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Meghan O'Keefe Headshot

The Ugly Beauty Of Nail Art

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Lately, a lot of my female friends have been obsessing over art.

They aren't discussing the bold lines of Alexander Calder's sculpture or the infinite brush strokes Monet used on a canvas to suggest the power of light. They're talking about "nail art."

I have no idea where this "nail art" originated. I never saw any of it when I toured the Louvre at 16 and I don't recall a great "nail artist" ever being featured in my older sister's art history books. I just know that now I'm supposed to know the difference between gels and acrylics (I vaguely know that one is like a long lasting polish and the other is like shellacking vinyl siding to your nails) how to give myself French tips (I don't) and which shade of Essie's next seasonal collection will be the most popular (It's the nude one, right? Or is it the pinkish-navy one? Not the pastel!?!).

I know what you're thinking, "This bitch is complaining about being above nail polish. Talk about white woman problems." Not the case, at all. I'm complaining about being below it. It's a different kind of white woman problem altogether.

See, I am hopeless when it comes to "nail art." I always pick the uncool shades of teal. I can never paint my nails without getting drips of polish everywhere. I think the trend of "crackling" layers is disgusting because it looks like your nails are exploding on your fingertips. Also, I find it unbearably boring not being able to move your hands for a half hour while you're waiting for your polish to not only dry, but also set.

I could get "quickie manicures" on the cheap, but I have this aversion to people contorting my fingers for a half hour and using a coarse plastic bristled brush to scrape away dead and still living skin cells from my hands. I have paper thin Irish skin. It hurts. Did I already mention I find waiting for nail polish to dry really boring?

I thought that growing up with a single mother and all older sisters had prepared me for all possible female conversations. How to keep your hair from frizzing on a rainy day. Check. How it's better to be single and happy than with someone who treats you like garbage. Check. How Mary, Queen of Scots, ruined her rule by marrying Henry, Lord Darnley, thus evoking the wrath of her political rivals. Check plus.

The only things I was taught about my nails were that I should clip them, file them, clean them and get a French manicure for very special occasions. Apparently, this is not enough to keep up in the fast paced world of "nail art" culture. Oh, and I'm told that French manicures are now considered "tacky" and "the worst."

So far, I've been blustering my way through manicure-centric conversations by muttering that the one shade of nail polish I always wear is a color called, "carry on." Still, I want to be included in the conversations other women are having. I want to understand their references and sly lady jokes. I still remember the shame of being a 10-year-old on a school bus listening to the cool girls singing songs from Grease and not knowing what that was. Once I found out it was from a musical, you can bet your bottom dollar that I watched the hell out of that musical and any other one I could find.

See, when I don't understand something, I do my best to learn all I can about it. I hit the library like Hermione Granger and arm myself with facts. The problem with nail art is that you can't Hermione Granger your way into getting it. There are no ironclad facts about it, because it's a fleeting thing. You're not making a huge commitment when you paint doggies on your thumbnails. You're going to rub those puppies out with acetone in only a couple of days and start again.

I know that as human beings there are things that we are intellectually incapable of understanding. It's just incredibly frustrating that for me those topics are nuclear physics, how to fix the American economy and why other women are so obsessed with getting their nails "did."