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Is it any surprise that the U.S. manicure-pedicure business is now a $7 billion industry employing a quarter million people? For the harried office worker besieged by deadlines, demands, and needy higher-ups, there are few better ways to unwind than to dip into the local nail salon for 20 minutes of soothing, well-deserved “me-time.” Says Arlie Hochschild, a University of California at Berkeley sociology professor emeritus and author of the new book The Outsourced Self: “It’s about being pampered, a reward to ourselves, like an ice-cream sundae. You get to be in a passive state while it’s the other person that’s working.” A visit also gently breaks social barriers, says body-language expert Patti Wood, author of the forthcoming Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions: “If you’re feeling touch-deprived, it’s a way to have people touch you. I’m holding your hand and bathing your feet, very intimate acts you usually reserve for family members.”
Recently, Bloomberg Businessweek called on a half-dozen of Manhattan’s popular mani-pedi temples. Here’s what we observed, as interpreted by Hochschild; Wood; UMass Amherst professor and nail-salon researcher Miliann Kang; Minsk-born Janna Radevich, longtime owner of the city’s Blush Beauty Spa and Laser Center; and Vegas rock singer Chris “The Dutchess” Walton, who won last year’s Guinness World Record for longest fingernails (three feet), but says she can still play the piano.