You like my nails? Gee thanks, just got them (done)!

Nail polish is for boys too!

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You like my nails? Gee thanks, just got them (done)!

Hatim Saifee

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As the manicurist finished shaping my nails and prepared to let them dry, I asked her for lavender nail polish. Her shocked look made me second guess the words I had just uttered. Was it acceptable for me, a boy, to want nail polish?

Mumbling, I told her I was sure about my decision, and she hesitantly painted the coat on my nails, controlling her laughter. I understood why she was laughing: gender norms. One example: associating blue with boys and pink with girls.

When I was two years old, my mother wrapped me in a pink blanket gifted by my grandmother and took me to the supermarket in a stroller. There, a lady walking by us excitedly congratulated my mother, saying, “Your baby girl is so pretty!” What led to her assuming that I was a girl? You guessed it: the pink blanket.

As I grew older, I was always gifted a toy car set for my birthday, expected to write “Superman action figure” on my Christmas list to Santa and suggested action comic books at the Scholastic Book Fair. This stereotype that linked boys with action continued to burden me throughout my teenage years. I forced myself to participate in rowdy games with boys in order to fit in and conform to these norms; I wanted to leave, but I continued to hide behind this facade of masculinity.

Little did anyone know that, when I was seven years old, I snuck into my sister’s room to try on my first coat of nail polish and smudged lipstick; that I didn’t “accidentally” slip on a pair of high heels; that I was fascinated by the color, style and pizzazz exuberated by women’s garments compared to my own boxy shorts and dull T-shirts. All this time, I had been trying to escape the gender norms forced on me, but I didn’t have enough courage. As a result, I suppressed this curiosity that led me to defy these gender norms. I played action video games like Call of Duty and talked about sports with my friends to fend off my yearning to partake in more feminine activities, such as painting my nails.

Unlike me, many celebrities nowadays are comfortable with self-expression, regardless of whether or not it breaks stereotypes. Genderqueer actor Ezra Miller posed in lingerie for Playboy magazine’s December 2018 edition. Hair stylist on Netflix’s “Queer Eye” Jonathan Van Ness flaunts his skirts, gowns and cardigans. However, this self-expression isn’t always free of judgment. Male Korean-pop artists such as boyband BTS are often under scrutiny for wearing makeup and dressing in more feminine clothes. The criticism that such artists face reflects the impact of gender norms on our society — we’re uncomfortable when we see a masculine figure embrace his “feminine side,” even though inanimate objects like clothes and makeup shouldn’t be associated with gender in the first place. We’re so uncomfortable that we feel the need to reinforce masculinity to the point that a club in China was founded to shape young boys into “alpha” males and counter the femininity that Korean-pop artists embrace.

I had already anticipated people’s reactions to my painted nails, and my predictions were correct. While a few of my friends and coworkers complimented my nails, most people were shocked. The manicurist, other customers at the salon, customers at Starbucks, schoolmates who pretended to ignore my nail polish — they were all uncomfortable with my form of self-expression, presumably because it broke gender norms.

Nevertheless, when I saw my nails after getting them done, I felt bold, that I had the courage to face my fear of being judged for defying gender norms. At first, self-expression may seem daunting, but that fear amounts to nothing if you feel confident about yourself. After all, self-confidence is what shapes you into the best version of yourself. So go ahead, try on that nail polish, slip on those high heels, play with those dolls, be that girl playing sports with the boys— do whatever you want to without thinking about labels. Be you.