on this for months. And then I thought, “Why do I have to look like Exhibit A?” And so I said, “What if I just love the fact that I can laugh while jumping on a 24-inch box? What if I look at that power and precision and give them the respect they deserve?” Then the flood gates opened.
For years I’ve tried to change to fit everyone else’s standards. One day, a voice silently asked, What if you accept and love yourself rather than trying to be skinny enough, quiet enough, smart enough, pretty enough, motherly enough, daughterly enough, sisterly enough? What if you see your thick thighs as powerhouses as opposed to nuisances that need to be covered and apologized for? What if you see your intelligence as force to be reckoned with rather than a piece of you that needs to be edited/hidden/apologized for?
I’ll tell you what happens. You arrive at happiness. This magical land is open to everyone: man-hand-havers, red nails, thick thighs and all. You just have to show up. Here’s the biggest secret of all, once you get here, everyone who is already here has two reactions: they’re thrilled to see you and wonder what took you so long. You belong in happy. You owe it to yourself to be in happy. Never reduce your worth by giving the world an explanation or begging for its forgiveness.
My nails aren’t red right now – they’re color free, allowing me to focus on other what ifs. I’m still a box jumping beast, and I will be as long as my legs let me. A peacefulness has enveloped me. All the energy I spent trying to fix this for that is now spent on doing what brings me great joy. My only wish is that I had done it sooner. But that’s one “What if” I refuse to ask.