This may wind up being a rather disjointed and rambling commentary, rather than a neat little essay on what I find repulsive about the current attitude towards those who aren’t as well off as the 1%–which frankly, is most of us.
I’ve been in tight circumstances for a while now. I started a business right when the economy crashed, ran into some major health issues while self-employed and had crappy insurance, and have spent most of the last decade crawling out of the hole these situations put me in as a result. Things have gotten better lately, in part because I’m finally at a point where my backlist can help pay the mortgage but also because I just paid off the last of the medical bills.
But as these things go, the universe decided to play its little joke and hit me with several personal losses back to back to back. Between those losses, the current state of politics here in the US, and my fears for this country (and the world), it would be fair to say I’ve been struggling this past year. My creativity and my health have taken hits as a result.
Which brings me back to the point of this post. See, when you’re struggling to stay afloat, you tend to grab hold of anything that keeps your head above water. For me, that might be binge-watching old favorites on Netflix, or re-reading the comfort reads of my youth. Sometimes it’s planning a trip (though more often than not, I ended up having to cancel my trips this past year), or going to the bookstore, or buying pretty nail polish.
It turns out I’m not alone in that alone in that regard. A Reuters post indicated that in tough economic times, sales of nail polish went up because it was seen as an affordable indulgence–buying luxury at a bargain price, if you will. Apparently lipstick sales used to rise as well, presumably for similar reasons but also because for many women, their appearance factored largely into their success during a job interview. Even more interesting is that sales of women’s lingerie goes down with a poor economy, indicating a need to practice frugality in an area where one has some control over who will see your undies.
Lipstick sales no longer inversely reflect the economy, but nail polish does. It also is a relatively inexpensive way to lift my spirits. Not just a new shade, but the act of applying lacquer is very soothing to me. Much like drawing in a coloring book.
What all these images I’ve shared thus far have in common is that these are my own nails, painted by myself, all taken within couple of years. Something happened to my nails in the last year, however. I don’t know if it’s stress or an indication of health issues or my generally crappy diet, but I can’t seem to grow my nails out any longer–not past the quicks. They split and peel. They break with normal use. I used to grow long nails so easily, people would ask me what I did to make them grow. I used to have such strong nails, when someone asked me what could break them, I’d smirk and say “Kryptonite.”
All that changed within the last year. Sure, it’s a little thing compared to watching our civil rights erode before our very eyes, the concerns of climate change, the sheer incompetency and corruptness of our government, and oh yes, the possibility of nuclear war. Yeah, poor me. I no longer have pretty nails.
But it’s because of these other things that I feel the loss of my pretty nails more keenly. Painting them was a tiny indulgence that made my day a little bit brighter. So a few weeks ago, I decided to have my nails professionally done.
No, it wasn’t something I intended to have done all the time, but I have some weddings to attend in the not-to-distant future and I wanted to know if I could have nice nails for something like that. I fully expected to hate the process, but instead, I fell in love. Not only did I get my indestructible nails back again (with the industrial strength nail polish used, they don’t chip or break), I also got my pretty nails back again.
There’s not much about me I find pretty or attractive. Losing the one thing I was kind of proud of bugged me more than I realized. I was delighted by the results, and found myself looking at the budget and trying to figure out how often I could indulge. But shortly after I had my nails done, I started getting commentary on the unnecessary expense by various people around me.
Comments on whether the nails were appropriate to my job. How could I possibly do my job with those nails? Comments on how I could possibly afford to have my nails done.
Because suddenly, like the millionaire telling millennials to lay off avocado toast if they want to buy a house, or Jason Chaffez suggesting that if we didn’t buy an iPhone, we’d have the money we need to afford health insurance, everyone had an opinion on my nails.
Let’s set aside the infuriating irony of Chaffez lecturing the rest of us on saving our money to spend on health insurance–someone guaranteed coverage simply by being a member of Congress–I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy an iPhone every month for every year of my life. Because that’s how much my health insurance cost per month before Obamacare: the equivalent of an iPhone. Let’s set aside as well the fact that the last time I bought a house, it was for around $35 K. I sold it a few years later for $44 K. The same house now lists at $150 K–and as an individual with a single income, I couldn’t afford that kind of house payment. So yeah, perhaps millennials could save their pennies–but it still wouldn’t add up to what it takes to buy a house these days.
No, what really irks me is the notion that it isn’t enough that we are barely squeaking by at times, we must suffer for the indignity of being broke too. I know, it’s all relative. I know some people for whom tightening their belt means they will forgo the trip to Tuscany this year. For others, it means making soup out of popcorn because there is literally nothing else in the house to eat. But here’s the thing: if I choose not to have cable TV so that I can have my nails done, that’s my choice. Cable or nails: neither one comes close to a house payment. And if a house payment is completely out of the picture, then why begrudge me a small indulgence?
Especially if that indulgence helps me get by when things are really hard for me right now.
It’s high time we stopped being so judgemental. Be it about someone’s weight, or the books they read, or how they spend their hard-earned cash. Especially by people who want to make these judgements about morals when the truth of the matter is it’s very hard to lose weight when you’re dead broke. Cheez Doodles are cheap. Buying and cooking good food is expensive, both in terms of actual cost, but in time spent as well. It isn’t laziness that causes some people to collapse onto the sofa at the end of the day and not get up again until it’s time to go to bed–working two jobs kind of saps any energy for going jogging or making a week’s worth of meals in advance.
So I say this to you: if you’re hanging on by your fingernails, paint them. Buy that book or DVD you’ve been wanting. Take that special person in your life out to dinner. Wear the nice perfume. Just because you have to pinch and scrimp and save to pay the bills–sometimes to the point of having to decide which bills you’re going to pay and which you must delay–that doesn’t mean you can’t ever enjoy nice things. Maybe your budget is so tight you’re eating popcorn soup–but you can still check out books from the library or go to the free movie in the park. And if you do save up for something nice, something that makes you feel special or makes you smile, by God, don’t let anyone diminish your joy in it or try to make you feel bad about your little indulgence.
Just because you’re broke doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to have fun.
Being broke isn’t a moral failing. It’s bad enough to have to struggle to make ends meet. No one should demand we maintain a colorless existence without joy, merely because we fall into the wrong tax bracket.
This image was taken after I had my nails done professionally. Turned out rather nice, don’t you think?