Thursday, October 24, 2013

If the Shoe Fits "Birkenstock Essay Scholarship" Entry

“Prosthetic Toenails”

Taping my nails back onto my toes had become a habit.  I’d take the toenails from the plastic bag I kept them in, fit them on to my toes, and bandage them back in place.  It may sound like an exaggeration but when I was a young girl it was part of my routine.  Why?  Because I’m a ballet dancer and wearing hard tipped pointe shoes with all my body weight resting on my toes can kind of leave some wear and tear.  But it wasn’t weird to me, it was my badge of honor, proof that I had danced enough to warrant the protective, dead tissue on the ends of my phalanges to bruise from the pressure, turn blue and finally, to fall off.  It was an attention getter, that’s for sure.  My classmates would get a squeamish look on their faces and tell me how tough I was.  It wasn’t as bad as it sounded though.  By the time the nail would detach completely, the tissue below had already begun to grow so that there was half a toenail already in the works underneath. But this didn’t make it comfortable, far from it.  But I do look back with fondness to the memories of that uncomfortable, albeit amusing, routine.

Once, I forgot to take my toenail off after dance class and return it to my bag.  I wore it while I was swinging in my backyard and when I was walking back toward my house I realized that the bandage I was using to keep it on my toe was gone.  My sister and I then went scrambling on our hands and knees searching through the dirt trying to find the necessary bit of protective wear.  I laughed as I picked it up out of the dust and showed it to my sister in all its dirty glory and promised myself not to forget about it in the future.

Sometimes during pointe class as I was dancing, I would feel the toenail slide around.  The edge of it would press into my cuticle and I would wiggle my toes in the hopes of coaxing it back into place.  I would look at my feet in the mirror.  Long, extremely narrow feet that in pointe shoes, standing in first position, were the shape of French baguettes the color of shiny, pink salmon.  My muscles would contract, pulling my ankles up, willing the toes to extend and working to point my foot as I turned across the floor in circles.  If I “pulled up” enough it would relieve me toes of the pressure and keep the nail from digging into my skin.

When I had gotten strong enough to perform in pointe shoes, I was in a ballet recital and my grandparents came to see me dance.  I was in my pointe shoes almost constantly for two days and having only been on pointe for a couple years I was very tired.  My toes became sore, went numb, and retained the shape of the pointe shoes when I took them off.  I got home late that night and my Grandma massaged my feet for what seemed like ages.  It felt so wonderful.

I kept the toenails in my ballet bag for a long time.  Seeing them made me feel good, like I had truly accomplished something.  They made me feel that I was resilient and long enduring.  Pain that was purposeful and brought forth beauty in the dances I performed.  When I was fourteen, my family moved and during the packing and unpacking I somehow lost the baggy that held my toenails.  It made me sad to know they were gone.  Thankfully after I had built up calluses and strength I graduated to more supportable toe pads. I no longer have to keep “prosthetics” in my dance bag but I won’t forget losing my toenails and the blue badges of endurance and hard work they represented.

*The voting button is located at the bottom of this page.


  1. Voted for you! I thought this was rather well-written ^_^ your toenails stay on? lol, this is such a nutty topic XD
    -Laura M

  2. Thank you so much, Laura! Yeah, my toenails usually stay put. XD