Pretty Feet and Self-care Rituals

pedicure self care

Earlier this year – sometime in the spring, I think – I made a conscious choice to spend less money augmenting my wardrobe and more on actions that nourished my body.

It happened by accident, really. On a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon, HM dropped me off to hit a consignment store while he browsed at a nearby guitar store. I was just about to walk into that warm, inviting Turn Style when I realized there was quite literally nothing on my wish list. Undoubtedly, I could spend a few bucks on items that were used and therefore mostly sustainable … but they’d just be excess, clutter, unnecessary additions to an already bountiful wardrobe.

So I stopped short and headed into a nail salon for a pedicure. It was probably my third ever, including the one my sister-in-law got for me on my wedding day. I didn’t get any polish, but asked the nail tech to clean up my calluses and cuticles, which she did with great care and skill. Then I slipped my socks and boots back on, and headed out to meet HM.

And that week, every time I looked at my feet in the shower or on the floorboards of my home, I felt a little surge of pleasure. I’d never given much thought to my feet before, but they looked downright pretty to me. Clean and healthy and lovely. I was surprised by how happy my pedicured toes made me every single time I saw them.

So I went back. And I’ve been getting pedicures every six to eight weeks ever since. Always on Sunday afternoons, well past sandal season, and always without any colorful polish.* And doing so has helped get rid of the calluses that build up between the balls of my feet and has finally banished the yellowish tinge that lingered on my big toenails for years no matter what I did.  But more than that, it has trained me to be more mindful of how my shoes may rub and tear at my feet. It has made me think about my feet as parts of my body that deserve consideration and care. And it has started a chain reaction of body-related ministrations that led me toward working with some holistic healers, getting second opinions from Western doctors about health issues that have been plaguing me for years, even splurging on the occasional facial.

Over the past few months I’ve read some great rhetoric on how conflating self-care with bubble baths and glasses of wine can be detrimental, and I totally agree. Real self-care is about making choices that will help your tomorrows be easier to live through, it’s about doing what you need to feel safe and supported. But there’s also self-care of the literal kind, caring for your physical self. And I’m talking about activities beyond eating healthy foods and embracing movement. I mean tending your hair and hairstyle, talking to experts when you feel like your skin or gut or hormones might be a little out-of-whack, taking the time to get a pedicure because it makes you feel actively happy about your physical self, sinking money into new glasses when you realize your prescription desperately needs updating. I mean selling all of your pinchy shoes because you absolutely don’t have the patience for pinchy shoes anymore. I mean cultivating a skin-care ritual that feels reverent instead of onerous. I mean buying new nightgowns when you realize PJs make you feel constricted and hot. Listening to your body, conversing with your body, lavishing attention and affection on your body.

I’m well aware that I’m not alone in my love of pedicures, mindful of the fact that I’m not the first to make them a self-care ritual. I’m discovering a truth many of you have long known, that spending your hard-earned cash on a professional toe tune-up can be an investment in physical contentment. But the pedicure is just the example, here. The real point is this: Many of us can benefit from regular, even splurge-y feeling self-care practices because they remind us that our bodies are deserving of investment. Of time, of money, of energy, of care. Whether it’s facials and manicures, massages and PT, time at the hair salon or tattoo parlor, each of us may flourish if we embrace the idea that caring for our bodies in active, intentional ways will boost our moods and improve our states of mind.

*Which absolutely mystifies every nail tech I’ve ever met. But I just love the look of healthy, bare nails!

Image courtesy Baciliforme

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9 Responses to “Pretty Feet and Self-care Rituals”

  1. Yamikuronue

    How do you find a good nail technician? Every time I go, I get people who glare at me, don’t talk to me, and physically hurt me by being too rough. Sometimes they scold me as well. Am I just not paying enough? Would going to a more expensive salon help?

    • Sally McGraw

      Yamikuronue, I’m so sorry to hear this! It’s taken me a while to find a salon I like, and I have NOT found that paying more means better service. Friend recommendations can be helpful, but it’s really trial and error that does the trick. And being vocal about your preferences – I have calluses that need serious work, and just mention that up front. I don’t get manicures as often, but when I do I always say that my cuticles tend to bleed and ask that the technician be gentle. If you live in a place with multiple options, try as many as you can. I wish I had more specific or targeted advice, but that’s what’s worked for me!

      Anyone else have suggestions? I feel like Yelp can be misleading because most reviews are negative and based on a single experience …

    • Nebraskim

      Ask your friends where they go and who they recommend (or don’t recommend). I go to an appointment-only salon; there are no drop-ins. Most of the clients are long-term and many of us have standing appointments. I love the salon, the women who work there and the other clients. It’s like a little family. The owner works in the salon; one of her daughters is FT in the salon and another is part-time as she is in college. There is one other FT tech and two other part-time. The salon is spotlessly clean and very relaxing — no loud music or glaring lights.

      I was not into the mani-pedi thing until about 8 years ago when I purchased a gift-certificate donated to a charity event by the salon owner. A friend who goes to this salon told me I would love it. And I do. I have gel manicures every other week and pedi every 5 weeks in the summer. These are little self-care splurges for me. I liked your post, Sally, because I, too, am finding myself on a self-imposed clothing diet. I just do not need anything new. I have replaced some worn out items, like sports bras or running shoes, but otherwise, I’m feeling set.

  2. cryptdang

    Nice post! I think I’ve been slowly turning to this mind-set lately, though I would not have been able to put it into words. I’ve been doing things that before I would have been afraid made me “vain,” but now I think “to heck with it, if it makes me feel good in my body.”

  3. Naomi

    I used to live in the Philippines, where grooming and wardrobe were a major focus for the female half of the population, and my job’s unspoken code was to look very “done” at all times, so I got a pedicure and no-color manicure every two weeks (also it was perma-sandal-weather there). Once back in the States I kept it up for a month or so but the higher cost made me drop it shortly after my return. Recently (2.5 years later) I found a place that’s very reasonable but not scarily so, and I felt almost teary-eyed when I left after getting my first pedicure in almost 3 years. I realized how much I missed that sense of care and ritual and how happy it made me. So now it’s in the budget permanently. I get it!

  4. sohoaccessories

    Pedicures have always been a fav with me. If I let it go my feet actually start to talk to me. Lol

  5. Rebekah Jaunty

    This post was so wonderfully detailed and personal, I feel like I just read part of a good book. Thank you for sharing!

    My big toenails are slightly yellow-tinged, too, but I was hoping that would grow out over time… how do you think your recent pedicures have removed that yellow tinge? Buffing? Did you used to wear colored polish?

    “But I just love the look of healthy, bare nails!”

    Me too! I’ve been using clear polish on my toenails lately, which is surprisingly satisfying.

    • Sally McGraw

      Thank you, Rebekah! Ya know, I’m not totally sure what it is about the pedicures that has helped the yellow tinge. I did used to wear colored polish all summer long, so I’m sure skipping that helped … but I imagine regular buffing and professional trimming contributed, too.