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Men, Nail Polish and Gender Identity: Did You Know This Was a Thing?

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Just as I was wrapping up researching and writing a lighthearted piece about what a man's nail polish color says about him, I happened to tune in to an episode of ABC's Primetime Nightline entitled "My (Extra) Ordinary Family: Transgender Kids." The subject matter was pretty heavy, and the show profiled children as young as two years old who were identifying as the opposite gender. I'm not usually into newsmagazines, but this one sucked me in when, in the opening segment, Nightline made mention of a recent J.Crew controversy regarding -- you guessed it -- boys wearing nail polish. The remainder of the episode was spent discussing suicide rates among transgendered children, profiling a transgender teen (a biological male who wishes to become a woman) who prostitutes herself to pay for surgery, and parents who struggle to support and understand their severely psychologically at-risk children.

Wah, wah. There went my lighthearted take on men wearing nail polish.

Somehow I missed this story surrounding a spring 2011 J. Crew ad which featured designer Jenna Lyons painting her son's toenails and is captioned: "Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon." J. Crew fans will recognize Jenna from the "Jenna's Picks" newsletter; in the ad she is painting Beckett's toes with the latest Essie-exclusive-for J. Crew color, a shocking, bright hot pink. Nightline cited the controversy surrounding the ad to illustrate the larger discussion of gender identity, and the inevitable political/moral/ethical questions surrounding raising transgender youth. Does painting a little boy's toenails mean he is more likely to become gay, or encourage him to explore a gay/transgendered lifestyle? Is it just harmless fun? One doctor interviewed for the program pointed out that in terms of gender identity, girls have it a little easier than boys -- girls can wear pants and short hair with a lot more ease than a boy can wear long hair or a dress.

The Internet is filled with story after story discussing the ins and outs of the J. Crew nail polish ad: Some think it's a ridiculous "kerfuffle," while others argue that it constituted "transgendered child propaganda." Articles and comments sections rage on about whether this is harmless fun or a dastardly liberal plot "pushing the celebration of gender-confused boys." (After all, who wouldn't want to encourage their child to be ostracized and confused about who they are at a practically cellular level?)

My original piece on this subject included a list of celebrity dudes who wear polish: Steven Tyler, Dave Navarro, Dennis Rodman, Ozzy Osbourne, David Bowie, Marilyn Manson -- all straight men, several of whom are known for their womanizing ways. So what is the deal here -- why is letting your son wear nail polish about breeding a transgendered youth? Why not a rock-n-roll pussy-hound? Is it because the color Jenna chose was pink rather than black, or gray, or some other more "manly" color?

The question of men wearing nail polish has been discussed at length on beauty and nail polish blogs like All Lacquered Up (they also responded specifically to the J. Crew controversy) and Oh My Toes, and apparently there are a lot of dudes out there getting their pedi, and even their mani, on. After researching men and nail polish, I think the color says less about the guy who wears it than the fact he is wearing it at all. Dude -- you are a bad ass, no matter what hue you choose. Of course, I think color says a little something, so if you are looking for some guidance...

Black: You're rock and roll, or you want people to think you are. Extra tough points for chipping and wear -- a high-gloss finish isn't bad boy, right? We love: Chanel Black Satin, OPI Darkroom.

Gray: A very "now" variation on black; you want to stand out by wearing nail polish, but you also want us to know that you pay attention to what's in fashion. Gray is very "of the moment" -- well played! We love: Essie Power Clutch, Sallie Hansen Xtreme in Gunmetal.

Mushroom: You are elegant, and as understated as a man wearing nail polish can be. We love: Chanel Particuliere, OPI You Don't Know Jacques!

Red: You attention-whore, you! Go glam, baby. We love: OPI for Sephora I'm With Brad, Dior Vernis Smoking Plum.

Green: Manly without being so dark and goth, like black. We love: Essie Sew Psyched, Essie Turquoise & Caicos.

Pink: You don't give an eff about gender identity politics--you just like cool colors. We love: OPI for Sephora Do I Know You?, Essie e-nuf is enuf.

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