Before this month, I’d had three pedicures in my life, each in the eighth month of my three pregnancies. “What colour do you want?” the pedicurists asked, to which I always responded, “None. Just cut the nails and trim the cuticles, thank you, because I can no longer reach my toes to do it myself.” But, oh, I had to admit, those foot massages felt good even as I reproached myself for enjoying them.
Yes, I know. Lighten up. Enjoy the pampering! But I couldn’t. It’s almost pathological, this inability of mine to indulge for the sake of indulgence. Of course, I have no such problems when it comes to hot fudge sundaes or beach vacations. But, still, I’d reached 45 without ever having painted my toenails. I am a feminist, and to me painted toes and time devoted to pedicures have always represented the imprisonment of my mother’s generation, for whom red toes are still de rigueur. It’s an attitude (mine, that is) that, according to my pedicure-loving and equally feminist teenage daughter, is not only sad but – well – old-fashioned. These days, she tells me, pedicures are a form of self-expression.
So one recent morning, I strode into the Bliss Spa in SoHo, New York, feeling brave and ready for a metamorphosis. Until I was confronted with the “wall of polish”: each bottle hung sideways and spot-lit, like wine bottles in a chic bar. There sat every hue in the visible spectrum. I froze.
A red? No, too cliché. A neutral? Too neutral. Pink? I hate pink. If I’m going to do this, I thought, I might as well go for it. I would adorn myself ironically, in a kind of yes-OK-I-got-a-pedicure-but-I-didn’t-take-it-seriously shade. I pointed to the bottle approximately the same tone of electric blue as my shirt, Coat Azure (ha!) by Essie Cosmetics (£9.95).
“Good choice,” said Galina Andriyak, my nail technician, and off we went to soak my feet in a tub of ... hot milk?
“Of course,” said Galina, explaining that vitamin D and lactic acid are good not only for the soul but the sole. “Today, you are Cleopatra!” she announced.
“Today I am Cleopatra,” I repeated. The words and warm milk snapped me out of my guilt and into reality: I wasn’t actually Cleopatra, indulgently bathing in a bathtub of milk. I was just me, soaking my middle-aged feet in a shallow basin of metaphor.
Freed from my neuroses, the rest of that hour lived up to the spa’s name. My feet and toes were buffed, polished and smoothed, then treated to a hot sugar scrub, followed by a blood orange and white pepper lotion, both of which smelled and felt so good that I bought them (the former I’ve yet to open; the latter I smooth on to my feet and calves every day, to great effect).
Home from Bliss, every time I caught a glimpse of my toes they made me giddy: “Oh, look! My toenails match my yoga mat!” A week later, I had to appear on the Today show for work, and I shamelessly wore open-toed sandals to chat with Matt Lauer. I felt so dressed, put together. Why hadn’t anyone told me?
During this same period, I was invited to a girls’ weekend in the country. As an unscientific experiment, I investigated the feet of my fellow attendees. Of the six forty-something guests, 100 per cent had perfectly painted toes. Amazing. I had brought a huge bag of various nail polishes with me, so I asked each woman to choose their favourite colour, in order to see what happened next.
Suzanne chose Revlon’s Peach Smoothie (£6.49) because she likes the way pearly nudes make her toes look like seashells in the sand. Gretchen, more of a traditionalist, chose Dolce & Gabbana’s Red 150 (£17), a classic red if ever I’ve seen one, as did Abby, who described the red as “so Mad Men. If this gets me Jon Hamm, I’m in.” Jackie nabbed Revlon’s Smoky Canvas (£6.49) for just the slightest hint of tan. Dani preferred the iridescent grey Chanel Graphite 529 (£17.50), because “it feels like it packs a punch but is also subtle”. Marcia, who was admiring my blue toes, chose the dark blue Dior Tuxedo 908 (£17.50), which she likened to the paint-job on a 1960s car.
As for me? Call me converted. For my next pedicure, I’ll be choosing the aqua Mermaid’s Tears by OPI (£10.50). Or maybe I’ll pick Dior’s Blue Denim, which would match my jeans. Or should I go with the cool white #316 Nail Effects by Barry M (£3.99)? Depends, I suppose, on my mood. There’s power in these here toes.
Head over Heels pedicure, $65, www.blissworld.com