My mom first took me to get my eyebrows waxed when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember if I asked her to after accompanying her on her own primp sessions or if she just took pity on a nine-year-old with a unibrow.
Either way, these aesthetic additions were ingrained in me. Get a haircut every six months, if you can afford it. Get your teeth cleaned every nine, if you have health insurance. Run in for a six dollar polish change while waiting for a friend to get out of a movie. These were just little grooming luxuries, like when that tiny fish cleans the whale’s teeth by eating off the algae.
There’s no better example of this than getting a pedicure, because all you have to do is sit there and read about Blake Lively’s latest relationship while a nail technician works his or her magic. I consider the pedicure a relaxing break, and certainly not a big deal.
But to some people, pedicures are new and exciting. My sister-in-law had never had one before, and so she, my little sister, my mom and I got our toes done together before her wedding to my brother. Like a huge brat, I regarded her as some kind of hill person when she delighted in picking out the perfect shade of pink. For her, getting a pedicure meant a special occasion.
Cut to: Two weeks ago, my boyfriend and I are in a hotel room in Knoxville. We’re both stand-up comedians and we’d driven ten hours from New York City for me to open for him at a black box theater.
We’re both working on our computers in the hotel room when I notice his bare feet against the scratchy comforter. We’ve been going out for a little over a year but for some reason, this is the first time I’ve actually studied this part of his body. His feet are as adorable as the rest of him, I decide, but the nails could use some work. I guess I can’t really judge as my own purple polish is beyond chipped.
Since we’re performing at night, our days are empty. Unless we want to blow stacks of cash and our dignity at Dollywood, there’s not much to do. If we get bored, I think, maybe we could go get pedicures together! It’d be so fun! Every city has at least one salon, and nails are like math — the same in any language. “Would you ever get a pedicure?” I ask him.
“No,” he says immediately. “I don’t think I would enjoy it.”
I’m disappointed. “Why not?” I reply. “I get them all the time. We could do it together.”
“No, thank you,” he says. “It wouldn’t be relaxing for me to sit still and have people work on me like I’m a car. Also, I don’t like putting myself in situations where strangers are touching me.”
“It’s not a stranger,” I say, clicking my tongue. “It’s their job. Like a dentist or a doctor touching you.”
“Comparing it to the dentist is not going to convince me,” he says. I pout.
I start to fixate like an annoying chick in a romantic comedy who relishes non-drama. There’s so much more for me to worry about in my daily life — job opportunities and wackos in Congress who want to take away my reproductive rights and whether Justin Bieber really fathered that girl’s baby. You know, important stuff.
Caring about getting a pedicure together sounds like the shallow plot to an episode of the gender-normative sh-t show, Whitney. The TV Guide blurb could read, “Whitney wants Alex to get a pedicure with her to prove he loves her.” Laugh track, laugh track, laugh track. Shoot me.
But I like spending time with my boyfriend and I like pedicures so why can’t the two come together? As a couple, we’re big on compromise so when we disagree on something, I’m always curious to hash it out. I don’t want to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do, but he’s generally open to new experiences, so why the big ‘X’ on this one little self-indulgence?
Maybe salons are about class and financial standing, I think because of course, now I’m overanalyzing pedicures. It’s not a bad theory. My mom had the extra money for it. Some people use that money for food or electricity — you know, actual priorities.
“Or maybe it’s societal,” I think as I scan open Jezebel and Shakesville tabs, projecting patriarchy where there is none. “Maybe it’s trained into us by gender.” I grew up thinking pedicures were par for the course because I went with my mom and my sister, right? So maybe my boyfriend thinks getting a pedicure threatens his masculinity.
Then I remember he bakes brownies from scratch and snuggles like it’s gonna be illegal soon. Gender roles don’t have a chance.
Could be it’s the spread of misinformation. My boyfriend, at twenty-six years old, still has no idea what happens in a salon.
“I just don’t want shiny toes!,” he argues when I bring it up again. (I have become that girlfriend and I hate it.)
“Wait, what?” I reply. “Do you think they force you to get nail polish?!”
He blushes, faltering, “Yeah! I don’t know! I thought if you went in, you had to get polish put on!”
“No,” I laugh. “You don’t have to get nail polish. They’ll just cut your toenails and cuticles and put on a nice scrub and lotion, if you don’t want polish.”
“Okay,” he says. He’s relieved that polish isn’t compulsory but I can tell he’s not psyched.
Then, he adds: “I’ll do it if you enter a 72 oz. steak challenge with me.”
“You want us to eat a 72 oz. steak together?” I squeak.
“No,” he says, grinning. “Each.”
My stomach throws up on itself.
‘Oh,’ I think, ‘I get it now.’ There’s no deeper reason my boyfriend doesn’t want to get a pedicure. He just doesn’t think he’ll enjoy it.
“Okay. Call NBC,” I reply, “because we’ve got a million dollar sitcom to pitch.”