Paint it Red: Masc People and the Usage of Nail Polish

Photographs by Kollin Battle

There is a stigma and judgment surrounding masc presenting people painting their nails. Often seen as a feminine and fragile action, painting their nails has become an act of rebellion. For this shoot, the squeezing of fruit is associated with masculine attributes being crushed by hands with painted nails, destroying the judgment of an innocent act and reclaiming personal expression. Queer people, especially masc-presenting ones, should not have to be restricted to a narrow view of themselves based on societal standards.

A classic red nail can be seen as a symbol of femininity. When women and other feminine-presenting people paint their nails, it is celebrated as an expression of gentle femininity. 

Painting one’s nails is not a new concept in the 21st century. Jeanette R. Zambito wrote in her essay titled The History of Cosmetic Nail Treatments, From Babylon to Beyoncé, “Around 3500 BC, Babylonian male warriors adorned their nails with ground minerals as part of a pre-battle ritual designed to intimidate their enemies.”  History shows many  people have used nail paint as a part of cultural significance. 

Men and masc-presenting people paint their nails for different reasons, from personal to making a social statement against stereotypes. Christopher Wood, Kent State student and model in the above images, shares their reason on why they wear nail polish. “I started out wearing nail polish to help me stop biting my nails. At first I used clear polish or black because I was worried about what others might think, but over the years, as I’ve worn it more and more, I like to experiment with fun colors to express myself. I like to match it to my outfits or hair, and I feel like it’s become a big part of who I am.”

Not only are men and masc-presenting people painting their nails as a rebellion against stereotypes, but at the core of it, it becomes an instrument of expressing their identity. The photographs of the hands squeezing the fruit challenge what is typical in society and crushes it into a new meaning, with the hopes of people taking something away from it. It keeps the idea of wearing nail polish as a simple act of individuality at the forefront. 

Anthony Richardson Jr., a Kent State student and model in the photos said, “I wouldn’t say painting my nails reassures my identity. Painting my nails is simply just a minor addition to how I live my life and choose to express myself. It’s another way for me to express my identity as a queer black man. It’s something I do for fun. I’m Anthony with or without painting my nails.

Early examples of male celebrities wearing nail polish include David Bowie, Prince and Kurt Cobain. They are huge influences to the younger generations. 

Queer masc-presenting people will continue to paint their nails and push the boundaries of self-expression beyond simply just wearing nail polish.

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