In the past couple of weeks – perhaps in a nod to having turned 30 and needing a change to define the start of a new decade of my life, perhaps not – I have decided to change my appearance in a couple of small but personally exciting ways. Firstly, I have started growing a beard à la Jack Falahee in How to Get Away with Murder:
Looking at recent pictures of myself, I have felt that my jawline (while not anywhere near double chin territory) hasn’t got the sharp definition it used to have in my late teens and early twenties. I’m not planning to go fully bearded or anything like that, but so far my beardy adventures have been going well (and a lot better than a year ago, when I tried too hard to shape it and it ended up looking a bit evil) – there are a couple of patches of my lower cheeks where stubble stubbornly refuses to grow, but it’s slowly coming along. So that’s pleasing.
Toby and I have also been experimenting with nail varnish. It’s not the first time we’ve tried this either, and a couple of years ago Toby bought a bottle of matt charcoal-coloured polish which looked quite neat. I am not quite convinced that short nails and nail varnish doesn’t make my fingers look a bit stubby, but I have no interest in growing my nails, and I do have interest in pops of colour and fun. This time round, I was inspired by Lil’ Kim’s fiercest album, The Notorious KIM:
Yep, that’s right: I plumped for shocking pink and silver, just like the wallpaper and bling in the above picture. I wanted to channel the ferocity and strength exhibited by Kim in the above picture into my nails. And so, accidentally, I have begun two aesthetic changes – one which fits into the traditional idea of masculinity, the other directly in contrast to it.
I felt quite self-conscious, as if the changes to my look were shouting themselves to every passer-by, but of course they didn’t. After a couple of days at work, my colleagues felt that I “looked different”, but once I highlighted my beard, they all went “Ahhh” and turned back to their computers. No big deal, apparently. No declarations of it either really suiting me or not suiting me at all. It was a non-issue, and for that I was quite grateful. I think that this sigh of relief comes from the fact that when it comes to my hair and my face, my parents and grandmother totally make a big thing out of things like this, and any deviation from my natural state (clean-shaven, unstraightened and uncoloured hair) draws comment and judgement. It’s helped me develop a thick skin, but I know that the biggest test for my beard will be when I next see my family, if I still have it by then.
I didn’t wear my nail varnish to work, as I don’t think it would go down well (although perhaps I am just scared) with either some staff or some students. However, I did wear it for the whole of my three-day weekend:
Well, my fingers don’t really look stubby, so that’s one fear put to rest. The silver also goes nicely with my rings and bracelets, which was a fun realisation. However, as the weekend went on, I became more self-conscious, and the bravery I was trying to draw from Lil’ Kim seemed to desert me. On Friday I was fearless and unapologetic, and it fit easily within the artistic atmosphere of Central St. Martins, where Toby and I visited the Ceramic Arts London exhibition. However, we then went to IKEA – a more conventional setting, but nobody made any comment at all.
Saturday was more of a challenge, as I was around a lot of people in the morning during my volunteering. I found myself subtly attempting to hide my fingernails, although the colour was super-bright and didn’t lend itself to being inconspicuous. Nevertheless, I only had two comments (which were both positive) – one from our waitress at lunch, the other from the receptionist at the hair salon. It was great that I received no negativity whatsoever, but also significant that I feared so strongly that I might. After all, so what? I was self-conscious, but I also had the strength to push through that and be in public and act normal, even if I knew that I was wearing nail varnish and this was an exciting new thing for me. The feelings that I had below the surface stayed below the surface, and nobody was any the wiser – so I carried it off looking more confident than I felt. Next time, as a result, I’ll perhaps feel a little more confident.
I think that I’ll definitely wear nail varnish again every few weekends or so, as it was fun and I liked the extra daring pop of colour. I also think that doing this has shown me how, although we live in a society that is slowly opening up to the idea of non-binary gender identities (which is great and long overdue), ideas of what is traditionally masculine and feminine are so ingrained in me (even as a non-judgemental and open-minded liberal person – after all, as far as I am concerned, everyone can grow beards and wear nail varnish if they want; do what makes you happy!) that at the same time as being brave enough to go against those stereotypes in even a small way, I can feel intimidated by how society may judge me or react. We live in an imperfect world, but I have to continue to be brave and do, wear and look exactly how I want to in order to live my best life – and we all have to do this in order to push society forward to a place of new acceptance and open-mindedness.