Even in 2017, you're bound to attract plenty of attention if you're a man with painted nails. As I type this, my deep blue mani is glistening in this office's fluorescent lighting. There's nothing subtle about it. It screams, "Look at me! Look at me! Can you see me? Look!”
One week ago, I stepped into the salon to jazz up my nails with some color for the first time ever. The New York Pride parade was coming up and I was in a daring, experimental mood. I needed something to subtly let my gay flag fly. So, taking the recommendation of my friend and beauty editor Marianne, I marched into Tenoverten's Fulton Street location for what I then didn’t realize would be a cathartic experience.
A friendly receptionist greeted me, asked me to take a seat and peruse the wall of polishes available. At first, I didn’t feel comfortable. Other than my boyfriend, who I brought along for the ride, I was the only male there. I was hit with a rush of anxiety and insecurity. I was sweating, unsure of what to select, unsure of the difference between a top and bottom coat. Regardless, simply having the option of grabbing anything off the shelves gave me a sense of empowerment.
As a closeted gay kid growing up, I secretly obsessed over the smell of nail polish that filled the room each time my mom and the women I grew up with applied a fresh new coat. Behind closed doors, I'd take their polish and apply a coat or two on my thumbs, quickly curling my fingernails toward my palm, blowing on them gently in hopes that they'd quickly dry. In the ‘90s, it certainly would have been cute to find a little girl doing this, but a boy? Not so much.
After they'd dry, I’d immediately steal my mom's cotton balls and nail polish remover to rush to the sink and hide the evidence. I was petrified that my dad would come home and discover what I had done. Now, everyone in my family is fully accepting of who I am. But as a male child, the way to practice anything remotely feminine could only be done in hiding. The doors were always locked.
Inside this salon, however, that childlike fear vanished. Una, my manicurist, came to find me and walked me over to her station. I handed over the two bottles I chose. For the first coat, I selected Christian Louboutin's Miss Mars ($50; nordstrom.com, a deep blue, nearly purple color that reminded me of space. For the top, I went with Essie's Jazzy Jubilant, a glittery version of a similar hue.
I hope to have humored Una as I sat in my chair and kept throwing questions her way. I didn’t realize that salon etiquette, at least from my experience, doesn’t call for too, too much chatter between the client and the manicurist. But I had to know about Una and her tools. “Why was her mouth covered with a surgical mask? Am I really supposed to dip my hands in this mysterious liquid? Will this hurt?” I thought. Truthfully, I only spoke up to remind her of that final glittery top coat.
After letting my nails dry for about 10 minutes, I exited the salon and instantly worried about what everyone outside of it would think. The cab driver. The grocery store cashiers. Pedestrians. How would they react? I learned it didn't matter because the next day, I was showered in complements.
"OMG, did you paint your nails?"
"I'm OBSESSED with the glitter."
"Is that glitter on your nails?" Stop."
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Not surprisingly, everyone close to me loved the final look. Strangers in my apartment building stopped to ask where I got them done. I loved them so much, in fact, I headed to CVS the next day and purchased a silver glittery Essie polish. I wanted more, and applied a third coat.
At the Pride parade, my glittery nails were the least audacious beauty mark there. I felt high off the friendly vibes, told myself I'd surely return to the salon, try something more shocking next time. I realized that despite my initial sense of worry, this thin layer of nail polish gave me so much newfound confidence.
To most women, getting their nails done is just another thing to cross off their list. But to me, the act of doing it was thrilling. It made me feel different, even a little rebellious. Yes, people on the train, the street, hell, even my office building, looked at me funny. "Is that really a guy with nail polish?" they must have wondered. I now couldn't care less.
Of course, I'm not the first man to enter the world of nail art. Jaden Smith, David Bowie, Darren Criss, Marilyn Manson, Kurt Cobain, even Zac Efron have all colored the tips of their fingers at one point. Boundary-pushing makeup stars like Covergirl James Charles are not to be forgotten, either. But still, my point is that simply deflecting from the norm is bold. It's badass. It's fun. It's freeing. If it makes you feel good, do it.