Nail salons have always intrigued me. I’ll walk by a storefront and peer in to see large groups of women, sitting in chairs and facing other women who are examining their hands. Heavy chemical smells waft through the air, and I can often hear drilling sounds, similar to those at the dentist. I watch women walk in, hunched over and tired, and walk out standing taller and smiling. What magic takes place in these little, smelly shops, and what have I been missing?
I’m not what you’d call a girly girl. As a poster child for self-reliance, I’ve been cutting my own hair for many years now, so the thought of paying someone to paint my nails sounds a little absurd to me. But, the other day, curiosity finally got the better of me. When walking around my local shopping center, I made an impulsive decision to experience it for myself.
The nail salon employed three Asian women. An older woman, who apparently managed the place, had the strongest command of the English language, so she greeted me (if “What you want?” can be classified as a greeting). I stammered something about wanting to see a price list, and she pointed her nail file in the direction of the wall on the right, where the prices were scrawled in marker: $12 for manicure, $20 for pedicure, $20 acrylic, $5 french, $10 design, etc. “Um, I’ll take the manicure and pedicure,” I said, not knowing what the other words meant.
A young woman, probably in her early 20’s, appeared at my side and pointed to a row of bottles on wall. “Choose,” she said. I hadn’t realized that this process was going to involve so much choice. Avoiding the various shades of blues, greens, and purples, I selected two colors that seemed to suit my mood, a light pink for my nails and a more dramatic red for my toes. After handing the bottles to the woman, I was escorted to a chair with a bucket at its feet. Once I sat down in it, I realized that the chair was vibrating, which increasingly gave me the urge to urinate, especially since my feet were being placed in very warm water.
The young woman silently gestured for me to give her one of my feet. I hesitated for a moment, thinking about the fact that I’d walked a couple miles in sandals to get to the shop. My response wasn’t so different from Peter’s, when Jesus wanted to wash his feet (John 13:4-17). Humbly, I lifted a foot out of the water, and she took it and began inspecting it. She repeated this process with the other foot, and then began removing my badly chipped, self-applied nail polish. My toes felt embarrassed. She produced various tools to trim away my cuticles. I’ve always seen products designed to rid oneself of cuticles: various clippers, shears, and serums for dissolving them. For all this attention, you’d think cuticles caused gangrene, the plague, and host of other serious ailments.
The pedicurist took a file to the bottoms of my feet to attack the calluses, built up from running, no doubt. Funny. I thought those calluses were useful, helping me avoid getting blisters. This particular step tickled quite a bit, and I had to keep from squirming in my vibrating chair. The woman saw my struggle and smiled, but she was quick to suppress it. I’d first thought she was just being polite, but I realized that she was very careful not to show her teeth when she smiled. She was missing some, and they were badly stained and very crooked. I remembered another woman that I’d seen before, a few months back, with a similar tooth situation. The woman at the Spaghetti factory couldn’t stop from smiling, and she didn’t want to (see my post on the topic). Perhaps my pedicurist spent so much time focusing on making people conform to standard images of beauty that she had a hard time embracing her own, unique smile.
After she slathered lotion on my feet and legs and painted my toenails red, my pedicurist became my manicurist. I shuffled in plastic flip flops to her nail table, where she sat facing me and began the familiar process of examining my hands. One after another, she would hold my hands and examine them, file them, massage them, trim back the cuticles, and finally paint them. For the entire time, we never once exchanged one word. The language barrier made it impossible. But she held my hand for an entire 30 minutes.
When’s the last time someone held your hand for 30 minutes? As I sat there, I thought how strange it was that I couldn’t speak with this person, but I had such a strong sense of fellowship with her during that window of time.
I think we sometimes forget about the healing power of a simple touch. Especially in today’s society, we can spend all day, not touching a single person. I know that without human touch, infants will die. How many of us are dying a little bit each day without this vital connection?
Jesus recognized that people often need to be touched to be healed. In his day, lepers were forced to live outside the towns, away from their loved ones, away from human contact and all physical touch. When Jesus saw them, he met their physical and their emotional needs:
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him (Luke 5:12-13).
Jesus didn’t need to touch the man to heal him. With one word, he could have cured the man from afar (see example in Luke 7:1-10). But Jesus knew that the man also needed the healing that the physical touch itself could bring.
I think I found the secret of nail salons. They employ a modern practice to meet an age old need. No, it’s not vanity, but I can’t argue that it plays a part. It’s something much deeper, something that has more to do with the people working at the shops than the paint in the bottles.
As I stare down at my fingernails on the keyboard, I notice that my nail polish is chipping. I think it’s time for another appointment.