Sometime after a Jewish Mary without exertion hatched a Christ,
Lawsuit-seducing Catholics thought their priests should abjure sex.
Then came along formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and their bliss,
And mani-pedis for exaltation seemed more fun and less complex.
Is it that toluene for dizziness can suffice?
Or sex subjects prefer side effects not keep them up all night?
Of course un-priestly, unpolished men must continue to reminisce,
But heading home one Sunday night, alone mid cold and rain,
I could see that for true believers nothing but the nails remain.
∩ Wikipedia and others online inform:
People have been pedicuring their nails for more than 4,000 years. In southern Babylonia, noblemen used solid gold tools to give themselves manicures and pedicures. The use of fingernail polish, like gunpowder, originated in China. And thus it was there, in 3000 BC, that nail coloring, or its absence, began to be an indicator of social status.
Ancient Egyptians were manicuring and pedicuring in 2300 BC. A depiction of such practices has been found on a carving from a pharaoh’s tomb. It is said that Cleopatra’s nails were painted a deep red; whereas Queen Nefertiti went with a flashier ruby shade. In ancient Egypt and Rome, military commanders also painted their nails to match their lips before they went off to battle. (And Jesus, of course, had a thing—not about having his feet well cared for, but—about caring well for others’ feet.)
But then, in the West, during the Renaissance, in Italy and elsewhere, earrings and other jewelry were, under sumptuary laws, forced upon prostitutes and Jewish women. More generally, prominent make-up and jewelry were associated with marginal people or outcasts, Moors and gypsies included. During the Industrial Revolution unstained—and unpainted!—hands with white and regularly formed nails were esteemed as signs of moral and physical cleanliness—and freedom from manual labor. Thus etiquette guides from the 1800s recommended that—instead of staining one’s nails, be this at a workplace or in a bedroom or salon—women use a little lemon juice or vinegar to whiten their nail tips.
In the 1920s, the invention of car paint provided the technological foundation for colored nail enamels. By the 1950s, more color options were introduced, and some hairdressers were trained to give manicures. Then, in the 1970s, the acrylic nail was invented, and the market has been growing ever since.
There were approximately 50,000 nail salons in the United States in the year 2000. By 2018 there were more than 200,000. Pedicures take approximately 45 minutes to an hour. This results in high hourly fees, and thus, for example, US mani-pedi revenues grew from $2 billion to $6 billion between 2000 and 2004.
A wellnessmama website chimes in that conventional nail polish is one or the more toxic beauty products around, as the polish often includes:
- Toulene: A chemical known to cause reproductive harm and dizziness and central nervous system problems.
- Formaldehyde: A carcinogen we are warned not to inhale or bring in contact with our skin.
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP): A chemical banned in Europe and known to cause reproductive problems and endocrine disruption.
And then there’s George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four: “The only recognized purpose of marriage was to beget children for the service of the Party. Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting minor operation, like having an enema. This again was never put into plain words, but in an indirect way it was rubbed into every Party member from childhood onwards.”
Sources: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedicure#History; www.intoglam.com/mobile/mobile-about-nail-category/mobile-mani-and-pedi/mobile-history.html; theguidetoeverythingfabulous.wordpress.com/2008/07/10/the-history-of-the-manipedi; www.langaro.com/history-of-manicures-and-pedicures.
The particularly curious might also see Michelangelo’s Jews: The Treatment of Jews in Renaissance Rome and on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling, by Chantal Sulkow, Zeteo, May 2016.
— Poem, notes and drawing by William Eaton
As regards the drawing, for the moment I am calling such pieces “very blind contour drawing”—in which model, pose, artist and moment temporarily run together? An early series of these—drawn in that case with a blindfold on—decorate my most recent book of essays, Art, Sex, Politics (more below). An exercise inspired by the young Cy Twombly, who, by drawing in the dark, was seeking to escape the clutches of naturalist, figurative art. The Romanian artist Geta Brătescu also did drawings with her eyes closed, for example the one at right.
Now available from Amazon: Art, Sex, Politics
In a new, provocative collection of essays, William Eaton, the author of Surviving the Twenty-First Century, shares the pleasures of questions, tastes, reading and more visual arts. “That we are animals, that is as sure as ever. How savagely we behave! And how affectionately rub up against one another. How, desperately, make love?”
Five-star review: “ . . . remarkable collection of essays. . . . insights which carry the reader into a world of mindfulness. One of the pleasures of reading a book by Mr. Eaton is to witness the author peeling away the layers of his stories. His essay concerning “savoring,” for example, first touches on food habits, yet is in fact a call to live with intention; to savor life as one would savor a meal. . . . lovely prose . . . delightful book.”
Kind words about Surviving: “Entertaining, yet packs a quiet intellectual wallop. . . . so thought-provoking and poetic I didn’t want it to end . . . beautiful and wise and moving . . . engaged, non-doctrinaire, well-read, independent-minded. . . . William Eaton finds arresting themes in unusual places. . . . The writing is masterful and wonderfully absorbing.”