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Bad habits

| Thursday, November 5, 2020

Since the age of 10, I’ve had a bad habit: I bite my nails. Throughout my life, I’ve been told that it’s unprofessional, unladylike and gross. My high school art teacher teased me about it, my grandmother lovingly encouraged me to stop and my aunt shared how she taught herself to break the same habit. 

Despite these pressures, I never felt like this habit was really that bad. After all, the habit didn’t hurt me or anyone else. Maybe it wasn’t the cleanest, but it helped me manage my stress. On top of that, I have met plenty of professional men, my father included, who shook hands at important business meetings with nails completely bitten and unmanicured. Only women are expected to keep their nails painted and perfectly manicured. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting look presentable, there’s no reason for women to have this added pressure and expectation in the workforce. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m completely capable of breaking this habit. In fact, I’ve done it time and time again. I would set some sort of goal — to grow my nails before Prom, to have nice nails for Christmas — but every time I reached the goal, I felt so empty. I had worked so hard and constantly nagged myself all for the measly reward of ten little white crescents on the tips of my fingers.

The whole thing just seemed so meaningless. I didn’t even like how my nails looked grown out and painted with shiny light pink nail polish. I felt like a poser. Besides, long nails only seemed to get in my way during soccer games or yard work. Long nails implied a sense of fragility that I refused to embrace.

Today, I appreciate the look of my mangled, unkempt fingernails, and I’m unashamed of my nail-biting. It’s just a part of what makes me human. I don’t force myself to stop biting my nails or spiral into a cycle of self-hate at my ugly fingers. In fact, I embrace the look. It shows others that I’m flawed and that I’m human.

Many students at Notre Dame, myself included, fall into the trap of perfection. While high-achieving students might find it admit, trying to succeed at the highest level in every area of life just isn’t realistic. In the end, something has to give. Everyone needs an outlet.

Accepting my nail-biting is one way I’m fighting back against the black hole of self-improvement. If just one person looks at my unsightly nails and knows that perfection isn’t everything, that will more than compensate for the looks of disgust. 

“Your hands would look so pretty if you just had long nails,” they say. “Don’t you want to look ladylike?”

Despite these criticisms and back-handed suggestions, I stand behind my conclusion. I won’t be pressured into changing myself just because of society’s expectations, especially when these standards disproportionately affect women.

Maybe someday I will break my bad habit and stop biting my nails, but if I do, it won’t be for an employer, a man or a family member. It will be for me. For now, I’m perfectly content with my imperfect nails, and I proudly sport my short, jagged fingernails.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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