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Millennial Manicures: Emblems of Social Change

Millennial Manicures: Emblems of Social Change

Last week, a lady pointed to my nails on the tube and told me that I looked like a witch with my neon-green extensions, embossed with black polka dots. Prior to this, I’ve been called a zebra, Cher from Clueless and likened to a Louis Vuitton handbag. 

Nail art is undeniably underrated. High-concept manicures aren’t just snowflake designs for Christmas. It’s fried eggs on each cuticle, salmon temaki on your thumbnail, or a get out of jail free Monopoly token painted onto your index finger. The scope is endless; nail art transforms the blank canvas of a nail bed into a piece of modern art. As the great nail technician Aristotle once said, our hands are the “tool of tools,” and what better way to decorate them with a statement of creativity and identity.

Whilst our hands are an intimate, tactile part of our bodies, they are also the most public. Traditional values dictate the timeworn advice that you should tread with caution when discussing religion or politics in public conversation. Vocalising charged topics runs the risk of causing offence; however, in an age where social media platforms are portfolios of individual manifestos, personal opinion is shared and encouraged more than ever before. The beauty industry shakes the threshold of traditional values, using bold illustrations to convey individual political ideologies on each nail. Power has never been more so literally at the fingertips of the (acrylic) beholder. It creates a space for a voice of social discourse, whether that be nail art in support of the #MeToo movement or a feminist’s “thank u, next” nails. Nail artistry also provides an unexpected space for change, as it allows for the exploration of a plenitude of temporary identities; each identity lasting three weeks until the nail has grown out and the next character is filled.

In 2012, director and nail-art fan Ayla Montgomery created a documentary, titled ‘Nailgasm’, which explores the lure of high-fashion nails globally. Since then, the art-meets-beauty movement has undergone a cultural shift into its own subculture amongst women. It takes inspiration from pop culture, as well as artistic and political movements, to say something that is worthwhile. Nail art goes beyond just looking pretty. Each nail becomes a piece of modern art, one of intricate, delicate detail that communicates a wider message, champions female entrepreneurship and gives a middle finger to hate.

Editorial manicurists that use nail art as motifs for social change include WAH! Nails London and Amy Vega for @amivnails. Vega curates her work to portray ideals of womanhood, feminism and support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Examples of her work include the elimination of violence against women and suicide prevention. WAH similarly curated a ‘Fingers Up’ campaign for Pride last summer, serving rainbow nails in support of London’s LGBT community, combating misogyny and conformity.  

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With the turn of 2019 comes the talon revolution of “jelly nails”. Labelled for its translucent quality, the beauty industry is marketing a new metaphorical method of transparency within the industry that targets change from our very own fingertips. Nail art is both subtle and daring; it is a playful, imaginative medium that brings back colour to a world that often ignores the value of empathy. Claws at the ready!

by Scarlett Baker
cover photos via @islaberlin
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