Empowerment from an unlikely source

Empowerment, oh, how I would hunt you if I knew where to find you! But the truth is, you seem to come and go with no rhyme or reason. You are elusive; mysterious; an uncanny mix of ethereal conditions, each of which must be just so at the right time. And today I discovered you in the last place I would ever look: nail polish.

Let me be clear. To say I rarely wear nail polish is a vast understatement. In my adult life, I have worn it no more than 10 times, if that. For one thing, my perfectionist tendencies butt up against my lack of small motor skills, so I am never satisfied when I do it myself (and I’ve had exactly two manicures: one before a wedding in which I served as Maid of Honor; the other was a gift). Also, I am far too likely to use my hands for things that lead to chips, scratches, or other defects that mar the overall effect.

For another thing, something never feels quite right when I look down at my painted fingernails. Shiny with a delicate, pretty color. Or, once, a bold red. But the thing is, they don’t feel like they belong to me. They belong to a different Isabella Pen, one who is more feminine, more polished (Edit: no pun intended)…a more grown-up version of me. Even as I fantasize about what life would be like if I were that version of me, I know it’s useless because it’s just not who I am, and I’m not about to change who I am so that I feel comfortable wearing a delicate pink sheen on the tips of my fingers.


Yesterday, for reasons that are too complicated and unimportant to go into, I found myself wandering down the cosmetics aisle at my local drugstore. This was unusual in itself, for, like nail polish, I feel less like myself when I wear make-up. But there I was. And for some reason, I found myself drawn to a small bottle of blue nail polish, so dark it was almost black. It made me think of midnight, and suddenly I was gripped by a need to purchase it. Into my basket it went, and when I got home, I would take it out and look at it as though it were some precious stone.

This went on for a few hours until, finally, I could resist it no longer. Next thing I knew, my nails were midnight blue. It is not the world’s best manicure…not even close. There were smudges and places were it was stuck to my cuticles. But I was fascinated by it. I felt slightly daring, knowing that I would wear it to work today, a place where people don’t push the envelope in their personal appearance.

But this morning, I felt different. I looked down at my midnight blue nails and I smiled. I felt bold, I felt brave, and most of all, I felt like me. I felt like a version of me that can do whatever I want. I felt like the best version of myself—not an untouchable version of me that is better in some ways that are fundamentally foreign to who I feel like at my core—but the version of me that’s been waiting for a reason to come out and give life a real spin.

Maybe this is all some weird illusion. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow morning, look at my nails, and desire nothing more than to remove every last trace of the color. But somehow I doubt it. And even if that’s what happens, I’ll still have today and the way I felt. Because if nail polish can draw that heady swirl of power to the surface, it must exist inside me somewhere; and if it’s there, I’ll find it again.

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