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Nail Polish

“Dad, I’m going to wear nail polish tonight.”

My dad looks up from his laptop.

Bu yao chou mei,” he replies simply. Don’t be so vain.

I have envied the long, colorful nails of the other girls in my class for months now. All the beautiful girls with golden-colored hair have them. I don’t have vibrant, golden hair, but I’m convinced maybe pretty nails will make my muddy, brown locks not so noticeable. I look down at my own nails--wince in distaste. My hands are small, and my nails are short—trimmed down to nimbly fly across the black and white keys of the piano. I decide that one day when I’m no longer playing the piano, I will grow my nails long and rounded, like the other girls, and I will paint them the most beautiful color. Maybe a dark pink, like a mysterious rose. Or a pale blue, like the sky after a fresh downpour of rain. Just no drab, dark colors—dull like my hair. Drab like my eyes.

Later that night, I am sitting on my best friend’s bed. We’re both burrowed under her fluffy blankets, our faces illuminated by the warm light of her lamp. I watch her carefully dip the small brush of the polish bottle into the swirl of baby pink and trace a line down her fingernail. The smell of the polish immediately hits, and I crinkle my nose, but the brushstrokes are mesmerizing. Stroke by stroke, I watch her fill in the rest of her nail—like a painting. A pale blue of the sky like I had always dreamed, dotted with little pieces of white. I admire the beautiful, light colors on her fingers; her hair is black like mine, but it might as well be more gold than all those girls I see at school.

She notices my intense gaze and grins. “Want me to do you?”


“Don’t worry, I have a clear one with small gold stars. It’s very subtle, and it’ll look great on you.”

My mouth becomes dry. My father’s words echo in my head. Bu yao chou mei. Don’t be vain. Don’t indulge in such a trivial act to change your own image—don’t be selfish. But there is a mighty beast clawing from inside, yearning for those mesmerizing light colors to be painted on my fingernails, covering my short nails. Diminishing my not-gold hair.

After a beat of silence, I breathe, “Okay.”

She grabs the new bottle, and pulls my hand into her lap. When she opens the bottle again, I am overwhelmed by the smell that seems to burn a path up my nose. But I don’t crinkle my nose this time, and instead shift my focus to my friend’s steady hands as she fills my small nails with gold stars.

When she finally finishes both of my hands, I look down and lose a sigh. She had painted a little piece of the universe onto my hand. Like a glimpse of the night sky.

“You like?”