I was at the CIPD conference in Manchester recently, and decided as the continuation of experimenting with difference, to have my nails done for the second year running. Why? Two main reasons. First, I was curious to see how people reacted, and second, overall I enjoyed the experience the first time and simply wanted to repeat it.
In 2015 I chose a dark purple as my colour, this year I went with green. Both times I enjoyed the experience of the manicure itself – thanks to the good people at Peter Marcus. and the subsequent reactions from people fascinated me.
While reflecting on this recently, a friend asked me how I reacted to myself. Here’s what I recalled:
In 2015 I had my nails done for the first time. Keira and I have played around with nail varnish at home loads of times, this was the first time in public. The person in the nail bar commented I was the first man customer who had asked for a manicure and polish. I chose a deep purple varnish. I left the nail bar and immediately scuffed a nail – went back and was fixed up again. Left for a second time feeling very self conscious. That feeling stayed with me and I attracted a range of feedback. Surprise, delight, confusion, acknowledgement of bravery, curiosity (why would I do such a thing?), and disapproval. The uncertainty stayed with me. I remember hiding my nails from view on the tube on the way home.
In 2016 I went back for another go. The person in the nail bar remembered me, we had a few laughs, made sure my nails were properly dry this time! I felt much less self conscious this year, and I think as a result of this, I attracted far fewer comments. I occasionally found myself hiding my nails but for the most part, I think they looked good and I liked what I’d had done and enjoyed the experience.
Based on this experiment, it seems that I invite reactions from other people more than I previously thought I did. There is no good reason why I felt awkward, beyond my own hangups and my perception of the prejudices of others. This is a small experiment in how people, me included, respond to difference. As an older white man, I have all/most of the privilege in many situations. The nails is a way of me disarming and enjoying myself, and I still get nervous/uncertain etc. I’m keeping going.
Best £25 I’ve spent in ages!
In addition to the nails experiment, which I will be repeating soon, I sometimes choose to wear shorts to work in the summer months. This is another one of those small differences which in some cases, attracts interesting responses. Internally I wrestle with ‘is it acceptable to wear shirts to work?’ even in very high temperatures. I frequently talk myself out of shorts and into trousers, then regret this when I’m overheating on a crowded tube in London. Additionally – I note that people (it is nearly always men) who react in any way to the shorts situation, do so by mocking me for my choice. To what extent I invite this reaction, I am unsure.
I find this kind of experiment fascinating – in terms of what I learn about others and myself, and as a reminder of my own prejudices, and as a reminder to be kind. If you’ve tried anything similar – I’d love to hear from you.