#MakeupMonday: Nail Polish as Mindfulness – Guest Post

I’m pleased to share this guest post sent in by Dr. Katy Peplin for #MakeupMonday!  I always welcome guest posts and pitches for posts on any aspect of makeup, skin care, nail polish, etc.  Email me at gettenure@gmail.com.

By Dr. Katy Peplin

Dr. Katy Peplin earned her PhD from the Department of Film, Television and Media at the University of Michigan in 2016. She works as a coach, editor, and writer specializing in graduate student support. You can read more about her at katypeplin.com, or on Twitter at @katypeplincoach.  Product recommendations below!

I have never been a particularly make-up focused person – I’ll wear some mascara if the mood strikes, I had a brief love affair with bright lipstick – but my love of nail polish is legendary. I’ve got an entire Ikea cart in my office filled with bottles (collected over time, and nail polish never spoils, so it’s *an investment*) and people regularly give me nail polish bottles as gifts. But what they don’t know is that nail polish is actually as much a mental health tool as it is personal adornment.

Now, I have strange body chemistry that means that even the most long-wearing nail polish, no matter how professionally applied, will peel off my nails in big sheets soon after I apply it. I’m lucky to get 24 hours out of a manicure before it chips, so I long abandoned having my nails done in a salon. Mere mortals might decide that the universe does not want them to have painted nails, but not me. I paint my nails a few times a week, which lets me change the color often, and experiment with bold finishes (and often glitter) frequently.

Glitter. Always glitter.

During my PhD, I was struggling with some pretty severe anxiety. I would be writing, and a negative thought spiral would begin (insert all the imposter syndrome, self confidence destroying thoughts you can think of here!) and pretty soon, I’d be paralyzed, unable to type but also unwilling to give up on my work. When discussing this with my therapist, they asked me to brainstorm other activities I could do to occupy my hands while my brain got itself back into a state of balance. And thus, my ritual of mindfully painting my nails was born.

I’d paint my nails whenever my brain was spinning too fast and the writing was suffering. I’d paint my nails when an email from a student came through that had me through the roof with anger, giving me a break before I could reply in a more measured way. I would pick a color that made me feel particularly powerful (blood red! Navy with gold flecks! Shiny patent leather black!) while I thought about how I wanted to approach an upcoming committee meeting. I’d take deep breaths while focusing on the curve of my nail bed, the evenness of my application, watching the flow of the polish, and that was usually enough to get me back into a place where I felt just a little bit more control.

When your cat supervises your archival copy receipts and nail painting sessions

I was never the kind of person that took to meditating, so painting my nails became that mindful moment in my day that I needed. Waiting for your nails to dry? Perfect time to reflect on your day so far, and adjust your schedule. Don’t want to smudge your nails? Try reading through your drafts, or free writing, to reacquaint yourself with your own thinking. Having wet nails is the perfect excuse to take a break and bring yourself back into balance, to focus on your body, your mind, your priorities.

Academic culture can make it feel like taking a break, even to stretch your legs or grab a glass of water, steals time away from the work. But taking 20 or 30 minutes to slow down made me a better grad student. It allowed for some clarity in my writing, rather than pushing through the anxiety to write whatever muddled thing was on my mind, just to hit the word count goal. Having wet nails saved me from writing rude responses to emails, something my colleagues and students surely appreciated. Taking little breaks to do something just for me was a tiny act of resistance that said “yes, I know that painting my nails doesn’t get my dissertation done any faster, but it does make me happier and more balanced when I do it, and honestly, that’s more important.”

Maybe for you this is taking 20 minutes in the morning to do a more elaborate face of makeup while you really focus on your breathing and the music you’re playing and the day ahead of you. Maybe it’s starting the go to bed routine 20 minutes earlier so you can really take care of your skin. But building in time to rest your mind, reconnect with the present moment, and show your body a little love too? That’s the kind of everyday practice that helps you feel human and academic at the same time.


My favorite quick-drying, high shine top coat

My favorite base coat

My go-to brand for on trend colors, with drugstore availability!

The best neon nail polish brand, if you’re into dangerously bright nails

My splurge brand

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


#MakeupMonday: Nail Polish as Mindfulness – Guest Post — 5 Comments

  1. During the last year of writing my dissertation, I took up adult coloring books. This did not come easy. I like to consider myself to be somewhat of an artist: I create the drawing; I do not complete others’. However, creating my own art was beyond me while working on my dissertation. Unexpectedly for Christmas, our daughter gave me an adult coloring book. Wow. The mindless practice of filling in little shapes with color was exactly what I needed to calm my mind and relax. I can imagine it is quite like painting one’s nails.

    • You know what?! An adult coloring book was ultimately the earliest origin of my transition too! My sister bought some for me, and I started doing tjem, which then led me to start doing the Japanese crafting again, which became my jewelry business, which became TPII!

  2. I, too, sometimes paint my nails when work is spinning. As you say, having wet nails sort of forces me to slow down a bit (and even…gasp…put down the computer). I just started a new job and am trying to figure out how long I have to wait until I can start wearing my “weird” colors to work. I work at an arty school, so I don’t think it would really be a problem, but I’m also the youngest full time faculty member and the first TT hire in a while, so I feel like I need to spend some time establishing my credibility before I show up with toxic green nail polish. It feels so silly to even worry about the professional implications of nail polish color, but gendered (and age-based) judgments are real.

  3. I definitely feel this! I couldn’t bring myself to pay $50+ dollars for acrylic nails so started experimenting with doing them myself and now it has become so therapeutic to me, I do a set every weekend and change the color a couple times a week and it always relaxes me so much!

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