I pride myself in my long coffin shaped nails. My colorful claws are a pretty constant conversation starter, and while I must admit that I enjoy the attention, that’s not why I started wearing them. When I first decided to wear long nails, it wasn’t because I relished the thought of white women calling me “fierce,” or my mother asking me when I planned on cutting them, or middle-aged Black women regularly grabbing my hands to get a better look. When I first started wearing long nails it was simply because I thought they were pretty.
However, they’ve surprisingly opened my eyes to a lot. While acrylic nails are nothing more than colorful extensions to my fingertips, they’ve garnered me even more creepy male gaze, an odd and somewhat uncomfortable kind of admiration from girls that I do not know and countless pieces of unsolicited advice from older women. All of which I’ve found to be rooted in stereotypes.
When people look at my nails they equate me to caricatures such as Joi from “Friday,” which is odd because I act nothing like the purposely over the top character. I know that in most cases the connection is accidental, but it’s still strange. Something as simple as my nails has labeled me as “obnoxious,” “ghetto” and most favorably “fierce.” And yes, those are actual comments I’ve received/heard.
Of course, those aren’t everyone’s reactions. When I’m on campus at Howard, I’m just another girl with long nails. It’s when I venture outside that I’m not quite sure to expect. They’re either “really pretty” or “a bit much” depending on the setting in which I find myself. This unexpected social aspect of having long nails has made me think a lot.
One person who crosses my mind often as I contemplate if my nails are even worth all the hassle is a teacher from my elementary school named Ms. Miller. She had nails even longer than the ones I wear today, and she talked with her hands a lot, so it was hard to miss them. I sometimes heard other teachers and even students whisper about Ms. Miller’s nails, and I’m sure she did too, but she always wore them with such confidence. As a little girl I didn’t think much of this, but now it means the world to me.
I know Ms. Miller probably received Joi comparisons of her own, and if she still has longs nails, she probably still does. However, I’ve found both Joi and Ms. Miller to be sources of inspiration. In both Joi’s over the top finger pointing and Ms. Miller’s quiet, unbothered demeanor was a sense of confidence that I can’t help but admire.
Because of them, I flaunt my long nails even harder after every disapproving comment. Just like cutting my hair or choosing to wear makeup every day, having long nails has taught me to be unapologetic. I never asked for anyone’s approval or opinion on these matters, and I never will.
Be the zeitgeist.