It used to be that manicures were the outward sign of a life of elegance and leisure. Not for the workaday woman whose life was about clipping coupons, doing laundry, and managing a household. If you were a woman doing physical work, nail polish might be applied for special occasions, but it wasn’t part of one’s usual routine.
Times have changed. Most of us work using our skills, training, management talents, and creativity rather than our brute strength. Our household management is mostly focused on raising healthy, wholesome families. The physical part of running a home still exists, but it’s all about strategizing to use our strengths and talents on the priorities in our lives.
I have been hearing a lot about manicures, and seeing a lot more of them. The talk is about the experience of getting a manicure, not the actual polished nails. Going for a manicure is touted as a pampering, feel-good experience. Making the time to have someone else tend to your appearance is considered a treat for the soul, not just the hands. And that’s probably why I received gift certificates for a local salon from close relatives.
Call it self-care, caring for the carer, or restoration, we are now primed by the frum and secular media with the need to tend to our emotional sides. Nurturing ourselves so that we can nurture others is important, but it’s not just about resetting the giving machine. It’s also about valuing ourselves and respecting who we are. Going for a manicure is an easy, cheap way to restore our femininity without a major investment of time and energy. It’s rather relaxing, as I learned when I exercised my gift certificate.
For some women, doing something for ourselves can be going to the library, taking a vacation day in our pajamas, going out with friends or creating a ceramics dish at the local studio. Getting out, getting together, and getting away is healthy. Activities that engage our intellectual, physical, creative and social natures, and giving them sustenance as well as stimulation, are critical to growth, mood, and energy levels. Regular rejuvenation is important, but let’s focus on a deeper value of treats, outings, and pastimes.
The most significant work that we do is measured in very tiny increments. Working on one’s character, growing in a relationship with Hashem, investing in our marriages and developing our children take painstaking daily avodah. They take ongoing adaptive strategy, tedious repetition, and self-control to achieve long-term success. There are no obvious milestones to demarcate achievement, and we don’t see immediate results. It’s especially hard to keep at these goals when there are no markers, and the nature of the process is very private. And there is no one cheering on the sidelines, awarding brownie points or mother-of-the week awards.
I think it’s important to endow the self-care activities with an awareness of getting beyond the draggy and drudgery of our regular tasks. They are about more than restoration and treats. Their transitory nature can remind us, by contrast of the timelessness, of the daily important work that we do.
Let’s exploit the multitasking nature that Hashem gave us to fuel ourselves. Let’s use the manicure to cure us of the manic nature of our lives. Yes, we are stopping to recharge from the daily grind. But let’s also remind ourselves that it takes more than a quick application of base coat and polish to buff our neshamos, middos, and mishpachos.
So next time you meet me, if you like, you can check the state of my nails. Or if you care about me, you can ask me how my significant work is going. Wanna be cute? Ask me if I am curing myself of the manic nature of my daily life, and how it’s going with the eternal stuff.