Home Psychology Why Do Men Paint Their Nails

Why Do Men Paint Their Nails

by Lyndon Langley
Why Do Men Paint Their Nails

Why Do Men Paint Their Nails

It was October 2020 when I first noticed my husband’s new habit. He’d been doing it for about two months at that point, and he took inspiration from a recent music video of an artist named “A$AP Rocky.” In the clip, which came out in August, the rapper has intricate geometric designs painted all over his fingernails.
The look wasn’t exactly what caught my attention — it was the fact that he actually wore them. Since then, I’ve seen dozens of other men do the same thing. They wear their nails with colorful coats of paint, or even full-on manicures. Many use the practice as a form of self expression, especially since society so often views this kind of behavior as feminine. But why?
“Men have always used makeup to enhance their appearance,” says Dr. Alana Ruggiero, a psychologist who specializes in gender studies. “But it’s not something they typically engage in because it makes them feel good; rather, it’s more of a statement of fashion.” And while some women might find this practice empowering, others may see it as just another example of how deeply ingrained gendered norms are.
While there are lots of reasons why people may want to paint their nails, one major reason is simply aesthetics. Some men like the way they look with polished fingertips, whereas others enjoy the contrast between their natural skin tone and painted nails. Others still prefer wearing white nail polish because it complements their outfits better than most colors. It can also be fun to experiment with different styles and patterns. “There’s no right or wrong answer here, but for some guys, being able to change up their style and color without having to worry about messing up their hair or getting dirty hands may appeal to them,” explains Ruggiero.
For those who choose to paint their nails, it’s important to remember that it’s only a temporary decision. “Painting your nails isn’t going to make you look any prettier (or uglier) than you would otherwise,” Ruggiero says. “You’re just putting a coat of color on top of your existing nails, so people shouldn’t expect any changes in size or shape.”
Still, if you decide to paint your nails, here are five tips to help you stay safe during a global health crisis.
1. Use hand sanitizer before you start painting. Don’t share brushes, either.
2. Wash your hands thoroughly after you finish applying the polish. Avoid sharing nail supplies such as cuticles or clippers.
3. Wear gloves to protect yourself from germs.
4. If you get sick, wear a mask when interacting with anyone outside your household.
5. Take extra precautions if you work in public settings.
Many people believe that nail polish remover strips are bad for the environment, but research suggests otherwise. According to the Environmental Working Group, nail polish removers contain acetone, which is derived from petroleum products. When mixed together, acetone breaks down plastic adhesives, paints and finishes into tiny particles. So far, the group has found that nail polish removers contribute nearly 10 percent more microplastics to our waterways compared to regular cleaning methods. Another study showed that nail polish removers could release harmful chemicals including methylparaben and formaldehyde into water bodies. Despite these findings, some experts suggest using nail polish strippers sparingly. Still, take care to avoid overusing them, which will eventually lead to increased pollution.
For those who prefer not to wear gloves, consider taking a break from nail art once every three days to allow your nails to breathe. This will prevent chipping and splitting, and will also help you avoid spreading COVID-19.
On the next page we’ll discuss why some men paint their nails, and explore the cultural significance of nail polish.
Nail Polish FAQ Why Do Men Paint Their Nails?
Some men paint their nails to appear more masculine. One man told us that his wife asked him why he needed to paint his nails. “She said she wants me to stop dressing like a girl, but I don’t think that’s true,” he explained. “What she really means is that she doesn’t like seeing girls with long nails. She thinks it looks cheap and tacky…[but] I’m not trying to dress like a boy.”
Another man thought that painting his nails helped him stand out in college classes. “My classmates were all boys and didn’t know how to act around girls in class,” he said. “When I wore nail polish, I looked more confident and less intimidated.”
Others claim that painting their nails helps them concentrate. “I paint my nails sometimes because I need to focus on my notes and tasks,” one man wrote. “Without nail polish I wouldn’t be able to keep track of everything.”
And some men paint their nails to hide imperfections. “My nails aren’t very pretty,” one man admitted, noting that he does it to cover discoloration caused by psoriasis.
In addition to aesthetic purposes, some men paint their nails as a sign of solidarity. During the pandemic, several celebrities made headlines for sporting red nails. “This year, I decided to paint my nails red to show support for all the people fighting against this virus,” one man wrote. “Hopefully, everyone continues to stay home until this whole thing is over.”
According to a 2019 Harris poll, 28 percent of American adults reported that they personally knew someone who painted their nails.
Cultural Significance of Nail Polish
Historically speaking, nail polish has played a significant role in female culture. “Women have always used cosmetics to beautify themselves,” Ruggiero points out. “But today, it’s much easier to apply beauty products to your body.” That’s why many historians say that nail polish originated in China.
However, many cultures have specific ideas about what constitutes appropriate nail decoration. For instance, in parts of Asia, women traditionally paint their nails blue to symbolize loyalty and fidelity. In Japan, the color pink is associated with love. Other countries’ associations include green for fertility, yellow for happiness, purple for royalty and black for mourning.
As for what defines femininity itself, it’s hard to pin down. Throughout history, certain characteristics have come to signify womanhood. These traits include thinness, small breasts, large hips, lighter skin, dark hair, fair eyes and quiet speech.
Today, the idea of what it means to be a lady is changing rapidly. Some women view traditional feminine roles as outdated, and want to redefine femininity on their own terms. “Traditionally, women were expected to stick to domesticity, but today, young women are starting to reject traditional notions of femininity,” Ruggiero says.
Although nail polish seems to fit neatly within the boundaries of traditional feminine decorum, some critics argue that it reinforces negative messages about femininity. “Painted nails send the message ‘you must be pretty to attract a mate,’ which encourages women to compete with each other instead of working together to achieve shared goals,” feminist author Roxane Gay recently argued in Vogue Magazine.
Even so, nail polish remains largely popular among both men and women of all ages. “If anything, [nail polish] shows that people still value how nice it looks,” Ruggiero says.
After reading this article, I decided to go ahead and give it a try. My husband loves to cook and I am usually too busy to watch him prepare dinner, but now I can sit down with him and eat dinner while he takes a little break.
He went straight to the craft store and bought himself a pack of polishes, plus a brush. Then he spent the rest of the day painting his nails. By the end of the night, I was surprised to discover that he had become quite skilled at painting his nails. As I watched him, I realized that I enjoyed watching him create his masterpieces!

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