Vogue has been accused of cultural appropriation for an online piece about “Manicure Sculptures” — because basically, long, adorned nails belong to “black culture.”
“Mainstream culture has whitewashed black culture and now Vogue has gentrified ’hood nails,’” Ntianu Obiora writes in a piece for Pulse. “Elaborate and unusually long nails have been a staple part of black beauty culture since the 80’s and was originally labelled ‘ghetto’ and ‘tacky.’ However, the minute a mainstream white designer does it, it’s suddenly considered ‘fashion.’”
Although the specific nail designs featured in Vogue’s article certainly are different from any that I’ve seen before, it is true that the artist being profiled is far from the first person to come up with the idea to have long, adorned nails. But does this mean that other people can’t wear them? Does it mean that other people cannot come up with designs that fall under this umbrella?
It’s an interesting question — especially when you consider that the long, adorned style of nails goes back way further in history than “black beauty culture” in “the 80s.” For example: It was popular among upper-class people in ancient China. During the Ming dynasty, those in the upper classes would have long, painted nails; protected with long, golden nail guards. These long, adorned nails were seen not as “tacky” but as a way to signal that you were too rich and powerful to have to do any manual labor.
In other words: If Vogue and white nail artists are culturally appropriating, so is literally every non-Chinese person who has ever worn his or her nails in this style. What’s more, given the prestige that was associated with this type of style in ancient China, Obiora is flat-out wrong to claim that a white person’s design marks the first time that this style was given any respect.
Now that I think about it, it’s actually possible that even Chinese people who wear this style could be appropriating. After all, I’m not sure that the ancient Chinese were the first to wear long, adorned nails — I just know that they were wearing them long before the 1980s — and it’s not possible for even the most informed of nail-style-history experts to be sure, either. Think about it: It technically could be true that the ancient Chinese got this idea from some other culture that predates history. Wow . . . it’s almost as if it’s pretty damn hard to know for sure which culture invented what, and which people we should be mad at for stealing what from whom.
At this point in history, humanity has been around for a very long time. Because of that fact, you’d honestly be pretty hard-pressed to come up with an original idea that doesn’t date back to some other person or group that came long before you.
Personally, I generally like to keep my nails short and painted black, but there have been times when I’ve had them long and covered with glitter. Am I sorry? Do I consider myself to be a racist abomination? No, I’m not; no, I don’t, and honestly, insinuating that any particular culture owns a nail length seems outright insane to me.