So I Quit Biting My Nails

I’ve never really let anyone look closely at or photograph my hands because I’ve been too ashamed of my nubby digits. After a lifetime of gnawing, I'm finally making nice with my natural nails.

Nov 29, 2011 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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Just because I long ago crossed the threshold of adulthood doesn’t mean I have cut every lingering childhood habit from my repertoire. Truth is, I think biting my nails is one of the last somewhat socially acceptable nervous tics that strangers will generally overlook. Everyone knows I can’t go around sucking my thumb in public, and I’m not going to have as many sexy times if I sleep with a blankie or pacifier.

So, what’s left? Gnawing on my own hands.

Except! I just quit. What happens next?

First let’s acknowledge that quitting didn’t come easy. There are baby pictures of me with my hand in my mouth, and that was only the beginning. I ate a hell of a lot of that bitter No Bite polish along the way, and chewed through a few mitten fingertips when I was feeling especially persistent. 

I’ve never really let anyone look closely at or photograph my hands because I’ve been too ashamed of my nubby digits. I learned how to hold a book without exposing my fingertips to random passersby. I took it to heart when I was told not to point; if it’s impolite to gesture, imagine how rude it is to show people my nasty habit when all they wanted were directions.

I even went through a ridiculously damaging and expensive fake nail phase in high school. Mind you, I had the nicest falsies you’ve probably ever seen. Women would often ask where I got my manicure, not knowing it was acrylic underneath. But it took my sanded down nails years to recover from that abuse, and I’m pretty sure the itchy creeping crud on my middle finger that appeared in that era and persists today isn’t some random psoriasis. There’s a reason women should be wary about sanitary practices in less-than-reputable salons. YIKES.

But I don’t want focus on that! It no longer matters that this impacted my entire life! It doesn’t even matter how I ended up kicking the habit! (Because honestly, I just stopped one day. WHAT. No, really. I can’t explain it, which is why I’m only going to try to explain the aftermath.)

Now, the ultimate first world problem: How I deal with the awesome natural nails I’ve never had before. (And maybe how you can learn to love yours, too.)

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I started with clear polish. Once I noticed that I’d finally gone several days without nibbling, I gave those little nubbins a clear coat of polish. Nail hardener is a great alternative since my nails were/are stupidly brittle after a lifetime of not existing. Clear polish also gave me something else to pick at instead of my actual nail, and the distraction got me over the hump of the first week.

I also bought a nice but cheap nail file. In my incredibly limited experience, if I want to stop biting my nails for good, I need to smooth those raggedly edges. I wasn’t about to invest in anything pricey (yet). I snagged a generic metal file with a pointed tip and a plastic handle for less than a dollar. A DOLLAR! Filed ‘em down and got that already-accumulating grime out from underneath in one go. (Seriously, everyone has that gunk under their nails? THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW!)

Note: I did not buy a flimsy cardboard emery board! They’re so 1988 that no one even calls them that anymore anyway. They don’t call them anything. Because emery boards suck.

I kept one nail of shame. I reasoned that I might need to keep one bitable nail. Fair enough, right? I’ve been doing this my whole life. Weaning is a natural process. My shame nail didn’t last long anyway. Whenever I looked over at that stubby pinkie next to the increasingly lovely ring finger nail, I thought, I can’t believe I walked around my whole life looking like that. (Equally shocking was how quickly I psychologically distanced myself from my previously all-consuming habit.)

Perhaps most importantly, I immediately began giving myself the first of many shitty home manicures. This is important! My stubby nails look weird. I don’t want to focus on how low the white part begins, nor do I want other people staring at me during my transition. I need to cover it up!

For the first several rounds, I used the cheapest polish I could find, in the most neutral but likeable color available. I needed a shade of sparkly peachy-pink until I got comfortable with the idea of actual nails. So, second dollar spent, this time for a super cheapo nail color. Slopped it on my nails -- even my shame nail, just to emphasize its sad but necessary existence.

It was also at this juncture that I realized that without practice, painting your own nails is hard! How does anyone manage to get their dominant hand painted without multiple attempts? Seriously, how do you do it?

It was a bonus when the cheap ass lacquer peeled after a day or two. My chipped manicure makes me look like the most normal person in the world! No more sad bitten stubs! Just chipped up nails like every other working girl too busy to be bothered by her hands. Noice.

By the time I’d been redoing the same manicure for two weeks, I was a bit bored. In the spirit of keeping my nails interesting enough to not chew on them, I opted for red, which seemed scandalous until I painted it on. WOAH! MY HANDS LOOK GREAT! They also now match my feet! No wonder everyone does this! Giddy narcissism set in. The last time my hands looked this stellar, I was sporting what the artificial nail salon called a full set.

Seriously, this is when it shifts. Euphoric vanity aside, this is when you can’t go back.

At this point, I’ve spent a grand total of $5 for the file, some acetone remover, and two tiny bottles of polish. Not a bad price to keep the biting urge at bay. Pretty soon I’ll even splurge on the less-chemical-laden/eco-friendly stuff.

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Other indulgences: Gave someone a back scratch. Hell, I scratched my own back! Bought some of those rubber dishwashing gloves to maintain my mani. And I’ve given my own/other people’s dog/cat more belly rubs than ever before (as if that seemed possible). Malcolm the cat is especially appreciative. I love it all.

Now, you try! Move on with your life! Yes you can! I’ll be off getting my first adult manicure! Good luck opening cans and typing without feeling like a freak!