@boysinpolish reconstructs masculinity through nail art.
Contribution by Nour Khairi
BOYS IN POLISH is “more than just nail art”, says 23-year old founder Jess Young. The growing Instagram platform showcases men rocking playful designs by the talented nail art visionary. The philosophy of the platform is to reconstruct masculinity “one manicured finger at a time”.
Toxic masculinity has become a buzzword used to address the ways in which all genders are restricted and harmed by the patriarchy’s practices. From men being unable to share vulnerable experiences with their peers, to extreme violence perpetrated against women and feminine-presenting people. What started as a fashion adventure, quickly became a platform that actively challenges toxic masculinity by giving men a safe space to process their thoughts and emotions.
I spoke with the London-based nail artist about the origins of BOYS IN POLISH, gender-related beauty expectations, and the experiences of the guys she worked with.
Back in 2017, Jess Young began immersing herself in “creative experiences and creative people”. “I like to observe people,” says Jess. She describes sitting in a lecture as a budding art student. “I noticed these guys wearing nail polish… and I thought, that is so sick! As a nail artist, I’ve never seen anyone rock it like that, just wear it with their chest”. That summer, she decided to shoot her guy friends in nail polish as a way to explore an innovative avenue in her craft and to make a visual statement.
With the encouraging feedback that followed, things started to become clear: “As a platform, we were doing something really powerful. Being in a manicure space is like therapy, and guys need that space to talk, vent, and be vulnerable.”
I always wondered what made ‘getting your nails done’ a feminine thing. As a non-binary person who often presents as feminine, my short, unpolished nails somehow defied expectations. I asked Jess what she thought about this. “Everything is a social construct, especially when it comes to fashion and beauty” she explains. “It dates back to BC times… Chinese dynasties were the innovators of wearing colour on your nails, and that was encouraged amongst women”. The trend later reached women in Europe. In Ancient Babylonia, however, it was men who wore colour on their nails, using black and green kohl to prepare for war.
“We are at a time where we can unlearn expectations. Especially during a pandemic, I don’t have time to wear makeup, I’m gonna go out in my joggers!” she says, highlighting that now is the time to let go of social rules regarding beauty, and to challenge what we view as normal.
@boysinpolish also hosts BXY TALKS, a series of Instagram lives where the boys get to address a range of issues; stereotypes within masculinity, mindfulness, empathy, compassion, and racial prejudices. “I need everyone to hear the conversations that I’m having with the guys when I’m painting their nails,” says Jess. “If each of these guys knew that they’re not on the boat by themselves, that’s enough… It’s about them lifting each other up and supporting each other…I don’t ever want it to be just about the nail polish.” She describes that the painted nails are symbolism:
“When guys wear nail polish, they’re no longer saying I’m feminine. It’s them saying f*ck the patriarchy. That’s empowering; it’s saying I’m a new kind of man.”
I went on to ask Jess if she noticed any common themes brought up amongst the men who took part. “We talk a lot about relationships. That’s just a massive thing for like… every single human on earth”, she laughs. “It’s interesting to hear their perspectives and how they deal with relationships because instead of saying men are trash, I’m trying to understand what they’re going through. What would it take for you to behave in a “trash” way?”
Safe spaces for men as I knew them were restricted to barbershops, where many men claim they can talk about a range of issues. However, barbershops are spaces where groups of men speak usually within the confines of traditional masculinity. “You’re talking as a pack” says Jess. Doing an activity that deviates from the social norm creates a no-judgment zone. “When I do nails it’s just me and the guy, so he can speak about whatever’s on his mind without fear… because it’s just me. It’s just Jess.”
Contribution by Nour Khairi