Yes, it feels great to have someone cleaning up my nails, shaping and filing them, and then painting them an interesting colour (and every once in a while, adding an air-brushed decoration). It's nice to have nails that don't chip or split or have raggedly cuticles, too. But there's another reason why I get my nails done every two weeks religiously (pardon the pun).
One Sunday during my internship, I was the celebrant for Communion. Afterwards, one of the congregants approached me, almost in tears, and thanked me for celebrating Communion. She had grown up in the Roman Catholic tradition, she said. "It was so powerful for me to see a woman celebrating Communion, and then you held up the chalice--seeing the Cup lifted in hands with polished nails--it was so moving for me!"
I know that for some, that would not be a meaningful moment. For others, it might actually detract from the sanctity of the moment. We can argue about whether manicures are good for our personal health or the environment, and whether polished nails are an indication of submission to patriarchal stereotypes and values. But for this woman, the sight of my hands lifting the chalice crystallized for her the fact that this was indeed a woman presiding at the sacred feast, her painted nails a sign of her womanliness, her femininity. For this woman, she felt fully welcomed home, in a place where the steward of God's table could have painted nails.
Now, I tend to basic, practical outfits. I don't think I have ever been called a clotheshorse. I do aim for reasonably attractive clothing that fits me well and is appropriate, and a hairstyle that is easy to keep up, neat and tidy; but that's about it. My nails, however... I have always liked to have my nails painted. I remember doing my nails in the high school cafeteria before school started (we had an early bus), and spending a lot of my employee discounts at the dime store where I worked after school on nail polish (Cover Girl Nail Slicks!). Gardening played a real number on my hands and nails, and again, manicures were important. And then, at some point, I discovered having them done in a nail salon. Heaven!
So a manicure is my nod to a beauty routine, a personal pampering that I can fit in my budget a couple times a month, a fun way to spend an hour on my day off, laughing and talking with the nail technicians and other clients--an indulgence, if you like. But it is also my reminder of that congregant, so many years ago now, who said, "Seeing your hands, with that beautiful nail polish, lifting the chalice, brought home to me that this was a woman celebrating at God's table--and I thanked God."