From ancient Egypt to Cardi B: a cultural history of the manicure

Nail art dates back millennia, taking in complex social codes, cultural appropriation, modern slavery and the sexism of lockdown rules for beauty salons

The glut of hyperbolic nail-related headlines online points to our obsession with the endless possibilities open to the plate at the top of our fingers. In the internet age, the manicure, in all its incarnations, is a traffic winner. It peppers a plethora of Pinterest boards; the hashtag #nails has been posted 151m times on Instagram; nail artists are stars in their own right; and countless women will assert that manicures are a form of self-care. Detractors dismiss it all as frivolity.

A closer look, however, reveals that this is nothing new: cuticle culture has long been entangled in highly charged matters, from classism and racial discrimination to politics and human rights issues.

The genesis of the manicure cannot be attributed to one culture. Archeologists discovered Egyptian mummies (dating to 5,000 BC) with gilded nails and henna-tinted fingertips. Around the same time, Indian women were staining their nails with henna, while ancient Babylonian men used kohl to colour their nails. …

By Funmi Fetto, for The Guardian

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