Painting your fingernails isn’t just for girly girls

Calgary Herald, April 6–She had the dexterity of a surgeon. The skill of an artist. The manicurist held my hand and quickly, carefully painted each nail. Her head was bowed. Her teeny tiny brush strokes sure.

My hands were in good hands. I sat back and relaxed.

It had been a little stressful choosing a colour to paint my fingernails. It was an easy call rejecting Beckoning Begonia and Wisteria Haze, but I was torn between Reflecting Pool and Lost Labyrinth. In the end I went with the Labyrinth, which in case it’s not already abundantly obvious to you, is bright turquoise.

Once my fingertips were the same shiny hue as a lost labyrinth (I am taking their word for it), my manicurist started with the nail design. She applied an impossibly small glue stick to the outer half of each nail and then pressed little squares of foil on top to leave a few ragged stripes of silver on each one.

“Edgy” she called it. Plus, she pointed out that the silver streaks made my “wide nail beds” look slimmer, resolving a flaw that I was unaware existed on my person or within the human race until that moment. Enlightened and emblazoned, I went home from the salon with ten tiny masterpieces on my digits.

My fingers looked so pretty fishing soggy kibble out of the dog’s water dish. Cleaning the drain of the kitchen sink became a thing of beauty. Peeling a stamp was performance art. It had been decades since I had painted fingernails. I guess I had forgotten: Fingernail polish is fun.

No wonder more boys want in. Johnny Depp, David Beckham and more recently Brad Pitt have been seen at fancy parties sporting coloured nails. Macho UFC fighters are all over it. There are bloggers, Twitter accounts and You Tube videos doling out advice and discussing colours and designs for “manly men.”

While men painting their nails are definitely a thing in cyber space and outer space (Hollywood), it’s just ramping up in Calgary. Bobby Elliott doesn’t know a lot of other men who do it — the guy who lets his little daughters paint his toenails doesn’t count.

Elliott’s first “man man” was a girlfriend’s idea. She was getting her nails done and suggested he come along. He admits he got a few looks at the nail salon from other guys waiting for their women.

And then he took his shiny nails travelling. “The whole time I was in Africa my nails were just spotless they had this crystal clear coating on them,” Elliott says. “I remember looking down at my hands and everything except my nails was just filthy, and they were glistening. It was awesome.”

Over the years Elliott’s experimented with a few different colours. Neon orange was a bust. So was yellow. He’s settled into black or very, very dark blue. “I just like the way it looks,” he tells me. And he also likes the confused looks he gets from people when they see his fingernails and try to figure him out. “On top of it looking great,” he says, “it’s also a subtle way of saying I don’t care what you think and why do you think that?”

Chances are those confused looks will decrease in direct proportion to the increase in marketing efforts behind men’s grooming products. Beauty products for men is a “vibrant” category, writes Irina Barbalova at Euromonitor International.

“Seemingly recession-proof, the male grooming category has demonstrated a consistent performance throughout the recent years of economic instability, having increased its global revenues by an average of 6 per cent per annum since 2006.”

The $500 billion global beauty industry is turning to the beasts. Nail polish and anti-aging products for men are “star performers.”

There are more and more brands offering an array of nail polish colours with he-man names like Burnin’ Rubber, Pirate Gold and Concrete. No Lost Labyrinth. More like Conquered Corn Maze. OK, I made that up, but can’t you just see a rustic gold with glints of the sun bouncing off his nails?  You know, like a farmer.

Elliott thinks his nails look best after a few days when the polish is a bit worn in.  And he never paints all his digits. Only his thumb and a few random fingers and usually only on one hand.  “I like that it can change all the time,” he says. “It’s temporary.”

My ten tiny works of art lasted exactly seven days before the polish started to fade at the tips and I went searching in the bathroom cabinet for the nail polish remover. And then just like that, it was over.

My nails are waiting for another artistic adventure. In the meantime, I’m learning to cope with my wide nail beds. I hope the boys can too.

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