Men with painted nails: A statement or fun?

Men are painting their nails for different reasons.



Kate Brady/Flickr

By Lydia Giangregorio , Collegian Correspondent

For men and women alike, painting their nails can be a fun activity. However, because of gendered expectations, some people interpret men wearing nail polish as a statement, instead of a just for fun fashion detail. Other men take advantage of this assumption to make a particular statement or stand up for a cause.

Robert Crowley, a student at the University of Massachusetts, is an average-looking guy at about 5-foot-9 with curly, dirty blonde hair and a backwards baseball cap. His nails are painted thinly with black polish, with one dark purple nail on the third finger of each hand.

“I paint my nails because I feel like it,” he shrugs, glancing briefly at his hands and then putting them in the pockets of his jeans. He has some rubber and braided bracelets around one wrist and wears a baggy dark sweatshirt.

“I generally just like, don’t support any gender stereotypes or any criteria that anyone feels like they need to fall under,” he adds, somewhat offhand. “To anyone who feels like they need to act a certain way because they’re a certain gender, I feel like the two should be separate, as to like how you express yourself.”

Crowley pauses, looking down at his boots and shrugging again. “But like, I’m not painting my nails as a statement or as an affront to gender stereotypes.”

For men, wearing nail polish is not considered the norm. For those who may see it as just a fun activity, they are faced with the assumption that painted nails must be a statement of some kind. Crowley, although eager to express his opposition to gender stereotypes, isn’t painting his nails specifically to express that. Some men just want to do it for fun, without an attached meaning. The assumption of an inherent statement in some ways may reinforce the stereotype more, because it assumes that men would never do it just for fun the way girls do. At right, a photo from The Painted Nail Facebook page.

“I’m just doing it because that’s the way I feel about [gender stereotypes], and like, I don’t really think about it. I don’t even consider it,” Crowley says. “I guess it’s not really a masculine thing, but like, I’m already masculine enough.”

Glancing down at his body and clothing, he adds with a shrug and a quick smile, “It’s a great conversation starter.”

Maxwell Zaleski

Crowley presents the idea that gender presentation and personal self-expression should be separated. For some, perhaps those who feel very secure in their gender identity, tying their gender presentation to their fashion choices feels limiting, and feeling comfortable separating the two spheres results in a freedom. Additionally, people like Crowley seem to see it as a way to participate in something fun that doesn’t align with the other signifiers they use to indicate and present their gender.

For others, such as “The Guardian” writer Steven Thrasher, painted nails can be an important and meaningful signifier of gay identity and gender expression. In an opinion article, he “welcomed the discomfort of what having painted nails meant as a disquieting signifier of my gender and sexuality.” For those in the LGBTQ community, painting nails may serve the opposite role from Crowley’s and may be a very important part of expressing gender identity. Thrasher raises a lot of questions about what may be considered a masculine color, or a gay color, and everything in between. Nail-painting has been used as a signifier in this way in the past and as more straight guys are painting their nails these questions are suddenly raised in very different contexts.

So, is there currently a “trend” of men painting their nails? A quick Google search on men wearing nail polish pulls surprisingly diverse results. An article on “The Loop” shows many men’s Instagram posts with the ill-informed hashtag “#paintyournailsforbruce” supposedly to honor Caitlyn Jenner’s struggle as a trans woman, and often accompanied by hashtags such as “#lgbtqrights,” despite continuously mis-gendering Jenner and calling her by her former name. These ill-informed posts show a different side of straight men painting their nails: to specifically take advantage of the surprise to support a cause.

YGAP’s Polished Man Campaign also takes advantage of the conflict between expectation and presentation of gender norms to raise awareness about child abuse and child mortality worldwide. Below, a photo from Polished Man campaign Facebook page shows men and boys with one painted nail. This campaign encourages men to paint one nail as a conversation starter to raise awareness about the campaign, which is working to fight abuses against children.

Besides the trend in the form of a statement, many popular male singers and fashion or culture celebrities today sport nail polish. Within male gendered expectations, there does appear to be a divide between those in “artistic” fields and other fields. An article from Pulselive lists many popular celebrities with openly painted nails including Marc Jacobs, Jared Leto, Adam Lambert, Johnny Depp, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg and Seal. None of these men are in sports or science fields, although they show a great range of conformity or nonconformity to the typically expressed idea of “masculinity”. As more men start to wear nail polish who aren’t doing it to make a statement or express gender or sexuality identity purposes, there are certainly icons out there who are role models in the act of painting nails just for the fun of it.

Lydia Giangregoria can be reached at [email protected].