Why I paint my nails: My story as a man with nail polish
Yes, I paint my nails. When I started painting my nails a year ago, I never expected all the things I was going to have to deal with for being a man who likes color on his fingernails.
It all started last March, when my friend Mark sat down in the cafeteria for lunch. I noticed nail polish on his fingernails, and he told me that his little sister was practicing painting nails on him the night before and he decided to just leave it on. Personally, I thought it looked awesome, and that afternoon my girlfriend painted my nails blue.
It started off innocently, with a simple admiration for how cool it looked. It didn’t take long for things to change, however. As soon as I came into school the next day, I was called a “girl” and I was asked by many why I would ever do such a thing to myself, I was called homophobic slurs even though I am heterosexual. Quickly, painting my nails became a point of activism for me.
In short, I was hurt. I cried to my girlfriend, asking her why people would be so antagonistic over something so small, something that affected them in absolutely no way whatsoever. It soon became clear to both of us that it was due to the attitudes that society can hold toward men doing things that women do. Playing field hockey, dancing in a ballet, performing in theatre. In my Catholic high school, men were mocked and ridiculed for doing any of these things outside of the gendered norm. Anything typically feminine that a man did resulted in them being called all sorts of slurs and names.
Men do not typically paint their nails, so in part, I understood why people around me would be confused by my actions. It was the attitude, however, that many took toward a man doing something that women do that was hurtful to me. A multitude of people criticized me for participating in an action traditionally seen as feminine.
Now I paint my nails partly because I believe that men should be able to do things normally associated with femininity and not be criticized for them. Men are seen as weaker for partaking in these “feminine” activities, which also exposes a lot about how people perceive the things that women do.
At many points during my freshman year here at the university, people have assumed my sexuality because of my nails. For some reason, people still think that men who do feminine things and men who are gay are exclusively in the same circle. In reality, it’s more of a venn diagram, with people in all parts of the picture.
Painting my nails was a way to immerse myself in the world outside of the gender binary, redefining and bending roles. Although women have made progress in defying gender roles, there are still so many that linger in the subconscious of people of all ages. “Men shouldn’t paint their nails, that’s for girls.” “Women can’t play video games, only guys are good at them.” “Women who have toned muscles aren’t beautiful.”
Gender roles belittle and demean genuine passions of genuine people who mean no harm. Interests are what make us happy, and gender should never prevent someone from the best of our unalienable rights: the pursuit of happiness.
My little form of activism has had some change for the better. My parents who were critical of my nails at first have come around on the issue, and I’m more than grateful for them. My friends who criticized me are now more supportive and understanding.
Overall, painting my fingernails has been a life-changing event for me. It has shown me that prejudice still exists in the world, and that misogyny affects everyone on a daily basis. I’m proud to say that I paint my nails, and still love doing it to this day.