It took me a moment to realize that the man was yelling at me while glaring right at my feet. After having spent an hour at the gym and another cleaning my apartment and finishing up some bills, I had showered and ventured out in search of a casual place for a quiet dinner. It was still hovering at ninety degrees, the sky was clear, and the moon just starting to make its way above the horizon. I had donned a skirt, t-shirt, and sandals and was feeling good about myself. Imagine how shocked I was when I realized that some random stranger passing on the street was offended to such a level at my unpainted toenails that he felt it was his right to yell at me about them. Correct me for an unforgivable misconduct. You would have thought I was kicking a puppy or walking around with an unknown open wound on my leg gushing blood considering how fervently he was pointing and yelling.
Now I know what you’re thinking, perhaps he was just crazy or drunk. It would be easy to make those excuses for his behavior. Simple to just brush it off as a singular event – but it was not and he was neither. Dressed in a clean cut suit and hustling towards the residential area with briefcase in hand, it was obvious he was heading home for the day. I have also spent enough time in various cities to be able to separate the crazies and drunks from the sane and sober. What was it was then? For me, it was just another example of a growing list of commentary and scrutiny a woman can face on a daily basis when it comes to her looks and behaviors. An example of how men feel entitled to correct a woman for some unspoken transgression.
I’ve never been a girly girl. Growing up I spent the majority of my time outside playing or with my nose in a book. Dirt was my friend, a softball bat or soccer ball my weapon. I trashed my Barbie, favoring instead the classic NERF gun, water pistol, and three-person sling shot. I abhorred skirts and couldn’t tell you what an eyelash curler was until mid-teens. As I’ve gotten older I have learned to appreciate the subtleties of red-hued lipsticks and find that I like how a close-fitting dress hugs my curves. Blessed with good skin, I never wear much foundation and instead opt for a tinted primer with sunscreen. And while I sometimes yearn for straight hair, I have come to embrace and love my naturally curly and wild hair, my hair straightener now collecting a fine layer of dust in the back of a drawer.
This is me. I prefer simple clothes over frills and flats over heels. I have found my balance and yet to this day I cannot stand nail polish. From the moment I put it on I start to pick it off and for some unknown reason it doesn’t like to stick to my toe nails. My nails are not cracked or discolored. I keep them clean, clipped and buffed. But for this man, and despite all my other good qualities and physical attributes, my toe nails were a direct affront to him and his own self-worth. For whatever reason that he needed to justify himself and his position as a man, he needed to see feminine, painted toe nails.
The pressure that we as women feel to be perfectly coiffed at all times can be suffocating. We each have an individual sense of style and level of comfort when it comes to dress up and prep. From the women who choose to challenge the rigid confines of acceptable body image by baring hairy arm pits, unconventional hairstyles, and pictures celebrating imperfections, such as cellulite and fat, to the women who can pull off a Betty Paige or Amal Clooney look with little to no effort – our differences and similarities should be celebrated equally.
This past week I started binge watching episodes of Sex in the City. It’s been a couple years and while I still enjoy the uniqueness of each character and applaud the strong feminist message the show sends when it comes to embracing our sexuality, I am similarly troubled by the amount of time the show dedicates to the women validating themselves through obsessions with having the perfect body, shoes, and marriage. In one episode Miranda laments that she doesn’t have time to get her weekly wax and pedicure. She feels out of sorts and distraught, thus causing her to have a fight with her boyfriend Steve. This was compounded in the first movie when Samantha notices Miranda’s unwaxed bikini line and says “wax much?” She chides her for not taking the time to remove body hair while praising Charlotte for taking the time to remove hers. As if the act of removing all of our unsightly hair boosts are value as women.
These are just two examples of body shaming and unsolicited commentary we have come to accept as everday normal. And while that man failed to shame me into grabbing the nearest perfect pink bottle, I now catch myself glancing down at my toe nails and thinking “should I?”