Wednesday, November 14, 2012

OPI Review - I'm Not Really A Waitress, I'm A Whore

"I'm Not Really A Waitress" is apparently the best selling OPI colour ever, and I have some thoughts as to why that might be later. First, review time!

OPI is a relatively "premium" nail polish brand - I've seen it sold in brick and mortar stores here in Sydney for between 25 and 30 dollars, which I consider wildly exorbitant. If you scout around online, you can find plenty of places selling them for a little under 20, but that's still too much for me to spend on a little bottle of paint for my nails. I came across the charmingly named My Beauty Halls who are selling them for 10 per bottle, which is much closer to what I would consider reasonable. If it makes any difference to you the owner of the store assures me these are all absolutely genuine OPI - but if you're reading this blog, you probably care as little as I do.
While 10 is a heck of a lot better than 30, it's still a bit more than I would usually spend, so I was interested to see if it actually was any different to the 3-5 dollar bottles I have previously invested in.

Here it is, in artificial light and natural light. I tried to get how perfectly Red it is, but that kind of shade detail can be pretty hard to capture. I used a base coat, three layers of polish, and a quick dry top coat - I'll be putting more details about what top and base coat I use in another post.

My overall verdict is a reservedly positive one. This does indeed go on noticeably more evenly, and smoother than cheaper polish. The colour has a lot of depth to it, which I really appreciate over the cheaper ones I used to use. One of the reasons I stopped bothering with nail polish is that a lot of the cheap ones end up looking like you've slathered acrylic paint on your nails - just flat, shallow colour. This one looks deep and shiny, kind of like a very thin layer of red molten glass on your nails. If you look carefully at the top picture you can see how the light refracts out of the polish like glass. It's quite fascinating, and really bloody distracting when you're trying to type. My workload is going to go to shit when my holographic polishes arrive.
However, it's still a little thinner than I would like. It needed three coats to make the colour really come out, and to get that look of depth, and I don't know that I would always be bothered with that many coats. I'd much prefer something that only takes one or two.
Is it worth 30 dollars? Lord no. This is in no way so much superior to the polishes you can get for under 10 that I think anyone should pay that much for it. Is it worth 10? I say, a little begrudgingly, yes. As much as I would like to say there is no difference, it IS nicer. It goes on easier, it sits more smoothly once you've put it on, and the colour is richer and, well, prettier. Don't spend your last 10 dollars on it or anything, but if you have 10 dollars, and would like something pretty, I don't think you will feel ripped off by this.

Now back to the particular colour. For those of you who haven't heard of OPI before, they have a long standing schtick of naming their polishes with godawful puns. From Austin-tatious to Don't Talk Bach To Me, they have a pun for every possible shade of the rainbow. When I had been running the name of this one through my head, it sounded like the start of a sentence. "I'm Not Really A Waitress....I'm a STAR!" As silly as it might seem, this is kind of how wearing this polish makes me feel - like a star. It's fabulous, and needlessly flashy, and that's exactly why I dig it. But when I told one of my co-workers the name of it, she had an alternative ending to the sentence. "Do they have one called "I'm Not Really A Slutty Housewife?" she laughingly asked. I looked down at my nails and suddenly saw them as she saw them - what I had seen as superstar red, she saw as slut red. Whore red.
"Coooooool", I thought, because I am the kind of person I am. It's not exactly surprising that my co-worker saw this colour as so suggestive - red has been associated with sex for centuries, and more recently,  has been claimed by sex workers and sex worker activism quite specifically - just take a look at the coverage of Red Umbrella Day, a day of protests against violence against sex workers here. Personally I think it's a neat way of reclaiming "whore red" for themselves, as they have reclaimed the word and use it as a term of pride rather than shame.

ANYWAY, I digress. To be perfectly honest, my co-worker probably had no idea of the recent co-opting of red into sex worker rights activism. She was most likely just thinking it looked like the kind of nail polish worn by a lady who has a lot of sex, or would at least like a lot of sex.
This particular shade of red...well, it's Standard Sexy Red. As my boy put it, when a straight guy reads "She was a blonde bombshell with red nails that matched her tight dress", this is the red they imagine. And honestly, I don't think it's that different for women. When I think of Sexy Red, this is what I imagine. And while I might not be able to squeeze into Marylin's dresses, I can at least have her nails.

There are certain accessories and items of clothing that have sociological meaning entrenched - so deeply entrenched most people probably aren't consciously aware of the symbolism, of the train of thought that is set off when you see them. I know, I know, it sounds like I'm over thinking this, but just hang in there and let me explain.

Here is an example of culturally entrenched symbolism - what we can and can't wear to work. There are certain things that are considered inappropriate for a workplace, despite not being particularly revealing, or impractical, but purely because of their inherent cultural symbolism. For men, things like cargo pants and camo print shirts are considered inappropriate in your average office, because they signal that you are not here for business, you're here to wrestle some alligators or something equally physical and butch. For women, the discouraged items not only include clothes that are too casual, like tshirts, but also things that are too sexual. Overly dark eyeshadow, for example, red stilettos, or fishnet stockings. (I previously would have included knee high boots in this list, but I've noticed over the last couple of seasons business women seem to be taking these back - the lace up kind are still out, but straight knee high leather boots seem to be more acceptable than previously)
These things signal to the viewer that you are a woman who would like some sex now please, and this is considered a distracting signal at best when at work. Red nail polish is, in my opinion, one of these culturally loaded things.
(If you're interested in knowing more about how far back this cultural connotation goes, have a look over here at Beautifully Invisible for a fascinating look at the history of red nail polish and it's associations with sex)
Even the particular shade of red has connotations - Standard Sexy Red, like I'm Not Really A Waitress, says that you are sexually available, but that to partake of this sex, you will have to follow the Standard Wooing Practice. Despite my co workers association of this colour with slutty behavior, I think it would more often be read as an expression of sexuality somewhere between a Madonna and a Whore. To me this shade says,  "You can have me, but you will have to work for it because I'm a lady". A darker shade says that not only are you available, but it's probably going to get a bit weird. (Hence why I have almost always gone for darker shades of red. I don't like selling myself as normal when I'm not)
I think that the way this colour sits perfectly in between signalling a Madonna and a Whore is exactly why it's so popular. While there are a certain section of the female population who revel in self identifying as easy (myself included) I get the impression that "Available, with some effort" is a perception many more women are comfortable with.
I don't actually think many people who have bought this polish have gone through this thought process before laying down the cash - I know I analyse things way more than most people. But I bet if you asked people who have bought this why they like it, they will answer because it makes them feel sexy, pretty, attractive. And why does it make them feel prettier than the billion other red polishes? Because the shade is perfect Standard Sexy Red, and it when we look at it, a train of thought is set off that we can't resist, because it's buried deep in our cultural subconscious.

The question of why so many women are interested in expressing their sexuality in such an obvious way is also an interesting one. I wonder if perhaps women are so used to being sexualised that expressing their sexuality has become the same as expressing their sense of self? I know if I am in a situation, particularly at work, that I don't feel like I can express my sexuality I begin to feel quite stifled.
I've noticed now the weather is warming up here that I miss being able to wear low cut tops to work like I could at the brothels. It's partially a question of practicality - I loathe being overheated, and as Jessica Simpson's dad so famously said about boobs like mine, "You can't cover those suckers up." But it's not just that. I miss being able to catch a glimpse of my cleavage in the mirror and say, "Heh," to myself. I miss how sexy it made me feel to be able to show off one of parts of myself I'm completely happy with. And so now I wonder if wearing red nail polish is to other women what excessive cleavage is for me - just a little touch that says, "I am a sexual being". It not even necessarily about attracting specific attention. It's just a way of expressing that you have a sexual side. 

And this is where it gets uncomfortable for me as a feminist. Should I buy into this deliberate signalling? Is that not simply supporting a patriarchy that says I have no value but to be sexually attractive, by wearing such a "standard" trapping of traditional straight female sexuality? Is wearing this colour, knowing that it is loaded with sociological implications not implicitly saying, "I agree with all the connotations that come along with this?"
I can certainly see this argument  - it's one that part of my brain uses on me quite often.

But isn't not doing something I like because of the patriarchal interpretation of it just another way of letting them limit my choices? I'd love to be able to say that I reject these signals entirely, and only like this polish because I'm fond of this particular shade of red for purely aesthetic reasons. There are shades of polish I have where this is completely true - but this is not one of them. I would be lying if I tried to tell you that the inherent implications weren't part of why I like it so much. I like wearing something that signals "Sexy". It makes me more confident, and feel more powerful. Which, honestly, probably makes me a bad feminist. I know I shouldn't place any of my self esteem in such a ridiculous system of cultural implications that is based in traditional morality that has no bearing on my life whatsoever, being as I am poly and queer. But here we are. Sometimes, I like to feel pretty.

I'd love to get feedback from anyone who has read this far, particularly on what you would like to see in upcoming posts. Because otherwise I'm just going to keep ranting :)


  1. Brilliant I love your analysis of this polish. Part of the reason why I bought this polish was because of the name. To me, what I thought of was "I'm not really a waitress.. I'm Sookie Stackhouse, kick-ass fairy!" That's for the True Blood geeks.

    1. Hahaha! It would look great on Sookie. Thanks for reminding me, I should really dig this out again.

  2. I wear red polish often, and i've never thought of it as a sexual thing. I just like red. I remember coming across this particular shade in a shop a few years ago, though, and i had the same reaction your co-worker had - it just seemed so obviously wink-wink to me that it immediately turned that shade into a sexual item. It was still all about the name for me, though - despite the history of red nail polish, if i'd seen a clone shade with a different name, i wouldn't have made the connection with sex (and if it had been another colour with the same name, i think i still would have).

    The question of empowerment via sexuality, in the context of this particular shade of nail polish, is especially interesting to me because of the way it's all in the name. Until i read your post, it hadn't even occurred to me that "I'm not really a waitress..." could be finished in any other way - but you thought, "...I'm a star!" and the previous commenter thought, "I'm Sookie Stackhouse!" And while both of those options have a certain inherent sexuality, they also carry a lot of power that isn't sexual with them (money, fame, telepathy...). And whether OPI originally intended it to be read in a wink-wink sexy fashion or not, it kind of doesn't matter, because the individual wearer can read it however she wants.

    So really what the incomplete sentence in the polish name is saying is "I'm more than what you think i am; this ordinary veneer is a ruse, and the only tell is my nail polish; underestimate me at your own risk." Which is pretty empowering, and also sexy - but by that reading, the sexiness is because of the power, rather than the other way around.

    (Don't ask me how i ended up on this early post - i don't actually know. I followed a Pinterest link to your blog, read a few posts, and somehow ended up here. Apologies if it's in any way weird that i'm commenting this far back.)

    1. Not weird at all! I think you've actually summed up a lot of my thoughts much better than I did at the time :D
      Funny timing actually, I was talking with Mr. Reluctant Femme about American Horror Story: Coven last night, and he said he thought Jessica Lange's character was too obsessed with appearance, and that it was really stereotypical. I argued that I hadn't really read her as being obsesses with looking good, but rather obsessed with the power that looking young and conventionally attractive gives her. If looking older gave her as much power, she'd be doing everything she could to look older, because the core of what she's chasing is always power.

      ...and now I'm wondering if maybe this whole idea is going to have to be a post of it's own. Thanks?

  3. Funny that I should run across this now--my co-worker was telling me about her daughter's latest nail appointment just yesterday and said "she got this color that's called 'I'm Not Really A Waitress'..." and trailed off, looking vaguely horrified. (All I could do was giggle. Probably terrible.)

  4. It's funny but when I saw the name..."I'm Not Really a Waitress"...I finished the comment with..."I'm Really an Actor"...just because a lot of aspiring actors work as waitresses in between gigs...Who knows what it means...that's the fun of these little puns!..LO


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