I Have One Hand. Here's How I Paint My Nails
This story is part of The Beauty of Accessibility, our series on inclusivity and representation for people with disabilities in the beauty industry and beyond.
I was born without my left hand, otherwise known as being a congenital amputee below the elbow. My doctors think that when I was in the womb a piece of amniotic tissue got wrapped around my arm and prevented it from growing. This is called amniotic band syndrome, or ABS, and happens to about 1 in 15,000 babies. As a result, I have a short forearm, some wrist and hand bones, and little finger "nubbins." I absolutely love my "stump," as I now affectionately refer to my arm.
When I was five years old, my younger sister named my little arm Bebe — she was trying to say “baby hand” but was too young, so Bebe just sort of stuck, to this day. My sister and I loved to play games with our arms. Most often, Bebe was a superhero and my right hand was the bad guy, Biggie. My sister was entertained for hours. At such a young age, she was the first one to show me how incredible it is to love one's body fully, for exactly how it is. I grew up with an excellent sense of body awareness and pride because of my sister.
As I got older and started exploring makeup, I experimented with painting my nails. You’d think I only have five nails — the ones on my right hand — but I also have a little nail on my thumb on my stump. This little nail grows like any other nail and I have to trim it sometimes; sometimes I bite it; and, when I'm in the mood, I paint it. Because I grew up in an environment where I didn't get treated differently for having one hand, I feel confident trying new things that typically require two hands. Nail polish is just another fun thing to use in my unique way.
Here's how I put on nail polish: First, I give the bottle a shake with my right hand; then, depending on how tight the lid is, I press the bottle against my chest with my stump and untwist the top with my right hand, or I hold the bottle with my right hand and untwist the top with my teeth. I know that dentists everywhere are cringing at the idea of using your mouth to open stuff, but when you have a limb difference, it's extremely helpful. Once I have the polish open, I place the base of the jar on the table, using my right hand to paint my toes and my stump thumbnail. I definitely recommend nail polish with a rectangular bottle shape vs. a rounded one (for example, ella + mila or Lauren B. Beauty) because the flat edges make it sturdier for someone with a limb difference to balance against another surface, rather than it rolling around. Orly polishes are also neat because they have a grippy handle on the cap.
Painting my right-hand nails is a little more interesting: I sit in a comfortable position on a couch or chair so I can bend my knees up; I use my knee as an anchor for the polish brush, where I hold it firmly with my stump; rather than move the brush to paint my nails, I then position my nail under the bristles and move my hand in smooth strokes to apply the polish from the nail base to the tip. When I need to apply more polish to the brush, I carefully grasp it with the pointer finger and thumb of my right hand and dip it in the bottle. Then I gently place it back against my knee and swap out my fingers for my stump. I repeat the process until all my nails are done, and hope I don’t get any nail polish on my pants!
Sometimes, instead of between my knee and stump, I hold the applicator brush in the elbow-crook of my stump arm. This method gives me a bit more flexibility and range of motion, but I have a little less fine-motor control. (Imagine using your elbow-crook to hold the polish brush and applying nail polish — better yet, give it a try at home!)
Just like someone with two hands, practice is key. My first attempts were very, shall we say, colorful. I ended up with painted nails and fingers, but now my skills rival the average amateur. I love finding new ways to play with nail polish, especially letting young kids paint the nail on my stump. It's always a wonderful time full of fun, a bit messy, with some learning about limb difference: Sounds perfect to me!
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