The Soapbox: Let’s Take The “Man” Out Of Mani/Pedi

I boldly venture into sexist territory. I move we take the “man” out of mani/pedi. Why? Because sitting next to someone of the opposite sex in my nail salon is different than sitting side-by-side with another woman. It just is.

I fully accept that some nice metrosexual may want his nails buffed or feet scrubbed ‘til they’re callus-free; nothing beats the feeling. I just wish he would take his good grooming business to the place where he gets a shave and a haircut.

Nail salons aren’t the female equivalent of Spanky and Our Gang’s “He-man Woman Hater’s Club,” but they are conducive to women; usually decorated in either a tranquil, delicate style or pink as a powder puff. Just the way we like it when we need to go somewhere, other than on vacation, to have our batteries recharged with a little pampering.

For some, a mani/pedi is just a sojourn when a special occasion is on the horizon. For many of us, though, it’s a once a week ritual, like going to church. I worship at the beauty altar conveniently located on my corner.

Some women come alone, others with a pal, now and then a mother/daughter combo pops in. Even though we aren’t “friends” there’s a “just us girls with no makeup, sweat pants and ponytails” quality in the atmosphere that lets everyone simply relax.

When a man shows up the whole vibe changes – and not for the better.

The first time I noticed this was a few years ago when this middle-aged fellow breezed in for a pedicure and acted like he owned the place. The guy wasn’t rude or bossy, just acting really familiar with the all-female staff — talking, joking and being loud in what had been a very quiet, low-key environment. All of a sudden, the whole raison d’être of the place was this gent and his toenails. I was irritated.

Between then and now I have seen many a penis indulging in a pedi and tried to ignore it, always reminding myself it’s a free country and no law says they can’t come in.

But recently, I lost my cool when a 30-something dude walked into the salon, looking harmless enough. Not fat, but hardly buff, he had an unthreatening Pillsbury Doughboy quality. He requested a ten-minute massage.

Apparently, Doughboy mistook the sign that read, “Massages” to mean this was one of those questionable massage parlors that offers “happy endings,” rather than a nail place. When he began to moan and groan, acting as though he and the young, clearly new at her job, salon worker were alone in a poorly lit room, rather than out in the open surrounded by other clients, she became so visibly repulsed, I anticipated tears as she kneaded.

The rest of us, equally uncomfortable, showed solidarity with our “sister” by rolling our eyes at each other. When he requested “10 more minutes,” I thought the masseuse, who seemed more than relieved when the egg timer went off, was going to run from the shop. The older, tough-as-nails owner took the second shift. Her customer traded in his sighs of pleasure for, “Ows.”

Granted not all men make a spectacle of themselves. Some are so unassuming that you don’t even know they’re there, until of course you look down the line of pedicure thrones in search of a cool color someone else has, and spy a pair of feet that are bigger, legs that are hairier and toenails that are funkier than the rest.

Even if you’re having the same beauty maintenance procedures as they are, it still brings on a bout of self-consciousness to be rubbed, clipped and polished in front of those giant feet.

When led back to the waxing rooms, I feel ill at ease knowing that some fellow, other than my husband, knows I am having my bikini line smoothed. I’m sure none of them care and just want their personal appearance needs tended to, but when you’re somewhere with the expectations of being in a single-sex environment and then “a special guest star” shows up, it’s awkward.

I don’t quite understand why a man would want to be there anyway, with the color swirls of polish, displays of Elle, Glamour, and Vogue, as well as us gals chirping on our cells or to each other. Isn’t this what guys are usually trying to get away from?

I’m not advocating discrimination, where men are turned away in head-hanging shame, I’m just requesting they opt to go in their own grooming places for their mani/pedis, so I can concentrate on enjoying mine.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author the novel, FAT CHICK, and a columnist in NYC.