Nail Art: The Glamorous vs. Grotesque

As published in Woman Around Town:

When I turned thirteen years old, my mother offered to take me to the salon for a manicure; I hit the big one-three, and it was time to get a taste of womanhood. My face flushed with embarrassment and excitement at her suggestion. Stepping into the salon, I became abundantly aware of my freckled and funny thirteen-year-old presence among the grown, beautiful women who surrounded me. The smells of dyes and waxes wafted through the room and clients sat beneath hair and nail dryers, waiting for their curls and paint to set and dry. As I sat at the manicurist’s table, I looked not at the lacquer being brushed onto my virgin nails, but at the beautiful, self-aware and confident creatures surrounding me; I was participating in something that took me a step closer to womanhood, and I was excited to enter the world of nail decoration.

Nail painting, of course, is not the be-all-end-all of womanhood. In fact, many women see it is as an age-old aesthetic practice that unfortunately sustains suffocating gender roles. (After all, why is it necessary for women to paint their nails to have their hands be beautiful; is the natural nail not enough?) But one need not look much further than a few magazine pages and gossip sites to see that nail art is taking off in a big way, and it is not necessarily a means of enhancing the conventional idea of “beauty.” Pop-star celebrities are at the forefront of making and breaking trends. It seems that mainstream nail decoration is moving away from traditional hues of beiges, pinks, and reds, and nail shapes, lengths and even decorating materials are changing. Fingertips are no longer a place to accentuate, but they are becoming the place of performance; women are decorating their nails to make a statement that is louder than ever before.
Naomi Yasuda is on the cutting edge of creative nail art. A world-renowned nail artist and Tokyo native, Naomi paints the nails of trend-setting celebrities like Lady Gaga and Rihanna. Working out of Hello Beautiful, a salon nestled in the heart of trendy Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Naomi sees nails as canvases to be painted, designed, glued and decorated. For Naomi and many of her clients, fingernails are not just an accent to an outfit, but they are a statement that is part of an outfit. Lady Gaga’s Marry the Nightmusic video shows the pop star with two sets of claws that border between the glamorous and the grotesque. Rihanna wore long, pointed golden nails to the 2012 Grammy’s, using a polish that contains 24K gold; her manicure was reported to cost $5,000. Glamorous or grotesque?

Not only are bizarre nails being seen in the mainstream media, they are also starting to show up on the streets fashion-forward cities like New York. Nail companies are coming out with product lines that evade the nail norm. Sally Hansen has a line of “Salon Effects,” which allows women to wear intricate designs like zebra prints and hounds-tooth prints. Nail Inc. has come out with a line of magnetic polish, which coolly uses physics to form designs, and Del Sol has a line of nail polish that change color in the sun. Claws, multi-colored and pattern hands, and edible-looking and cute plastic pieces glued upon nails are not necessarily beautiful—at least not in any conventional sense of the term “beautiful”—but they are unique, attention grabbing and trending. They are conversation starters on subways and cashiers, and whether positive or negative attention is received, unique nails are eye-catching pieces that make clients get noticed. Nails are performance pieces and it is not only pop-star performers who are participating, but also fashion-forward women who are starting to make their own statements, too.

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