I Almost Lost Everything — But Becoming A Manicurist Turned My Life Around

Steph Stone is the go-to manicurist for Hollywood A-listers like Yara Shahidi and Demi Lovato. The following story was told to Mi-Anne Chan and edited for length and clarity.
When I was 15, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. A few years later, I got accepted to a Disney college programme in Los Angeles. I wasn't mentally better, but I convinced my parents I was well enough to move. Once I got there, I decided to stick around. For a while I was able to control my disorder because I was living with other college students — but that didn't last long. I became consumed by my sickness again and had zero plans. All my free time was spent binging and purging.
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Then, I started to look for other ways to get skinny, and that's where the drugs came in. It didn't make the binging and purging go away — it just gave me new things that were ruining my life. I spiralled so quickly once drugs were involved. It depleted my bank account. Eventually I called my parents and told them I needed to come back home to Hawaii.
When I got home, I refused to tell my parents what was wrong. I couldn't sleep, so my mom brought me to a doctor. She prescribed me Ambien, but I don't remember her telling me that if you take Ambien and don't fall asleep, you end up hallucinating. I hallucinated the first few times I took it and I thought I'd lost my mind. I just wanted it to be over, so one night I took all of the Ambien and waited, just hoping it was the end. My parents found me and took me to the hospital. That's when my old friend Jenna Hipp came back into my life and I started my journey to finding nails.
Making It In Hollywood
Jenna is a successful celebrity manicurist who founded an agency called Nailing Hollywood. We grew up together in a Hawaii and she's always been like a big sister to me. While I was in rehab, she checked in on me every day, she sent me packages, and she said that when I got out, I should go live and work with her in LA. She was so adamant about it and made sure my parents were comfortable.
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Jenna took me under her wing and I started learning about the nail industry. I took a break when I was 19 to have my son, but then I moved back to L.A. to start my career as a manicurist. I went to nail school, got certified, and joined Jenna's agency. At first it was a lot of networking and building my portfolio. I did a lot of web content and put my work on Instagram because it was free advertising for me.
My Big Break
I worked with a few celebrities at the time, but Demi Lovato was my most consistent client. She was on The X Factor back then and we'd change her nails with every outfit. She posted her manicures to Instagram and Twitter every single time. From there, other girls saw my work and it gave me so many opportunities. Demi really embraced nail art and it gave me a shot that a lot of manicurists didn't have at that time.

A post shared by Demi Lovato (@ddlovato) on

One night when I was doing Demi's nail art for The X Factor, she requested spikes on her nails. Nowadays you can go into any nail shop and find spikes, but at the time I had to go to a tattoo and piercing shop to buy 10 spiked barbell earrings that I could cut the spikes off of. They were so expensive, so I bought exactly how many I needed to do each tip of the nail.
As I was getting her ready, I dropped the first spike into the shag carpet. She said it was totally fine, but I was mortified. We had a room full of people combing the carpet looking for this tiny spike with magnets and everything. Once we realised we weren't going to find it, I just did three spikes down the centre of her nail and she loved it. I look back now and I can't believe I was so distressed by it, but I was 22 years old and still so new in the industry. She was so gracious and happy. She asked me back the next week.
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Working on set was one of the biggest confidence boosts, because I realized that the way things look in magazines isn't real

Stephanie Stone, manicurist
Smoke & Mirrors
When I moved to LA, my parents' biggest fear was that moving to such a stereotypically superficial city wasn't going to be good for me. Honestly, I wasn't sure either. But working on set was one of the biggest confidence boosts, because I realised that the way things look in magazines isn't real. I wish I'd known that when I was looking at magazines as a kid.
The process of getting a celebrity ready for a cover shoot is a long process. They have the best styling, there's two hours of hair and makeup, and there's a seamstress to hand-sew you into your clothes so that every curve looks perfect. The photographer is always the best in the world and there's a team of six people working on lighting so that every angle is flattering, too. All of these people are trained to make one person look extraordinary. People don't walk around everyday looking like a Cosmo cover. I think it's so cool that celebrities are coming forward and saying they don't want to be retouched.
Finally Free
It's so weird to look back and think about my sickness. Don't get me wrong, it still creeps in — I don't look in the mirror every day thrilled to see my body, but there isn't that intense visceral hatred for it. It's my body, I can accept that every body is different and we all end up in the ground the same way. Why should we ruin the most basic experiences because we can't love ourselves?
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I can thank my son for that breakthrough. Becoming a mother, realizing that you have a tiny human to take care of, made me get my priorities in order. It made me say, Take this seriously. You have to become good [at nails] because you have nothing else. I had a child to take care of and I was given an amazing opportunity to build a career for myself. I told myself I had to succeed and that's what saved me.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please call Beat on 0808 801 0677. Support and information is available 365 days a year.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please visit FRANK or call 0300 123 6600 for friendly, confidential advice. Lines are open 24 hours a day.
If you are thinking about suicide, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. All calls are free and will be answered in confidence.
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