How do you let your boys express themselves?
When my three-year-old son and I were visiting his grandpa once, a non-surprising exclamation pierced the air, “What’s on his toenails?”
“Nail polish,” I simply responded. A scoff and eye rolling ensued, but to my delight, that was the extent of the criticism.
Others have been more openly critical of the fact I let my son wear nail polish, as if wearing nail polish was some kind of serious offense against the good of humanity. If only I let him play with sharp knives.
Here are the four great reasons my son wears nail polish proudly, with no interference from Mama, and how this simple fact will help him grow into a good man.
1. Wearing nail polish teaches my son to exercise his self-expression and allows him to do so in a safe environment.
My son is three. He spends most of his time with Mama and Daddy, who love him unconditionally, and support him in the choices that he makes, so long as these choices do not hurt him or others.
Wearing nail polish allows him to express himself by using his favorite color, and to show everyone his proud accomplishment of painting his nails (sort of —he is three, after all).
Since he is three and spends most of his time with us, the risk of bullying because of his unusual choice of self-expression is minimal. We can help him respond to criticism by example — by either ignoring it, or pointing it out for what it is: nonsensical societal constructs that need not continue to be followed.
While he might be a little too young to understand that last point, he’s not too young to observe his parents stand up for what they believe in: that children (and people in general) should be allowed to express themselves in any way they see fit. Whether or not others consider it appropriate gender expression, whatever that means.
2. Gender equality.
We speak of gender equality frequently in North America, but this tends to concentrate on the rights of women to do as they please. Rarely does the conversation fall on what we deny our boys because of our preconceived notions of what kind of men they should grow into. This needs to change.
Gender equality should be about men and women being free to do what fulfills them and what they feel is the right thing for them to do, whether or not this thing is a traditional male or female activity.
Wearing nail polish might be a completely inconsequential thing, but by allowing my son to do something that is not viewed as a traditionally male activity, we’re opening the doors to emphasize that he can pursue anything he feels a calling for in life. Whether that be a traditionally male activity or not.
How many men have a passion for childcare, or housekeeping, or crafts, but abandon their calling because of lack of support? What if supporting them in their early choices for self-expression could change all that?
Wearing nail polish might seem like such a trivial thing, but there are bigger messages to be seen here.
3. Childhood fun, uninterrupted.
My son likes to wear nail polish because it is fun. He likes to paint his nails and doesn’t mind when he gets nail polish all over his fingers. He likes choosing different colors and creating art on his body.
He enjoys running around and showing his “creations” to other kids. He is simply having fun, and by painting his nails, he accomplishes the work of childhood play.
Why put a limit or boundaries on perfectly safe playtime? Why restrict what my children find fun? Give me one solid reason wearing nail polish is bad for him, which trumps the happiness he shows when he is wearing it, and I might consider telling him that he can’t. Maybe.
4. Family bonding.
My son likes to wear nail polish because his sister likes to wear nail polish. When I sit down to paint my daughter’s nails, he always asks to have his painted as well. He likes to be like his big sister, and what little kid doesn’t want to be like their big sibling?
We enjoy the time we spend sitting around the kitchen table, talking about colors, fun, nails, and nothing in particular; simply sharing simple moments that make childhood fun and family time worthwhile.
When we sit around painting each others’ nails, we are giving each other the most precious gift: our time. Time spent together as a family, doing something that makes everyone happy, and not restricting certain activities simply because someone somewhere decided that said activity was just for girls.
My son wears nail polish because doing so encourages him to express himself in a safe environment, it teaches him that girls and boys are equal in their pursuit of happiness and fulfillment, and it teaches him that having fun and spending time with family is an important part of childhood.
My son’s choice of wearing nail polish is not a reflection of his gender identity at three-years-old; it is a reflection of his self-expression and of simply being a kid who likes to have fun. And even if it were an indication of his gender identity, so what? How does this affect anyone but him?
But, although I shouldn’t have to defend my son’s gender identity ever (and especially not at three-years-old,) when the macho men in my life won’t give the issue rest, I meet them where they are. I tell them my good high school friend, who wore black nail polish to school daily, graduated and joined the Marines. And you can’t get much more macho than a marine. That usually ends the conversation, and I can go back to having fun with my little guy painting nails, laughing and having a good time sharing in his joy of childhood.