During Britney Spears’ highly publicised meltdown of 2007, I read one article that’s always stuck with me.
“Sporting chewed-down nails, a shaved head and an intense expression,” the article wrote in its description of Brit after she smashed up a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella.
Britney’s messy nails were a sign of disorder, mental instability and a lack of discipline, according to this article. And although I generally don’t take life advice from tabloid magazines, the stigma attached to adult nail biting has stuck with me over the years.
The habit is seen as childish, undisciplined and unhygienic. And rightly so: nail-biting can expose you to tons of germs, lead to skin infections, and mess with your teeth. Knowing these things, it seems ridiculous that I—an on-paper grown-up in my mid-20s—would keep picking on my poor nails whenever I was bored or stressed.
But despite the shame, nail-picking stayed with me into adulthood: long after I stopped over-plucking my eyebrows, parting my hair in a right ponytail with two strands at the front, and committing other style sins of the ‘90s. I just couldn’t shake the habit.
Over the years, I’d tried a few different methods to stop biting my nails. That foul-tasting formula that you paint onto your nails is great in theory, but reapplying it every time you wash your hands is a pain. Also, can you imagine doing that in an open-plan office? (“Oh, I’m on deadline? Excuse me while I painstaking apply this gimmicky-named product to my nails and flap my hands around waiting for the polish to dry.”)
Pure willpower didn’t do the trick, either. Despite having successfully jettisoned cigarettes, carbs, and sugar over the years, pure force of will failed me when it came to nail-biting. Just pop on a Saw movie, and my fingers would be at my mouth at the three-minute mark.
Watch: Sephora Smart Roller is the cheat to nail art. Post continues after video.
I even tried paying for weekly manicures so I’d have a stronger incentive to leave my nails alone. Guess what? My $40 gel polish job was always ruined within days.
So, after a decade of trying and ditching new solutions like some yo-yo dieter from the ‘80s, I learned from a woman at a party about a weirdly effective method. I’m pretty sure this technique was formulated for six-year-olds— but hey, it works. So thank you, mystery party lady!
In the spirit of paying it forward, I’ve decided to share her step-by-step process. (Post continues after gallery)
Here’s what you have to do:
1. First, find a buddy to help you quit. A life partner or BFF is ideal (because they’ve signed up for the long haul, so they have to deal with quirky stuff,) but in a pinch, a generous housemate will do the trick.
2. Next, name each of your fingers and thumbs. It feels awkward and bizarre because it is, but just go with it. Note: your nail-biter quit buddy needs to be present for the naming.
3. Then, your buddy needs to check in with your nails every couple of days. He or she has to use your nails’ names while address them directly, one by one, noting how far they’ve progressed (as in: “Kevin, you are looking fine today. Nice work) or how far they have to go (as in: “Jennifer, what happened to you?!”)
Image: Supplied. Grace on her wedding day.
4. Every time you find yourself about to bite, think about the fact you’ll be accountable at the next nail inspection. Also, you’ll get a bit invested in your nails’ struggle, and that will stop you too. (“Kevin’s been flourishing recently! How could you cut him down when he’s come so far?”)
5. Keep up these “nail inspections” every few days for at least three weeks: that’s how long a habit takes to break.
I recruited my boyfriend (now husband) to be my nail-naming buddy and he obliged. After a few days, I could already see the benefits. My confidence grew and I started wearing brighter polishes to show off my hands.
After three weeks, my nails looked like regular, neat, pretty adult nails – and I was so stoked with the results, I’ve never looked back.
My fingernails are going to be Rihanna-style lengthy, but they’re much neater now. Also, I no longer self-consciously feel the need to hide my hands in photos now, and I don’t risk grossing out an employer in a job interview. Success!
So there you have it. At 26, I quit my nail-biting habit.
Britney, if you’re reading this: It’s not too late. And I will totally be your nail-biter quitting buddy.