University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Modified Fingernails – Symbols of Social
Western society has not been traditionally attuned to see body adornment as a form of social status. Thus over the years people in the West attribute it to less developed societies which lay emphasis on rituals. Thus body modification was seen as an articulation of values which were essentially non western. (Krakow, 1994). However this does not seem to be the case any more as a greater number of people are willing to modify their bodies thus making body beautification acceptable thereby giving a person social as well as individual identity in a society.
Body modification is thus seen as enabling a person to exemplify and attenuate him or her personality through alteration of natural color, shape, tone and tenor. By decoration such as nail painting, gloss and enhancement, a person can project himself in the manner he wants others to perceive. Thus a girl with long nails, fully adorned with polish is seen as one who is in tune with the social image of somebody who has arrived in society. As greater numbers of people are adopting this mode, nail or other forms of body adornment is becoming an expression of actual position held by a person in society.
Thus through external embellishments a person is able to define herself to others. Increased acceptance of this practice is indicated by forms adopted in nail adornment such as gluing of plastic to increase the length of the nails so that bright colors, paints and sparklers can be applied to these. (Andersen. Taylor. 2005) The reason for extension of nails is quite obvious, this is to enhance visibility through added length of the body object which is otherwise quite innocuous.
By making it longer, the same can be decorated and made more noticeable. But the process also needs specialized treatment, which can come about at a certain level of monetary standing indicating the link between wealth and length or adornment of nails. As societies become more complex, they tend to provide opportunities to people to define their status through adornment of the body. Nails are perfect symbols of such social embellishment. The first requirement of a well kept hand is absence of manual labor.
Thus there is obvious connection between a person of high society and well kept hands which indicates social as well as wealth status of a person. This has been ancient tradition and has been carried forth in the modern World. (Peters. Lock, Eds, 1999) Since a large degree of artistry of the body is now made by instruments as lasers, surgical and other tools by experts this has become expensive. Thus body art studios and fingernail manicure specialists have established high end shops, where they are able to manipulate your nails to the desired shape, size and color.
By being exclusive in nature, they establish a distinction of economic status. As society has evolved thus body art has assumed proportions of social as well as wealth standing. (Jeffreys, 2000). Over a period this distinction is also translated from overall to individual social status. Thus a person who has manicured, well kept finger nails is associated with wealth as well as standing through a process of exclusion. This exclusion works first monetarily in that as it is expensive those who cannot afford it are denied an opportunity of being in the same class.
In the second stage it is seen to work socially as shapes, colors and contours are so distinctive that a person wearing a superior shade of nail polish is easily identified as one who can afford it and hence ipso facto assumes higher standing. Thus from abhorrence as practices which were aboriginal to adoption of body adornment as a form of celebration of ones arrival in high society, fingernail manipulation has assumed a social symbol even in Western society today.
Vantoch (1999) explored this evolution of the new American female by denoting the large number of nail adornments of different colors and shapes present in a pre teen’s room. The girl was sporting what can be described as talons, two inches long finger nails. (Vantoch, 1999). The fingernail was converted into a symbol of expression of the persona just like any other accoutrement at a very early age in life. The refined development of the art of the make up in modern times is also responsible for such an evolution.
Thus nails have been converted into objects of art and ornamentation by using these for nail jewelry, nail art, air brush design, sculpturing of nails as well as providing green glitter. This has also provided a common touch thereby enhancing a wider number of females in society to higher standing. (Vantoch, 1999). Most interestingly it denotes how society has evolved, from considering these as a possible aboriginal practice to be abhorred by the West, more and more people are using it to express their state of social as well as economic evolution.
The utilitarian view of nails as symbol of health has been known over the ages and is seen to continue even to this day. Thus fingernails are many times the first to be seen by a doctor. (Anatomy, 2005). Yellow or green fingernails invariably indicate ill health, a bronchial disease or other conditions which are diagnosed by the family physician. When nail problems persisted, these also indicated that the person required sustained treatment. The ultimate in nail care which has emerged is a combination of health, fashion and social status.
Manicure and the higher forms of nail care and manipulation seen in advanced societies today is seen as a symbol of the rich, as one who has arrived in society and also some body who maintains good health. How long will this trend persist remains to be seen, for there are many periods in human evolution wherein short nails were as popular as long. Reference: 1. Anatomy. (2005) Anatomy of a healthy fingernail. Accessed at http://www. cnn. com/HEALTH/library/WO/00020. htmlon 23 March 2007 2. Andersen, Margaret L. Taylor, Howard F. (2005). Sociology: The Essentials.
Belmont : Thomson. 3. Jeffreys, Sheila. ‘Body Art’ and Social Status: Cutting, Tattooing and Piercing from a Feminist Perspective. Feminism & Psychology, Vol. 10, No. 4, 409-429 (2000) 4. Krakow, A. (1994) The Total Tattoo Book , New York : Warner Books. 5. Peters, Charles, R. Lock, Andrew. (1999). Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution. Oxford : Blackwell. 6. Vantoch, Vicki. (1999). Fingernail Fashion Choices. The Washington Post. December 28, 1999. Accessed at http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp-srv/style/feed/a41653-1999dec28. htm on 23 March 2007.