Wearing Nail Polish

It’s summer! It’s sandal season, and I don’t have great toes. I’m not sure what great toes are, but I’m pretty sure mine are not it. So, in an effort to compensate for what I consider my non-foot model feet, I wear polish on my toe nails during the summer. I also have 3 and 4 year old sons.

Some people may wonder what one has to do with the other. Many moms of sons or daughters who are this age have probably figured it out. My sons like to do what I do. On the days I wear makeup, it’s not unusual for one of them to grab my eyelash curler and pretend with it for a while. On days when I dry my hair, they are really interested in my hair dryer. On days when I paint my toe nails, they want theirs painted also. And, I do it.

In our house, I try very hard not to make gender statements or to assume that because they are boys they will choose one activity or toy over another. We have both babies and cars. We have a stroller (which my Kael calls the “racing stroller”) and we have tools. We have books, puzzles, Duplo Legos, airplanes, emergency vehicles, and probably a hundred other toys. For his birthday, Asa is going to get a ring sling for his baby and his monkey which he currently carries under his shirt. My boys often ask for blankets to be used as capes or to be put on as dresses so they can be princesses. I neither encourage nor discourage any of these types of play. If they ask, I will help them be princesses, but I don’t get the blanket out and say, “Asa, do you want to play princess?” Just as I don’t get out the fire trucks and say, “Asa, do you want to play rescue heroes?”

I have to admit as I write this, it feels uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable with labeling these things as girly or boyish even if it’s only by contrasting one with another. I don’t like that they play they way that they do, but neither do I mind. It’s their play, it’s not mine.

But. Yes, of course, but. There’s always a but, right? In this case, for some reason or another, I don’t want them to wear toe nail polish. I don’t know what it is. Is it peer pressure? Is it gender stereotyping? Am I afraid someone might say something to one of the boys about it? Maybe it’s all of those. I don’t know. I am uncomfortable with the nail painting, but I do it. I know that there are many gender roles and stereotypes in the world, but I don’t want to be my child’s first introduction to the limits that society may place on him.

Am I alone in my feelings? Does anyone else hesitate to (or not allow) paint their preschool boys’ nails?

I think the reason this bothers me is that of all the things that my boys do that is not typical of their gender, this seems so minuscule in comparison. I want to be okay with it, but for some reason I’m not.


  1. Shannon says:

    As you may have seen on my FB Aaron has had painted nails on a few occasions. We don’t do it often, just because I don’t usually paint any of my nails, but when I do, he gets his done too, as does Ivy. He also wears tutus and steals my dresses etc.

    I don’t have any problem with it though I was curious what the inlaws would say when they saw it, but so far as I know, they never said anything, I am betting MIL dealt with that with her boys too when they were little.

    I am also excited to hear that Aaron is the only one that has turned the doll stroller into a “race car” of sorts.

  2. Well first, I think the boys will get plenty of gender stereotyping once they get to school full time so I think what you are doing is great. I know a Kindergartner whose favorite color was pink up until Kindergarten when it suddenly switched to blue.

    If the nail polish bothers you a bit have the boys pick out some masculine colors or get tiny stickers to put over the color…or get some mini tattoos that they can put on.

    But I don’t see anything wrong with it! 🙂

  3. Good for you for examining & thinking through your feelings around this. I, too, don’t see anything wrong with it, and know some toddler & preschool boys who have painted nails occasionally (I have 3 girls, so am coming from a different place with this). I have been too lazy to do my nails often so so far my girls have not asked for it.

    For me, the color of paint would bother me more than the painting itself. Reds and pinks somehow seem more “sensual” and I would not really like my girls wearing that (its also not my preference – I don’t tend to feminine things that way). Blue, silver, or glittery however, I would not feel bad about (and would wear myself).

    I know some folks on a list I follow were worrying about the chemicals in nail polish & I think if I paint my girls nails I’ll try to get some thats on the “safe” list with regards to that.

  4. i would, and do paint my sons nails. any time he sees me paint my nails or even just sees a bottle of polish he asks for me to paint his finger and piggie nails. so, instead of using purple or red or whatever i happen to have i bought him his own bottle of black nail polish (which i also occassionally use) he loves it and shows his freshly painted fingers and toes off proudly to mi-ma, pop pop, or anyone else he happens to see 🙂

  5. Thanks for the feedback everyone! I know that it’s common for boys to want the same things as their parents have. Because I’m the primary caregiver during the day, it obviously makes sense that they would want to do what I do. Maybe I should take them to the store and let them each pick out their own color. I didn’t mention this in my post, but some of the colors that I have (and really like) are in *tiny* bottles, and to be honest, I have a hard time sharing them! 🙂

  6. I wrote about this last week. My daughter and I painted our toenails, and my son asked to be let in. In the end, I painted his toenails. But it didn’t occur to me to offer. And I did momentarily hesitate and consider.

    I feel very conflicted about gender roles, and my role surrounding them. I don’t want to impose an identity on my children, or make them feel as if their desires aren’t OK. But I also don’t want to expose them to others’ negativity. For now, with my not-quite-2-year-old, I can pretty much protect him. This feels like a really safe time to experiment. But I’m not sure how I would feel if he were 5 and starting kindergarten. I like to think I’d still be cool, but we’ll have to get there to see.


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