In ancient Egypt and Rome, military commanders also painted their nails to match their lips before they went off to battle
I am not a fan of surprises, but sometimes these surprises are fun. One such surprise happened to me few weeks back. The surprise was one session of pedicure. I have to accept that it was an opportunity to experience the pleasures of modern pedicure for the first time in my life. When I was asked if I wanted to participate in this experience, at first, I was not sure and was almost tempted to deny, but at the end I accepted it. I was very anxious not knowing what exactly was involved in the process. All I knew was it involved some foot massage and nail cutting. For me pedicure was just a fad of the younger generation: A thing to show off, a status symbol, a waste of money.
Few days later when we entered the nail salon, I saw that there were some unique looking chairs there that had a small tub in front. The lady confirmed our appointment and directed us to the chairs. I found out that those chairs were very comfortable. There was a remote with the chairs but there was no television there in front. So I was a bit puzzled.
I decided not to express my amazement and go ahead and push the ‘on button’ on the wired remote. Soon enough the back of the chair started hitting me. That’s when I realized that it was a massage chair. I immediately changed the setting to nice soft massage. The foot work was going on at the same time. I was enjoying more my back massage than whatever was going on with the foot work. I closed my eyes and I was transported back to the days spent in Assam as a child. I almost heard my grandmother saying, ‘Naini didi aayei chhan sabai jana aau nang katna’ and calling the females along with children of the household to come and get their nails cut. That was the tradition at the time. ‘Naini didi’ would come and do the pedicure for the females of the household. When done with cutting and washing your feet she would put nice red ‘alta’ on your foot. It felt really nice to have alta around your feet. Children would just wait for ‘Naini didi’ to come to put alta on our feet.
Alta is the red coloring put on their feet by women. Originally alta was produced from betel leaves. Later this was replaced by ‘lac’: scarlet resinous secretion of a number of species of lac insects. Later that too was replaced by synthetic dyes. Alta being red resembles blood and blood is associated with fertility and prosperity. Alta is simple to apply and does not involve any intricacies. Naini didi used a small piece of rag to apply alta. Now that I think about it, I believe Naini didi belonged to the Nai clan who were traditionally barbers. I felt good to see these ladies also work despite their long ‘ghunghat’ drawn over their face. That was the first example of pedicure if one chooses to say so. So, you see, pedicure was not just the thing of the present generation.
It is natural for people to wonder what pedicure is, because the term, though very popular among women throughout the world, is not much used here in Nepal. Pedicure is a treatment of feet and toenail. It is done for both cosmetic and therapeutic purposes. Pedicure includes care of not only the toenails. Dead skin is also rubbed off the bottom of the feet using a rough stone. Skin care is not limited to just the feet, often it is provided up to the knee. The word pedicure is derived from the Latin words pedis, meaning “of the foot”, and cura, which means “care”. You must be thinking, ‘if the name is derived from Latin, then obviously it also has a history.
How it started
Yes, you are right. Pedicure indeed has a long history that originates in ancient Egypt. You will be surprised to know that people have been pedicuring for a long time, more than 4000 years. Would you believe, early depiction of manicures and pedicures was found in a carving from a pharaoh’s tomb. This indicates that Egyptians paid special attention to their feet and legs. They were known to color their nails too. Colors indicated the social status of people in Egypt. Red was used by people of highest social status. Legend has it that Cleopatra’s nails were painted a deep red, whereas Queen Nefertiti used a flashier ruby shade for her nails. Not just this, in ancient Egypt and Rome, military commanders also painted their nails to match their lips before they went off to battle. Coming to more modern times, pedicure industry really picked up steam since 2000 in the USA.
There were 50, 000 nail salons in the US then, compared to 200, 000 now. It is interesting to note that pedicure has a high growth rate when compared to other industries in the US. More interesting is the fact that they are mostly run by immigrants. The dominance of Vietnamese in the nail salon industry began when many of them arrived in the US in the aftermath of Vietnam War as immigrants. The highest density of Vietnamese nail technicians is in California. This too has a history of its own. When a large number of Vietnamese refugees started entering the US, there was a general concern for their wellbeing.
Nathalie Kay “Tippi” Hedren, an American actress, animal rights activist and former fashion model, took up empowering them as a part of her charity work, while working in the Vietnamese refugee camp trying to find vocations to help them integrate into the American society. In the process she relied on her personal manicurist to teach a small group of 20 wives of Vietnamese immigrants. The training was short and inexpensive. On top it did not require high English proficiency. The work was popular because it provided these women with flexible work hours enabling them to attend to family obligations too. It is a high paying job for these women. Imagine it only takes about 45 minutes for one client and prices range from 40 dollars per session. Later men also joined the workforce.
So, my surprise pedicure session brought a whole bunch of new information my way. My pedicure was done by a man. I learned a lot from the technicians working on my foot. Conversation with them increased my quest for more information. So, you see parents, I tried to make this experience a learning one. It would be a good idea for you too to make different incidents a learning experience for your children. There is always something to learn from different activities happening around us all the time. If you want to make learning fun, make it full of fun. Go ahead parents, give it a try. Your children might like this process of learning better than the classroom ones. You never know.
Pokharel is an educationist and author of several children’s books