Men are constantly told that to retain their manliness they have to reject self-expression, leaving them in an aptly named grey area between needing to stand out and wanting to blend in. Though in recent years the rules and boundaries have begun to bend, especially in the beauty industry, there are still several frontiers that remain unexplored. Nail polish is a perfect example of a form of self-expression or art that is still inexplicably gendered. The way that nail art is ‘made for women’ plays into multiple sexist narratives that perpetuate ideas that have no place in modern society. Enter Jess Young a freelance creative and WAH nail artist whose latest project ‘Boys in polish’ seeks to challenge gender norms and celebrate creativity regardless of how someone identifies. Projects like these come at no better time than now when the zeitgeist is slowly but surely realising the extent of the toxicity of masculinity. We caught up with Jess to discuss toxic masculinity and her hopes for BIP.
How did you get into nail art?
It all started when I was about ten years old. I was so fascinated and intrigued by the trips with my mother to her friend’s nail salons, and gradually built up my own kit and skills with my pocket money and Youtube tutorials. I eventually started becoming more creative with it, coming up with my own designs, and I would post them on my Tumblr at the time, and my work would get quite a few reposts which is what lead me to post more on my personal Instagram. Now, I still post my stuff on Instagram, but it is a lot better than 5 years ago!
What was the inspiration behind Boys in Polish?
During my year at an art foundation, I felt like I met a lot of interesting characters. I saw a lot of interesting things, such as my friend Alex who casually wore nail polish, and he was straight. I loved it, and some sort of light bulb went off in my head. I was just like, let me run away with this idea before anyone else does, so I did. It’s funny because at the time I felt as if it was meant to be for me to come to the realisation like It was planned out for me, and I still do.
Why do you think men are afraid of wearing nail polish?
It’s this whole stigma about 'being masculine' that is the problem I think. The whole idea that there is tension between structure and agency, wanting to stand out but fit in at the same time. It’s about where guys ‘have’ to draw the line. I was speaking to my friend Ola, who I have shot for this project. He was telling me about his gay friend who would go out with makeup and effeminate dress but still won’t have his nails painted. It’s so sad but this is what I mean about wanting to stand out but fit in at the same time. Is it too much? My question is why? It's just nail polish! Times are definitely changing and men are starting to reconstruct masculinity, especially with the help of the creative industry who are helping to subvert the perceptions of what it is.
What are your hopes for the project?
I really want to travel and shoot boys around the world eventually. I also have this vision of creating a short film and having it sponsored by a massive publication, and features in magazines, perhaps even as an editorial shoot with a professional team. I’ve always wanted to play the role as a creative director/ nail artist.
How do you think society's attitude toward masculinity has changed in recent years?
I really do thank the LGBTQ community for this and the feminists. I think guys are getting more in touch with their femininity, becoming less afraid of what people consider as ‘normal’, and really just being free. I can only judge from what I have experienced personally I guess. I mean, I’m not sure that’s how it runs in the parliament for example but I definitely have seen change in my community. I just want to give it that extra push, and give guys who enjoy having their nails done a platform to express themselves however they wish to.
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