Do I love that I bite my nails? No. Do I sometimes wear press-ons because I get self-conscious about my fingertips? Yep. Have I bitten my way through polishes, deterrents, and all manner of product designed to keep me “off” my hands like I'm the human equivalent of a particularly ill-behaved Pomeranian who keeps climbing up on the couch? Oh, for sure. In fact, I could spend the next several hundred words teaching you cessation tricks—keep your nails painted, use Barielle's horrifically foul topcoat, tape them up, chew gum. But honestly? Anyone can try to make you feel bad about it (hi, Mom!). At this point, truly, the most useful thing I can probably do for you is just tell you to stop beating yourself up about a habit that's only remarkable because other people can see it and assume it's a mark of anxiety. That doesn't make you feel any better? Me either. But consider the following:
For some people, yes, nail biting is a flashing neon sign that says “I’m a jittery mess; no one look at me. I SAID DON’T LOOK AT MY FACE.” But if you’re nervous, stressed, miserable, or maybe just want to scream and cry and generally act like a sad version of Animal from The Muppets, it can also make you feel better. Nail-biting might be self destructive, but only the teensiest bit. Also, sometimes you are bored. Sometimes your nails look particularly bitable. Sometimes, Michael tells you not to and you just really want to spite him. These are all excellent reasons.
For something so minor and so common (almost half of us will be or have been biters), public reaction can be irritatingly overblown. Acquaintances, for example, have felt compelled to slap my hand out of my mouth, always under the auspices of “helping” me quit. Fun fact: slapping a semi-stranger is a super weird thing to do, because ASSAULT. Plus, it’s never like these pugilists are bad-behavior vigilantes who also go around swatting Ruffles bags out of peoples’ hands or disconnecting cable boxes so they can’t watch eight hours of Million Dollar Listing. What gives, hand-hitters? Why do you do this thing? It confuses me.
Maybe the problem is that messing with your nails is often framed as a vice instead of a coping mechanism. After all, it’s a lot more like a paper bag that helps people when they're hyperventilating than something indulgent or sinister. I don’t know, and I honestly don’t care much. But I do get tired—and am I alone in this, fellow nail biters?—of apologizing for behavior that has zero effect on anyone or anything besides my nail beds. It’s just a symptom of stress, and a relatively mild one at that.
So I am hereby owning it, and so should you. My dearest cuticle-irritating brethren, our time has come. Repeat after me: “I, (whatever your name is), sometimes bite my nails when I am worried, or tired, or maybe just notice that a free edge is a touch raggedy. And that’s OK. From now on, if someone has a problem with it, it’s just that: their problem.” Questions? Concerns? Comments?