Why I Have Pretty Pretty Princess Nails

About six months ago, I started painting my nails pretty colors.  This has been a matter of some debate amongst my friends.  I used to send pictures of my pretty pretty princess nails to everyone, and then a friend of mine told me, “I’m glad they make you happy, but I really don’t like your nails, so please stop sending me photos whenever you get a manicure.”

Fair enough.  Not everyone has to like what I do.

I’ve also had someone on Fet go, “Well, you’re a submissive, so we’re not really compatible…” and I went, “Wait, when did I ever say I was a submissive?”  Turns out that “having pretty pretty princess nails” == “Automatically submissive” to some.

Ironically, for me, my nails are a sign of confidence and strength.  See, I’d been a life-long nail-biter, sometimes chewing my nails bloody. The first order of business after I’d lost all eight of my front teeth to gum disease was finding a way to bite my nails with my eye-teeth… which I did.  It drove Gini nuts, but I was weak, a slave to the satisfaction of feeling my nails crunch underneath my incisors.

Then, one day, I discovered that some of my girlfriends really liked scratching.  Like, deep, bloody, scratching.  So in prep for a weekend away, I grew my nails out.  Which was a real test of my willpower – I kept finding my fingers in my mouth, having drifted up there thanks to years of habit, and I’d have to yank them away angrily.  Every ten minutes, I’d start to bite my nails, and then I’d remember that I was trying something new and I’d stop.

And lo!  After forty years of biting and chewing and grazing, I managed to stop a bad habit.  It was amazing.  (And so was the sex. Goooo, Skinner Box!)

So when I had my long nails, it was deeply and bizarrely empowering to me.  Not only were they a sign of the sadistic experimentations I was going through, but it was a sign of new-found willpower.  It felt good, because here I was, a man of 42, and my nails were the sign that I was still changing my life in bold ways.  I did not have to succumb to the stasis of middle age.  I could quash old bad habits and find new pleasures – a fact made physically manifest whenever I went to type and discovered my nails clattering on the keyboard.

Then a girlfriend said, “Wait, you’ve never had a manicure?  Oh my God, it’s luxurious.”  And when I was in town, she took me to her manicurist, and I got taken straight back to my childhood. Because I realized, in that parlor….

…I could have the WORLD Magazine nails.

I wrote an essay on how eight-year-old me longed to have artwork on his fingertips, and to me that’s still one of the strongest memories of my childhood – wanting something that was perfectly reasonable, yet being told by literally everyone I knew that having colorful nails was not an option for me.  The pictures of those fingernails were so detailed, it was like carrying a museum on your right hand, and why wouldn’t you want that?  But that’s not what boys do.

Boys wear olive colors, and gray , and black.  They wear identical suits, and if you’re lucky, you can have a different kind of shirt collar.  And after that, I sort of gave up.  I wore nothing but black shirts and slacks for years, and now that I look back at it it’s probably all related to being told that boys don’t get to have the fun colors.

So when Jen took me to the manicurist and I realized that I was a grown-up now, and I could dive into the damn ball-pit if I wanted, it was freeing.  Intoxicating.  I could be exactly what I wanted to be, and eight-year-old me did a goddamned victory lap.  My nails would be as colorful as I wanted.

And it wasn’t due to rebellion.  I wasn’t doing this because “Society says I must do X, so I will do Y to show them.”  It was because I wanted to sport bold, tropical colors, and for the first time in a long time I was able to just do what I wanted.  (Which is an entirely different thing than rebelling, though it looks pretty much the same from the outside.)

I call them my pretty pretty princess nails, which is a bit of rebellion – I know boys aren’t supposed to have these things, so I might as well embrace the genderfloomp and take pride in it.  To me, they’re a sign of who I’ve become – which is, to say, an older fatter man who nevertheless has the evolutionary potential of a teenager.  The nails reflect a changing sexuality, a greater willpower, a willingness to reinvestigate old, closed-off avenue.  Who I am now isn’t who I was five years ago, and what does that mean for who I might be a decade from now?  The future is vibrating with all sorts of awesome, and I see that awesome reflected in my shiny shiny nails.

Now, the nails also carry a sadness in them, because I recognize that they’re a significant sign of privilege.  I work at home, so I don’t have to worry about the office.  I’m a middle-aged white dude in a respectable income bracket in a liberal area of Ohio, so I can get away with this shit; if I was a teenaged kid in Arkansas or a senior citizen in a nursing home, this would all be off the table.  This is all something I get to do because society has decided that I’m a person who should be able to buck the system and not get his ass beat for it, which I recognize.

(That’s what you do with privilege, man.  Recognize.  And work when you can to change the system.  All it takes.)

The thing is, part of the issue is that in this society, women are the only ones who should decorate themselves.  And you see men increasingly want to peacock a little, and when they do, they are so fucking terrified.  Take a look at the descriptions behind this new nail polish for men – oh, sorry, nail armor.  (Or “War Paint.”)  They have to cloak this urge to have colors in all sorts of misguided and cancerous masculinity – men who beat other men use this!  It’s a long tradition among warriors!  Our colors are chrome and steel and military, so people won’t fucking mock you!

It’s sad, because the truth is, you’re gonna get mocked anyway.  Just admit that you want to be pretty.  You want to have flair.  You want to stand out.  And that’s all cool, man.  But when you have to cloak this not feminine, but human desire to decorate yourself in such negations as “No self respecting man should ever have to buy cotton balls” (and then pay $3.95 for something that should cost two bucks tops down at CVS), then you have failed.

Be what you wanna be.  Not everyone likes my nails.  I do.

I’m cool with that.

10 Comments

  1. alexander hollins
    Dec 4, 2012

    Totally sending this to my wife. My eldest son (3) always wants his nails painted when his mom paints hers. She’s been “humoring” him with clear nail polish, but I keep telling her to let him pick a color. She’s afraid what her family will say. ::rolls eyes::

    • FireRose
      Dec 6, 2012

      One of my best freinds has 2 boys – one 4 and one 5? 6?. The older boy, “E” LOVED having his beautiful blonde hair long, dressing in girls clothes – and playing with soldiers. His little brother “C”, enjoyed copying his beloved older brother – right down to wanting his hair styled “pretty”. Frost (mom) encouraged their actions – she wanted to be able to raise color-, gender-, and every other discriminatory thing-blind kids. THEY WERE HAPPY. That is all that mattered to her. Her (now ex) hubby was a prick and one day took a pair of kitchen shears to E’s hair – chopped it all to ragged ends about 2 inches long. E, and C, were seriously traumatized. They didn’t want to go back to his house, didn’t want to go to school or see freinds – they basically didn’t want people to see them “not pretty”. Frost had to take E to the beauty salon and get him a nice haircut to repair the damage done. Even today (this was at the beginning of the year), if you ask the boys what they want to wear – it is often a tshirt and skirt… Her family had KITTENS all the time. But, her boys were happy! I gave them some costume jewelry that I had collecting dust and I became their new most favoritest “aunt”. They will FIGHT over who is allowed to give me a hug first. And that is why I am making them rag dolls for Yule – one will be a boy wearing pink and a skirt, while the girl will be in blue (or something similar), so E and C can trade them all they want.

      Why this bit of rambling – kids will have their innocent wonder and joy killed soon enough by society – don’t bring it on faster. Remind your wife that one day she will look back and wish her “little” boy still wants to sit down and do nails together, rather than rushing around dealing with teenage angst. Look at it as a bonding time – something too many mothers and sons fail to get or appreciate. If the family doesn’t like it – have them pick the next color or watch the joy he will have when he looks nice, like mommy. If they can still disapprove in the face of an innocent joy like that – I think it is time to call on Aunt Gini and Uncle Ferret instead!

  2. lovesquirrel
    Dec 4, 2012

    I think they are sexy, and I think the attidude behind it is sexy, and I still think it takes a certain amount of bravery, (balls, if you will) to flout socital standards to that degree.

  3. Alexis
    Dec 6, 2012

    As part of my job with the Santa Fe Opera, I got to observe children’s performances–they got to make up their own opera, with stories and music. At one rehearsal, the children were pretending to be animals, and two young boys (five year olds) told their teacher they wanted to be butterflies. To the teacher’s credit, he told them that would be great. They spent the rest of the class happily flapping their arms, pretending to be butterflies. I remember watching the scene with mixed feelings. I was so glad the boys enjoyed being butterflies, but I knew that very soon, perhaps even the night their parents saw their performance, they’d learn that little boys aren’t supposed to like beautiful things like butterflies.

    Too often, people forget how much feminism and equality benefits men. Equality allows men the freedom to live they way they want, without all the corrosive judgement.

  4. FireRose
    Dec 6, 2012

    Ferrett – feel free to send me pictures of your nails ANYTIME! I love looking at nail art and I love seeing things that make people happy. When we come visit – I might indulge in a nice manicure with your artist, but only if you do the same with mine – they are amazing!

  5. Jay
    Dec 13, 2012

    Good on you for being able to “buck society” with your pretty nails. I’ve had desires for pretty nails all my life, but because I’m a guy, I’ve been told over and over that nice nails “are not for guys”, unless “you’re gay”. For years, I’ve always dreamed of going into a salon and getting a full set of acrylic nails done on my hands, but all I can do is stand in front of one wistfully like some creepy crazy dude, just because “it’s just for females”- like there’s some invisible sign that says “GIRLS CLUB ONLY- NO BOYS ALLOWED!”.

    I suppose that’s starting to change, however very slowly. I have seen one guy wearing dark silver nail polish one time, but he was working in a cosmetics store, which I guess made it “more acceptable” for him. Everywhere else I go to look about long nails on guys being acceptable, I see more or less the same answer- “Ew, gross, I don’t like long nails on guys, that’s for girls only!”. I’d “buck society” and get my nails done (even “live my dream” and get a full set of acrylics mayhap!), but society seems to have ways to punish those who go “against the grain” (often times quite harshly).

    Mayhap one day….

  6. Jane
    Jun 3, 2014

    I think it’s admirable that you finally discovered the joy of having beautiful (pretty?) nails, dude! Many men will never allow themselves the pleasure of experiencing something that they know they want – or are at least curious about – but will not be able to get past the apprehension that can effectively paralyze them.
    Like you, I have been wanting to have my nails done longer and with color. I think the poster hanging in the nail salon of a woman’s hands with gorgeous long French-tipped nails may have got my curiosity up. I asked the gal if anyone really gets their nails done that long and she said “Sure, would you like to try it?” There was my “in” and I passed on it – and regretted it since.
    I do however wear my toenails painted in any glorious color I like and absolutely love it! I guess it’s a consultation of sorts for now being man enough to get my fingernails done the way I want them.
    Such is life and hopefully we shall all become like you one day and just be free to be ourselves.

  7. Jimshelf
    Feb 2, 2015

    It did me so much good to read this, not because I found it inspiring (of course I did) but because I recently had my nails done. I’m old enough to have stopped being a teenager before the end of the Vietnam war, but young enough to still be one today. And for most of that time, I rarely gave my fingernails a chance to get acquainted with my fingertips.
    But now, it’s not the same.
    “Trying to recover from nail biting” is a great reason to give other people
    who ask why a “guy at your age” should have had his nails done. If you feel you need to have some kind of justification for them.

    But, honestly, nails that not only reach way beyond the fingertips but are also painted a warm shade of pink? You only need to say “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. And if that’s not enough for them, it’s their problem.

    Empowering, yes. Deeply? YupYupYupYupYup! Bizarrely? Ummm, well, maybe to other people it might be. Don’t seem bizarre to me, but I’m me after all.

    Freeing, too. Another step along the road to freedom. I’ve already strolled past the point of no return by my choice of clothing, and my hair is almost long enough to,well, tuck into my lacey hi-cuts. There are plenty of people who might look askance at my fingers and think I’m gay (wrong) or weird (I was weird when I wore sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt, so what’s new?).

    It’s not that I don’t care what they think. I do, still, somehow. But it’s more that I feel like I’ve growed another pair.

    Maybe in the summer, I might go for a pedi and get my toenails done. I’m not putting it off because I don’t feel confident enough. It’s just that the weather is too damn cold right now, and my wife is the only one apart from me who would see them. Not that she’s against this at all, because she’s not. And that’s even more empowering….

  8. Shona
    Mar 18, 2016

    I also was a nail biter. I desperately wanted beautiful nails. Long red talons that I could admire. I started painting them and caring for them. After a couple of weeks, I couldn’t bear to ruin them by having a nibble. Voila! 22 years later, I have kept with painting them and have long strong nails that I love to scratch backs with. I love a man with mani/pedi. Always a hint of indulgence and hedonism.

  9. Ken
    Apr 21, 2016

    Good for you for swerving out of the mainstream lanes.
    I have always had a longing to grow out my nails and paint them pretty colors. I’m straight, married, have 2 adult children, and work in a professional industry.

    Over the past year, I have progressively been able to kill two birds with one stone with polish on my nails. My wife has a multitude of health issues, including being a twice over survivor of two different cancers. What started as having an awareness ribbon painted on my big toes, has progressed into full colors to match the ribbon, as well as gel extensions on my hands.

    As of today, my thumbs and big toes are painted with pink, purple, and teal diagonal stripes with silver glitter separating the stripes. The other nails are all painted with the same teal and the words HOPE and LOVE written across the nails in the alternate colors of pink and purple. My fingernails are actually 1/4″ past the end of my fingertips, and they will continue to get longer. My wife comes up with the designs for my nails, and I go have them done.

    Whenever I’m asked about them, I proudly share that they are to support my wife. If she can go through the battles of surgery, pain, disability, radiation treatment, and all the other bad stuff these illnesses bring her on a daily basis, the least I can do is “man up”, where some paint on my nails, and help bring her a smile on her face and hope to her heart.

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