Before WAH Nails and Rihanna and Lady Gaga brought nail extensions to the mainstream, acrylics were strictly the domain of really scary rude girls, chavs and me.
I got my first full-set in the US, home of the manicure, when I was 19, and I haven’t looked back. They were square-tipped, airbrushed with palm trees and yes, they were a bit of a joke. I thought it would be a hilarious holiday novelty I could delight my friends with back home. But then, I realized they also solved a big problem for me.
I have inordinately tiny hands. Seriously, people regularly and boringly marvel at them, I get "hilarious" misogynistic comments about them, and I hide them in photos. They just look out of proportion. But not with extensions, oh no!
They made my fingers look longer, more slender, and less freakish! My hands more closely resembled those of a fully grown woman! And people commented on how nice my nails were! (Yes Phoebe, hater of my "creepy claws," really.)
And so I became an acrylic devotee, visiting London’s finest local nail parlors on the regular. I’ve frequented many of your classic parlors: run by Vietnamese technicians, "decorated" with 80s airbrushed "art," and fully equipped with kind of dirty tools. I have often felt like I’m playing with fungal fire every time I go. One time I did get actually get an infection. They just filed it off and stuck some more nails on -- no biggie.
Nowadays I go upmarket, at Stoke Newington’s "Your Beautiful" (the grammarian in me forgives them this because their chairs are shaped like hands. Like hands! And they are lovely, and it’s clean, and they do the best OPI colors).
I don’t love the experience. Getting your nails done is a commitment. It takes about 90 minutes, it’s boring, your technician won't be remotely interested in engaging you in conversation and they never have any magazines.
The process involves filing, gluing plastic tips to the end of your nails, filing, applying the acrylic, filing, shaping the tips and some more filing. Then you choose a polish and sit for what seems like eternity under a UV dryer. It’s pretty dull.
But oh, the pay off. For about £20 you have bite-proof, perfectly shaped long nails that won’t break and last about 3 weeks. And your polish won’t chip either. At all. Yes, they make typing kind of tricky, yes they clack against my iPhone when I’m texting, yes, I can’t engage in certain sexual practices. But you know what? I don’t care.
I don’t get them done because they’re easy to wear, or subtle, or because I want my nails to look natural -- they won’t, and they don’t. Hell, I like the fact they look false. They’re exaggerated, trashy, camp and fun. And for me, never a fan of the "natural" regime, that’s what beauty is all about: playing and showing off and having a sense of humor. And OK, when I’m wearing them I can labor under the illusion that I’m a little bit more like Rihanna.
So Phoebe, the nails are here to stay. Deal with it.