Students use nails to express individuality

Morgan-Taylor Thomas

Kendyl Clayton’s text message alert chimes. Glancing at the screen, she sees her nail technician has responded to her latest bright-colored polish design idea in preparation for her biweekly appointment. 

“Everyone’s nail taste is definitely different, and it’s kind of cool to see the differences between yours and your friends,” studio art junior Clayton said. “Nail art is really endless with what you can do, and it’s a unique thing to do for yourself.”

Nail care is an essential part of some UT students’ beauty routines, who use nail art to express individuality and boost their confidence.

When people meet sociology junior Erin Whalen she said they often comment on her nails, and the remarks aren’t always positive. 

“I deal with a lot of negative comments from people about my nails being too long or too extra … but I do it for me, not them,” Whalen said. 

Every three weeks, Whalen takes time for herself and drives to Bliss Nail Bar of Austin.  She said she feels comfortable at her appointments because of safety measures such as masks, social distancing and protective plastic barriers. 

“I’ll spend so much time right before I’m going to the nail appointment (thinking) about what color I’m going to get, and then sometimes when I get there and start looking at the colors, I change my mind and do the exact opposite of what I was thinking,” Whalen said. 

She said she often uses her mood, upcoming holidays or even outfits as inspiration for her nail art. Without her nails, Whalen said she wouldn’t feel complete or have a creative escape.

“It’s definitely an outlet to express yourself,” Whalen said. “Having my nails (look) beautiful just makes me feel better throughout the day.”

When Clayton sits across from her nail technician, she places her hands underneath a plexiglass barrier. As an art student, she said she admires the technique and process of getting her nails done, especially when she requests abstract designs. 

“I’ve really been into bright colors lately,” Clayton said. “I’m also obsessed with butterflies so I’ll get those sometimes, but every time I get my nails done, I like to have a whole different color scheme.”

Design junior Caroline Blanton said she has been getting her nails done every month since her senior year of high school and always goes alone. 

“The (salon) is a 20-minute walk from my apartment, (so) I listen to a podcast and just take time by myself,” Blanton said. “I like having a designated time of two hours where I’m not thinking about school or anything else.”

Although the salon follows COVID-19 guidelines, Blanton said it’s a physically small space and she goes in the mornings to avoid afternoon crowds. 

Blanton said she sticks to light or dark colors to offset her pale skin and even makes notes of her favorites. 

“I found this really good brown color and I was like, ‘This is life changing. I have to write this down,’” Blanton said. “A big thing for me is going with my skin tone because it looks weird if it clashes.”

Although nails can be expensive, Blanton said it’s a built-in cost to her monthly budget. For her, nails are more than just a creative space — they’ve become a part of her identity. 

“It’s just expressing who you are as a person,” Blanton said. “My nails are a part of who I am.”