Sunday, September 13, 2009
I saw one of the wonders of the world a few weeks ago, when I went in to a bank to deposit a check (my having a check to deposit is a wonder in itself, but never mind that). The teller took my check and began typing in whatever information tellers type in upon receiving a check and that's when I noticed her fingernails: bright red, several inches long, and as fake as a lesbian Russian pop duo. Somehow, she was able to type accurately on a standard keyboard with these grotesqueries attached to her fingers, and I couldn't help staring. It was off-putting and awe-inspiring at the same time, like watching a two-legged cat throw itself towards its water bowl.
People dress in so many bizarre and logic-defying ways that one hardly ever questions the reasons behind another's fashion choices, especially in large cities like New York. You can pass a man wearing a puffy-sleaved pirate shirt and lime green hot pants on the street without thinking anything except, "Wow, what unusually hairless legs he has!" But in the case of the bank teller, I wondered, and I wonder to this day: why was she wearing those nails? Does she think it looks good? DId she have to practice a lot before she could type with them on? What in God's name is the reason behind fake nails?
Twentieth-century humanity has produced many products that are fundamentally impractical; it has also produced products that are hideous to look at. But fake nails are that rare item that is both useless and ugly at the same time. They increase the difficulty of ordinary tasks like dialing a phone or typing and are expensive and time-consuming to put on--you would think that all that hassle would pay off by making the women who wear them much more appealing as potential mates. But fake nails don't make them more attractive, at least not to men. I've had plenty of friends with relatively depraved sexual attitudes, but not once has a man said to me, "You know what really gets my motor running? Two-inch long fingernails that have yellow and magenta stripes on them." Guys are not interested in fingernails. If a certain kind of woman wears tight enough clothes, we won't even notice if her nails start falling off.
After some consideration, I've come up with three reasons to wear fake nails:
1. You are a drag queen.
2. You have a disease that has caused your nails to fall off (in which case maybe cosmetic appearance shouldn't be your number one concern).
3. You want to look more attractive in front of other women.
Men often assume that women dress up to impress us, which is arrogant and blatantly wrong--if a woman wants to impress a man, she can just wear an extremely short skirt and no bra. The real challenge is winning the approval of other women. So I'm assuming that women wear fake nails and get elaborate manicures because other women are impressed by them. Right? Is a a sort of arms race where the woman with the longest nails wins? (If that's the case, my bank teller is definitely ahead of the field.) Do women show their ornate nail patterns off to each other like some men do with their cars? Is it like the old Chinese practice of foot binding, where the woman emphasizes her high caste status by her inability to perform household chores? Is the idea to use these pointy extensions as weapons against competing women?
I don't have enough X chromosomes to answer any of these questions, although I hope the answer to the last one is “yes.” All I know is that if you are a dyed-in-the-wool free marketeer, if you believe that capitalism is a collection of rational traders, if you believe that advances in beneficial technology are driven by consumer demand, if you think that the absolute value of something is whether people buy it--you should visit my bank.