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These Toes Were Made for Painting: Lessons from a Pedicure

photo: frank wouters on flickr

Have you ever looked at your toes? Like, really looked at them?

No offense to anyone out there – or your precious toes – but I think toes are extremely strange.

Think about it: Stubby little pieces of flesh sticking out of a bigger piece of flesh at the bottom of our bodies. Why are they there? What are they for?

photo: D. Sharon Pruitt on flickr

To a pedicurist, toes are for painting. And why not? They’re not good for much else. Well, except to stopping us from tipping over, which is pretty important, actually. But besides that.

By nature, I am not a toe painter. I am not interested in painting my own toes or anyone else’s. The smell of toenail polish alone is enough to send me fleeing from the room, gasping for fresh air. What do they put in that stuff anyway? Toxic waste? I guess if you can’t dump it in a landfill, you might as well use it to decorate your toes.

Needless to say, the whole mani-pedi business is not my thang.

photo: bettyx1138 on flickr

Enter Melissa. For her last birthday, she wanted to get a pedicure. And she wanted me to come with her.

For those of you who know me – and for those who have viewed my wacky picture at the top of this blog – you know that my gender expression is of the flexible variety.

I look like a boy who looks like a girl. Who looks like a boy.

photo: Lillian Howan

It’s taken me a long time to own my unique gender expression. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve had the courage to step outside of society’s ideas of what a woman should look like. To this day, I am on guard against messages from the world telling me I “should” be more feminine.

I am feminine. But I’m also masculine. That’s the thing about gender-flexibility. It’s, like, flexible.

And pedicures are, at least historically, the bastion of femininity. Pure femininity – like perfume and pantyhose and puffy, pink pillows.

photo: ellsea64 on flickr

Except things have changed. Guys get pedicures now too. It’s called being metrosexual.

photo: Bryce Giesler on flickr

So I decided to buck up, be a man, and get a pedi.

Melissa was thrilled that I agreed to come with her. And I’m always happy to make her happy. Still, I felt awkward in the salon.

It reminded me of being a teenager, surrounded by girls who wanted to talk about boys and clothes. Back in those days, all I wanted to do was hang out with my best friend and throw a frisbee.

photo: Don DeBold on flickr

Where was my frisbee now? Nowhere in sight, that’s where.

Armed with a People magazine and an attitude of adventure, I planted myself in a chair. A nice lady came over and slipped my feet into a tub of warm water.

So far, so good.

Then she pulled out my feet and started attacking them with a medieval torture device.

Actually, I think she was just filing off dead skin, but the sensation was like being tickled with sandpaper. My feet were twitching so badly in response, I’m surprised I didn’t knock out a few of her teeth.

When she’d had her fill of the sandpaper torture, she moved on to clipping my nails. That was pretty painless.

Or maybe my feet were just numb from the sandpaper.  

Last came the polish. In my case, I’d chosen an androgynous blue, to match my vibe. My toes came out nice and shiny and very very very blue.

I felt like a girl. Who looks like a boy. With sand-papered, painted-blue toes.

I walked out of that salon, holding hands with my sweetheart. My toes were sparkling in the mid-day sun. I felt a sense of both accomplishment and relief.

After Melissa and I got home from our adventure, I posted a picture of my toes on Facebook.

My friends went wild! Everyone was so excited!

I suspect some of this excitement had to do with me gussying myself, girly-style. This sort of enthusiasm can make me nervous, as it reminds me of being younger and being unable to fulfill the societal expectations of feminine beauty.

But that wasn’t what this was about. This was simply my friends being excited for me.

I was excited too, but for a different reason.

I was waiting for my toes to start looking cool. And by that I mean – chipped. Like, rock-star style. Like, toes that having been hanging out at the pool till 3 a.m., howling at the moon. Hearty, androgynous toes.

After a few months, I got my wish. I took another picture and posted it on Facebook, but the reaction was mixed.

Apparently, not everyone shares my androgynous, rock-star aesthetic. I didn’t mind. The study of my toes had turned into a kind of anthropological study.

Like observing chimps in the wild, except it was my toes. In captivity.

My toenails continued their slow cycle of ridding themselves of the polish. Today, some ten months after the sandpaper-torture, they still bear a tiny remnant of my day at the pedi palace.

Will I do it again? I don’t think so. I like my toes au natural. Plus, I’m not manly enough to go another round with the sandpaper lady.

But I did learn something from the experience.

I realized I’m secure enough in my free-floating gender expression to take a trip to Girl Land.

And I realized that sometimes you need to do something different. Just because.

Because the Universe gave us toes. And sandpaper. And pedicurists. And sometimes you just have to mix them all together and see what you get.

Even if there’s no Frisbee.

photo: popofatticus on flickr

When have you allowed yourself to indulge in something different? What did you learn from the experience?

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20 Responses to These Toes Were Made for Painting: Lessons from a Pedicure

  1. Melissa March 27, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    In our Spirituality & the Brain class (I think that’s where it was) I was recently reading about how great it is for the brain to learn and do new things. Scientifically proven good – in terms of memory, keeping the brain working well – you know – little things like that

    I am re-learning – or moving forward – on the guitar again…it’s so humbling to be such a beginner – and so awesome to be armed with the info that it’s good for my brain, as long as I am puttering along and struggling with it! :-)

    • Z Egloff March 27, 2012 at 11:11 am #

      The hardest part with the guitar is getting those calluses! That, and actually practicing.

      Sometimes I get in a rut, just doing the same things again and again – so it’s good to have this reminder that it’s good to learn NEW things too. That’s why you encouraged me to go to the Pedi Palace, isn’t it?! 😉

      • Melissa March 27, 2012 at 7:42 pm #

        Oh yeah – THAT was why! It was for YOU!
        Cuz you know – that’s how I roll. Totally!

  2. El L March 27, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    Witty & hilarious writing that’s really deep & wise that’s really witty & hilarious! Proud and delighted to be in the gender-flexible universe with you. Thanks for writing your wonderful blog, Z!

    • Z Egloff March 27, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      One of my favorite things about this blog is the way in which I am integrating many different pieces of my life in one place. The pieces keep arising, fitting themselves into the puzzle. I am happy to have the picture that you took several years ago, in a cafe in Berkeley, as a part of this blog now. Thank you, El L!! XOZ

  3. Jill Shinn March 27, 2012 at 8:31 am #

    I got a pedicure exactly ONCE, as well. It was also a noteworthy occasion for me because I was appalled by what felt like an ancient class issue. There were the well-to-do having their feet washed and fussed over by endentured slaves (who I’m sure have gotten their faces kicked a few times by people who were startled my the aggressive sandpaper technique!!!)

    Anyway, I couldn’t stand it, so I talked to some friends of mine about their experiences. One said she felt like me—that she’d seen flashes of the “Last Supper” the ONE time she’d had a pedicure. Others said “Oh, yes, isn’t it FABULOUS?!” So I came to the conclusion that getting a pedicure is sort of a personality assessment tool, as you, dear Z, have now confirmed.

    I say “Long live plain toes!!!”

    • Z Egloff March 27, 2012 at 11:43 am #

      Yes, I agree that pedicures bring up different things for different people. I had some of the same discomfort that you did, in the sense of being waited on. But I didn’t necessarily see the staff as slaves – that particular viewpoint didn’t fit in my experience. But everyone’s experience IS different, which is part of the strength and joy of being human. And yes, I did emerge from the whole thing singing the praises of Plain Toes!!

  4. Valerie Randall March 27, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Love this revisit to the State of Toes. I loved your rock star version, in my biz we call it the grunge effect. Shabby yet chic. I, personally, am all for painted toes. It’s another art project like colouring my hair. Plus it keeps my one permanently split toenail glued in place, a genetic gift from my Dad. Same toe, same split. That’s the joy of our expression: all unique, all one.

    • Z Egloff March 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      The grunge effect. I like it! I’m also fascinated by your genetic connection with you dad. Who knew that toenail polish could be used as spackle?! 😉 Very cool. When I first posted my toenails online, my father was prompted to take pictures of his and my mother’s feet – and also encouraged my brother to do the same with his family – and we compared feet. Another fascinating study in similarity and difference. Oh, the human condition. . . .

      • Valerie Randall March 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

        I wish I had taken pictures of my Dad’s and my feet. A sole desire. ;D However it was not toe be.

        • Melissa March 27, 2012 at 7:43 pm #



  5. Michael McElroy March 27, 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    I worked for a man who had his fingernails done on a regular basis and since trimming my nails was a bother and his hands always looked so nice, I wanted a manicure. Finally, when I was a lot older, bothered by arthritis, and not seeing a manicure as evidence of success anymore, a friend gave me a gift certificate for a manicure. I was really kind of stoked. I never looked at the staff as slaves because they charge plenty for their work. The woman took toenail clippers to my fingers in such a rough manner, my hands were aching when she was finished. She didn’t soak them in any soothing bath or anything else I was anticipating. I asked her if she just wanted to exclude men from her practice. I don’t think she had much of a grasp of the English language, but I did promise her I would never be back. I have participated several times in the ritual foot bathing at a couple of different churches but can’t imagine having my feet “done” at a salon.
    There is a woman who talks on KZST fairly often that reads toes. I found your toes very interesting and would be curious as to what she would say about them. I think I will call and find out her name.
    Thanks for your blog. It is definitely fun reading!

    • Z Egloff March 27, 2012 at 8:59 pm #

      Reading toes, hmmm? Sounds fascinating. I could buy toe readings as Christmas presents for my family! 😉

  6. mark July 22, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Late to this party, but man, look at your blue toes, vs normal toes. The blue one’s look awrsome, the ummm, normal, uhh, look like shit. You’re right in toes being odd appendages. But what’s up with this girly crap you’re worrying about, or the servant nonsense. Servants don’t get paid like that, and the salons have mainly catered to women before so that’s where the smells and lace and flowers come from. I call bs. color is cool. On my cars, my motorcycle and, yes my toes. My motorcycle or my car would look crap without color, my toes, her toes, my dang dog’s toes would look better with color. So, my car does, my motorcycle does, and yes, I do. Haven’t done the dog yet though. But man it’s tempting. :). Sorry dude. But until you can own up to what’s good, or not without worrying about what others think then I can understand the girly thing going on in your head. Think human instead. Trust me, a freaking orangutan would paint his toes if he could.

    • Z Egloff July 25, 2013 at 9:48 am #

      Hey Mark,

      Good to know that you’re rockin’ the color. And I’m intrigued by the color on the dog’s toes – now that sounds groovy. :)

      Thanks for stopping by!


  7. mark July 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    BTW, I had meant the chipped rocker look of the polish looked bad. :).
    I see it the younger girls and it looks readjustment. Thanks for the reply. I think the vast gender binary thingy going on is so much nonsense fueled by media and advertising. Life is short, lots of important stuff and dabbing a bit of paint on your bod isn’t one of them. What I can’t figure out is why the heck would anybody care what I have or don’t have on my toes. That they do just seems way too weird to me. Most folks don’t really care enough about you to care anyway. Fun little blog you got going on here.

    • Z Egloff August 1, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

      Hi Mark,

      Glad you’re enjoying the blog. I never get tired of hearing that! :)

      And I totally agree with you about most people not really caring about what other people are doing. Most people are too worried about their own stuff. Or toes. Or whatever.


  8. Jake May 23, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    Hey, another vote “for” polish here!
    I agree with Mark, the whole gender bias – who does what – is tiring, and I’m a more traditional guy anyway.
    Sure, I enjoy seeing a girl with her hair, makeup, nails and clothes in a more feminine way, but I have a reason – I’m a guy, and it’s how we’re wired.
    But honestly, when it comes down to it, people are who they are and trying to be someone else, whether that’s dictated by the media, friends, parents or whoever, a person is going to be a lot more genuine being themselves.
    So, even though I consider myself a traditional guy and wear more conservative styles (I call it ‘comfortable’), I do also enjoy a relaxing pedicure from time to time and I also wear my toes polished regularly. I just like the way it looks and it makes me feel good when I look down and see my toes shining with a little color on them.
    So, back to your original point, it’s okay – even good – to step outside one’s comfort zone and enjoy being themselves, true to their most inner feelings and free to enjoy life. Amazing that it all began with a simple pedicure too, huh?

    • Z Egloff May 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

      Hi Jake!

      I love this. I especially like how you describe yourself, and your look and what’s comfortable for you – and that shiny, colorful toes is a part of this look. I’m just grateful that we live in an age that many of us get to choose what we want to put – or not put – on our bodies. I just love the diversity of expression that all of this represents. So thanks for adding your voice – and your look – to this mix! :)



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