Tag Archives: essay

Oops, I’m Addicted to Gel Manicures

My name is Charlotte Dow, and I’m addicted to gel manicures.

Now’s the time when you all say, “Hi, Charlotte.” That’s how these things go, right?

I honestly can’t remember my first manicure. I was probably way too young, and I probably messed it up two seconds later. Such is the way with children, particularly those with no fine motor skills. I do, however, remember hanging out in the local nail salon while my mom had a perfectly work-appropriate shade of beige applied to her tips. She’d chat with the manicurists and the other local ladies in the salon, listening to their family and work drama and sharing her own. I would sit in the corner and stack the Essie bottles like they were Legos.

As time went on and I became more interested in beauty, I’d join my mom in the salon every couple of weeks. Nail polish became my way of expressing myself without totally freaking out my parents. I’d try out bold colors – fire engine reds, deep navy blues, sparkly purples – in an attempt to show the world that I was edgy and cool. In truth, I didn’t know who the heck I was. Those nail colors were just another piece of the costumes I tried on while I tried to figure it out. Mom was always encouraging. She’d tell me when a shade didn’t quite match the dress I planned to wear to a bat mitzvah, or if it was too harsh on my essentially translucent skin. For the most part, though, she let me pick whatever I wanted. Nail polish comes off pretty easily – it wasn’t like I was dying my hair magenta.

Once I got to college and started managing my own money, I realized that I needed to learn how to do my own nails if I wanted to keep them colorful. Again, my fine motor skills leave something to be desired, and I don’t really have an eye for the visual arts. Manicure nights in my bunk at summer camp would usually end with Sally Hansen spilled all over the floor, my fingertips covered in black, chunky varnish. I was a mess when it came to the DIY manicure. But, with a little practice (and several bottles of $2 drugstore polish), I learned how to do a decent enough job of painting my own nails. My collection of (now dried out) colors aside, I managed to save myself a fair amount of money.

Trimming your nails over a trashcan in front of your TV just doesn’t quite compare to the real nail salon experience, though. There’s something comforting about the bright fluorescent lights, the TV that’s tuned into CNN at all hours of the day, and someone massaging your hand hard enough to pinch a nerve. In a way, it feels like home, which is probably the bougiest sentence I’ve ever written.

When I moved to New York, I started visiting the nail salon more often, when I had the time and money. They’re ubiquitous around here – there are literally three salons within steps of my apartment – which drives down the cost of a standard mani a bit. The New York manicure is famous for a reason. Our technicians will get you in and out and looking fresh in no time. This isn’t without controversy of course: a 2015 piece in the New York Times exposing harsh working conditions and underpayment of nail salon workers led to stronger government regulations of city salons.

Despite this, nail salons are more popular than ever, and one recent innovation has truly changed the manicure game: the gel manicure. I had heard about these longer lasting manicures when they first became popular a few years ago. They sounded perfect for me, but I was hesitant to try a $35 treatment I could more or less do at home with stuff from the drugstore. I also heeded the warnings of nearly every women’s magazine that the process could lead to premature wrinkles and weakened nails. I’m trying to live forever, y’all, and I want my nails to be nice and strong for the whole ride.

My mind changed when it came time for my first barbershop contest. My group has very clear guidelines of what we can and cannot wear onstage for contest, right down to the color of our nails. I wanted my nails to look polished and natural, and I wanted them to last throughout the contest weekend. With my habits, a regular manicure only lasts a few days before it starts to chip. Since I didn’t have much time right before the event to get my nails done, I figured it was time to bite the bullet and try gels.

Not every gel manicure I’ve had has been perfect. Some last longer than others, depending on the color, the salon, and what I’m doing that week. But I’m completely addicted to the feeling of having fully polished nails for more than a few days, without having to worry about chipping or peeling. Once the manicurist is done, I’m done – no sitting under a lamp for 20 minutes or more, constantly checking to see if my nails are actually dry. They’re goof proof. And I am very prone to goofs.

There’s also something very meditative about the nail salon experience. They’re not particularly relaxing by nature – they’re often crowded and blasting music, or the aforementioned constant feed from CNN. But it’s nice to just sit down and have someone take care of you for half an hour or so. It’s a time for me to sit still, which is something I’ve always had trouble with. I’ve gotten into the habit of going to the salon on my lunch break, when time and money allows, and it’s the perfect little break in my workday. I try to space out my manicures and give my nails some time to breathe. But I enjoy it as a little treat from time to time.

So here’s to you, fellow gel addicts. May your nails never chip, and may your wallets always be full.

My Post-Election Dive Into Astrology

Throughout much of high school, before 3G networks and touchscreens, I checked my horoscope every day through a primitive app on my flip phone. It probably cost my parents an arm and a leg in data charges, but they never said anything about it. I just had to know what the stars had in store for me, an awkward Virgo with bad skin and a crush on every boy.

Things seemed so uncertain back then. Despite the routine of school and extracurricular activities, I worried constantly about what the next day, week, or month might bring. Would I pass the math test I definitely didn’t study for? Did the boy I kissed several states away still think about me? Would I get into college? Were my parents really healthy? Would my Max Crumm win Grease: You’re the One that I Want?!

I now know that these questions stemmed from a greater anxiety that I did not yet know how to control, but it was easier to put my faith in something mystical than actually listen to my therapist. Those four or five line horoscopes gave me a bit of comfort and hope, enough to quiet my mind, at least for a little bit. Of course, if the stars called for more chaos, I’d dwell on this for for the rest of the day. I’d read and re-read each line, trying to interpret just how these vague predictions applied to my life. More often than not there was no correlation, but any hint at something negatively relevant would send me into a tailspin.

Once college rolled around, I stopped keeping up with my horoscopes. I started hanging out with skeptics who ridiculed the practice for being, you know, not real, and mostly a “women’s interest” thing. College wasn’t exactly a cakewalk for me, but I didn’t feel the need to rely on some astrologer with an internet connection and too many pashmina scarves to tell me what planets might throw a wrench in my month. Plus I just didn’t have time for anything that wasn’t schoolwork, theatre, or subtweeting people on Tumblr (sub-tumbling? Is that a thing?).

Suddenly it was 2016. I was in a new city with a job in my industry and some sense of stability in my personal life. I’d occasionally look to my horoscope when I had something big on the horizon or flip to the forecasts in the backs of women’s magazines while waiting for a train home to Philly. I was always a little curious, but careful not to put too much stock into things that may or may not happen because Mercury happened to be spinning in a different direction. But it made for a good way to pass the time.

And then the election happened.

Looking at the history of our country and the events leading up to the 2016 election cycle, I can’t say I was completely blindsided by the fact that America decided to give the nuclear codes to an anthropomorphized bag of Cheetos. But I had been optimistic. I was so excited to FINALLY have a capable, brave woman lead our country and I really believed it was going to happen. Nothing made sense after that night. I’ve been fearful for our future, for my own future since November 9th. At this point, that fear is part of my baseline. I’m getting used to it.

Around the same time I decided to kind of blow up my life. I figured I might as well stop ignoring the things that were bothering me while I still had time. My relationship ended. I started looking for a new job. I toyed with the idea of moving to LA. I got highlights.

With all this chaos, I once again turned to the stars. I now regularly read reports from three different astrologers, with others thrown in for good measure. Tweets from Poet Astrologers are regularly in the “While you were away” section of my timeline, because the algorithm knows what I want. I spent hours studying my birth chart, trying to figure out the intricacies of each planet and what my moon sign says about my personality. I still don’t fully understand it all, but I know that I’m a Scorpio moon with Libra rising. I’ll let you all dissect that information as you will.

The skeptical side of my brain that stores all my deep trust issues keeps screaming that all of this is fake and everything is just a big coincidence and nothing happens after we die. But the closer we inch towards nuclear winter, the more I want to tell that side to shut up and let me have fun for once. I’m not alone in this. I’ve seen more and more of my friends and Twitter acquaintances embrace astrology in the age of Trump. Sites like Bustle and Refinery29 are full of astrology-related content. We’re looking for comfort and guidance wherever we can find it. Maybe the planets aren’t pulling the strings and everything is just a random coincidence, but right now I’d rather blame the eclipses. Sure, I haven’t gone full woo-woo, and I probably only half-heartedly believe in every word written in my horoscope. But who am I to make fun of something essentially harmless that gives someone comfort?

We all need something to look forward to, and Mercury comes out of retrograde on September 5th.

Finding My Personal Style | BEDA Day 28

When I started this project, I made a list of topics I could touch upon over my 30 days of posts. One of those topics was “forming my aesthetic.”

Past Charlotte, what does that even mean? How does one fit such a whopper of a topic into one 500-word post? And which aesthetic are we talking about? Fashion? Literary? Home decor? Tumblr? Every time I return to the list, I’m not quite sure where to start with it. So I guess we’ll just go with some free thoughts on finding my personal style.

My style was pretty much the same throughout middle and high school. I was a standard t-shirt and jeans girl, particularly if those t-shirts were of the graphic variety. I’d mix it up occasionally with “punk” elements like Chuck Taylors or a studded belt (woof), but the general vibe was pretty casual. As time went on I softened up my look a bit, embracing cardigans and empire-waist tank tops with a dress or two to mix things up. My shops of choice at the time were Delia’s (RIP), American Eagle, and The Gap.

I was more willing to experiment in college, but tended to revert back to my denim comfort zone. If it took more than five minutes to get dressed, I wasn’t having it. Dresses and skirts made more of an appearance in my wardrobe, as I was more willing to embrace my femininity. Once I started to move out of the juniors department and into the world of Big Girl Clothes, though, I realized I was in a whole different category of customer, one that didn’t cater to my age group. I wanted to try crop tops and rompers, but the options in Forever 21 looked silly on me. Gaining the Freshman 15 kind of wrecked my self-esteem for a bit, making shopping even more difficult.

Something changed when I went to London, though. I stepped into a Topshop in Kensington and found that their petite section had a lot more than frumpy pantsuits. Finally, I could try out the styles I’d seen in magazines and style blogs. I’ll be honest, most of them still looked kind of silly, but just seeing that I could actually wear trendy pieces opened my mind up to new options. I started to wear brighter colors and pieces that didn’t always work, but made me feel good in the moment. For a second, I finally felt like one of the cool girls.

I now face a new dilemma as a post-grad working full-time in New York City. I can shop for work clothes without a problem and find outfits that look professional and comfortable at the same time. But part of me still wants to be “trendy” during my limited time off. I have very few “going out” outfits as I can’t find any that suit me (and I rarely “go out” as it is). I’m also just generally dissatisfied with the options available to me. The recent fare available in stores like Topshop and Zara kind of look like costumes you would find in a sci-fi movie. Culottes? Really, y’all?

I guess the key is to keep trying things on until something feels right. Or just keep perusing fashion blogs until I find a look to emulate. For now I’ll stick to my new uniform: LOFT blouses and black jeans.

Image via Enis Lebelici

The One About the Jacket

My leather jacket is filthy. I’m pretty sure it’s never been cleaned in the year I’ve had it. Frankly, I’m not even sure how to clean it. I don’t even know if it’s real leather (I know it’s not, but part of me wants to keep the dream alive).

I found it at a Bloomingdales outlet in Miami’s infamous Dolphin Mall (is it infamous? IT IS TO ME.) I saw it as an inferior replacement to my Topshop jacket, which I foolishly left behind on a plane coming back from Los Angeles the summer before. The cut wasn’t quite as trendy, the sleeves were too long, and it kind of felt like plastic. But every good city girl needs a cool leather jacket, so it made the trek back to Philly with me.

Of course I needed to get the sleeves hemmed in order to not look like a tall baby in it. I took the jacket to my usual tailor. She was out, but her partner promptly remedied the issue. Sure, one sleeve was a little longer than the other. Nobody’s perfect. You can really only notice it when you squint. Right, guys? RIGHT?

I wore that jacket everywhere that spring before it got too hot. It kept me warm through debauched college parties, study sessions, play rehearsals, concerts, the whole nine yards. I pulled it out once again this fall when I moved to New York. Maybe it’s not the most on-trend, but it makes me feel like I actually belong here. It’s the finishing touch on any hard-femme look I try to pull off. It’s even pretty work-appropriate (for my office, at least). It makes me feel like one of the Cool Girls, even if I am such a dork that I dedicated an entire blog post to a dirty “leather” jacket.

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Did this sound weird? Probably. In an attempt to kick my creative ass back into shape, I’m doing BlogHer’s NaBloPoMo challenge (yes, I’m aware that I’m starting late, why would this project be different from anything else I’ve done). Check out this month’s prompts here! And if you want to keep up with this nonsense, follow me on Bloglovin.