How wearing acrylic nails helped me quit a bad habit and gave me a confidence boost

My name is Bane, and I’m a chronic nail-biter.

Ever since I was a kid, my go-to gesture when I’m nervous has been stuffing my fingers into my mouth — and I have social anxiety, so it happens frequently. One female relative tried to keep me from my compulsive habit for more than two decades, employing every technique from cayenne pepper paint to advising me that boys wouldn’t want to hold hands with a nail-biter (that latter bit is patently false, btw) — and all in vain.

As an adult, I tried wearing every shade of nail polish that you can think of, and though it’d always work well at first, eventually my nails themselves would crack, and I’d be back to square one (curse you, oral fixation!). I took to carrying bits of sandpaper everywhere to file down pieces of my nail so that I wouldn’t bite the whole thing off if I started to chew. Worrying about the possibility of hangnails became a full-time job. This worked okay for a while, but it wasn’t the solution I needed.

I never thought my saving grace would be acrylics.

The first time I tried fake nails was an unmitigated disaster. I’d gotten a weird set, one with gummy adhesive pads instead of glue, and the little numbers on each one might as well have been written in hieroglyphics. The adhesive pads made me think of the stuff that holds similarly fake credit cards in place in junk mail. The end result was that I looked like a gloriously drunken Tyrannosaurus Rex. I was a sparkly vision to behold, yet utterly incapable of opening cans of soda, soup, or cat food (things that obviously caused the T. Rex’s demise). Those doomed little suckers went flying off on day one as though I’d stuck them on with pop rocks. It wasn’t until several months later that things turned around.

The magical glue that comes in DIY acrylics kits is practically worthy of worship in my book. It’s reasonably klutz-proof (after a few tries, for some of us), holds up well under pressure, and it’s pink for goodness sake! To this day, I’ve never had a professional manicure, but the first set of acrylics I wore successfully were purple French tips. You never forget true love.

For once, I was able to relax and stop worrying about my nails. All those years I’d thought stress was making me destroy my fingertips — but like most kinds of anxiety, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I somehow never considered how much of my day was spent looking at my own hands — whether I’m typing, playing with the cat, or gaming, it’s impossible not to (I dare you to try).

Bedecked with acrylics, my hands were transformed into someone else’s — those of a confident woman, someone who takes pride in herself and her appearance, a self-motivated go-getter. Though it’s the mirror reflection of everything I’d been taught, feeling polished on the outside made me feel beautiful on the inside.

Looking down and seeing pink sparkles glittering from the tips of my fingers makes me happy. For the pride and confidence it brings — or perhaps just unbridled happiness — a weekly set of acrylics seems a small price to pay.Bane Shaheen is a New England-based geek and a graduate of UCLA’s MFA Screenwriting program. She writes stories for naughty nerds under the pen name Elegy Goldsmith — check in with her on Amazon and Twitter!

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